Commentary #1: Module 2 Kim Melvin

During the readings of Module 2: From Orality to Literacy there were many times Ong challenged my previous thinking and presented ideas that I had never contemplated.

I have previously classified myself as a reluctant writer. I find the writing task laborious and unnatural where I have always struggled to put my words on a page. However, I was exposed to literature at an early age and reared in a literate culture. Through Ong’s work, Orality and Literacy, I have discovered that I have, “personally interiorized writing” and it affects my thinking process (Ong, 1982, p. 56).  My internal dialogue, for example, on this assignment has been working and reworking phrases over the last week. Ultimately I have written and rewritten this assignment dozens of times both on my computer, on paper and in my head. As a result, I have discovered that this internal dialogue and the challenge of writing is part of the writing process.  As Ong describes, “The need for this exquisite circumspection makes writing the agonizing work it commonly is” (Ong, 1982, p. 103). I have come to the conclusion that I am not a reluctant writer but an agonized writer in a literate culture. I now believe Ong’s assertion that, “More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness.” (Ong, 1982, p. 77)

Ong presented an idea that Plato had thought of writing as an, “external, alien technology” (Ong, 1982, p. 80) Plato’s early Greek culture had not internalized writing and therefore, warily regarded writing as a technology (Havelock as cited in Ong, 1982, p.80). I had never contemplated that writing is a technology because I have internalized writing as part of my culture. There are two reasons why I consider writing a technology after reading Ong’s chapters. First, From writing’s earliest development, “writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment” (Ong, 1982, p. 80) The earliest writing technology consists of prepared surfaces and tools such as; wax tablets, animal skins, wood strips, paper, styli, brushes, pens, inks and paints (Ong, 1982, p.81). Viewing writing with a mechanized lens makes it apparent that it indeed is a technology. A second reason that I consider writing as a technology is because writing is a complex product that is “governed by consciously contrived, articulable rules” (Ong, 1982, p.81) and a “coded system of visible marks” (Ong, 1982, p. 83). A writer must know how to use the codes and rules for the reader to understand what is meant by the writer. These codes and rules are learned over years of practice. Knowing that writing is a technology as previously stated Sherry Turkle in her article Wither Psychoanalysis in Computer Culture , “technologies are never “just tools.” They are evocative objects. They cause us to see ourselves and our world differently” (Turkle, 2004, p.18).

Another idea presented by Ong that surprised me was writing, in a predominantly oral culture, was seen as an unwanted phenomenon. This revelation was incredible to me. It had never occurred to me that Socrates believed that writing, “is inhuman, pretending to establish outside the mind what in reality can be only in the mind” (Ong, 1982, p. 78) and that writing “weakens the mind” (Ong, 1982, p.78). What surprised me the most was that Socrates’ objections to writing echo current day objections of personal computers. Neil Postman expresses reasons, like Socrates, to be wary about technology.

Postman in the opening chapter of his book Technopoly uses the story of Thamus to express his concerns about personal computer technology just as Socrates used it to express his concern about writing technology. Socrates uses the story to condemn writing technology but Postman describes that Thamus made a mistake. “Thamus’ error is in his believing that writing will be a burden to society and nothing but a burden“ (Postman, 1992, p. 4). Postman’s critique is that there are some that only view the good of technology and there are some that only view the burdens of technology.  What are needed are arguments both for and against technology (Postman, 1992, p.5) and the acceptance that “unforeseen consequences” (Postman, 1992, p.15) will occur. I have been to this point in my career a one-sided supporter of technology and have rarely reflected the burdens a technology can bring. This balanced approach, viewing both the benefits and burdens of a technology, is something that I need to incorporate immediately into my decision-making.



Ong, W. J. (1982) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. New York, NY: Routledge.

Postman, N. (1992) The judgement of thamus. In Technopoly: The
surrender of culture to technology. (3-20)
New York, NY:Vintage Books.

Turkle, S. (2004) Whiter psychoanalysis in computer
culture?. Psychoanalytic Psychology 21(1), 16-30.

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