February 2010 Archives

I thought that Naomi Baron's essay in Tibble and Trubek's Writing Material entitled "The Art and Science of Handwriting" was very interesting mainly, because it discussed both the history and the present situation in handwriting.  What I initially found most interesting was the various associations that were made between writing and the person.  For instance, although Baron skipped ahead to the middle ages in order to discuss handwriting, leaving out revolutionaries like Di Renzo's Tiro and the invention of the Greek alphabet, she talked about what sorts of people were learning to write and why.  She mentions, "members of learned professions: the clergy, physicians, and lawyers (along with their entourages, including copyists and notaries public," as well as "Gentlemen (and women) and their secretaries," and finally, "new ranks of employees engaged in commerce" (57).  This seems like such a large and varied amount of people; however, Baron goes on to write that they had different reasons for learning to write.  Some of the schooled would become "scholars," while others would "enter the world of commerce" (57).  It is so odd to think that handwriting was initially created and used by slaves, like Tiro, and by those not involved in the highest levels of power or prestige, while later, handwriting was considered an art form of the upper class.  Baron even writes that, "In the 1790s, French aristocrats intentionally developed poor handwriting 'as if an open proclamation of scorn for the arts by which humbler people oftentimes got their bread'" (58).  This trend is especially strange when one considers the importance of literacy and writing in the centuries following this one.   

Another funny trend that developed later was the fact that people connected handwriting with what Baron calls "the self" (58).  Baron cites Johann Kaspar Lavater for arguing that, "it was possible to read a person's character by looking at his face and perhaps even his handwriting" (58).  This trend still exists today.  Handwriting experts are still used to find evidence in court cases, and there is even a Handwriting Doctor, Michelle Dresbold, that contributed to my local newspaper, and many others nationwide.  Yes, some of such evidence may not be as reliable as other forms of evidence; however, in my own experience, the really athletic classmates that I had always had the worst handwriting, probably because they were not the types of people who wanted to sit still and concentrate on such a meaningless and boring art form, or science, depending on which way one is taught.

This idea deals directly with one of the disagreements that I had with Baron in her essay.  Her very last sentence reads, "Not surprisingly, we no longer see handwriting as an expression of social standing, much less as a mirror on our souls" (60).  Although this statement is partially true, I do think that we can still identify a person by handwriting and a person finds self expression through handwriting.  For instance, I can almost always tell which of my friends or family members has written me a note just by looking at the handwriting, not even by looking at what was said.  Also, the way we choose to write suggests something about us.  I sometimes write in cursive when I am taking notes if my hand hurts because the more fluid movements are easier on my wrist.  I also usually use cursive when I write thank-you notes or send cards to people.  This formal style just seems to lend itself to these types of notes.  Also, most of us use some form of formalized or non-print handwriting when we sign important documents.  If you think about it, we are asked not to print when our identity is verified, for instance when we take standardized tests like the SATs, when we have to sign government documents like citizenship papers, or when we sign for a credit card.  I think that in these ways, handwriting is still related to a major part of our identity, if not to our soul.     


See what others have to say about Baron's essay. 


Welcome to my first blogging portfolio for Topics in Media and Culture: The History and the Future of the Book!  All of the entries below deal primarily with connections to and discussions about the dynamic development of oral communication, which is much more interesting than it initially sounds.  Throughout this unit, I have been able to recognize the importance of orality, learn much about its development, and make connections to my own usage of oral communication in my life as a student, a future educator, and a person in general.  In my blogs, I have commented on what professional authors and presenters, who are in fact much more knowledgeable about the subject that I am, have to say about various forms of communication, sometimes agreeing and at other time disagreeing, but always learning from this critical evaluation.  Not only have I talked about these wholly academic and linguistic subjects, but I have also related them to more diverse topics, like free choice, the Super Bowl, the Qur’an, the alphabet, and handwriting analysts.  This diversity shows that I am learning to connect and synthesize information in order to learn myself, as well as to help others to learn.

To allow for organization, the blogs below are arranged into seven categories:  Coverage, Depth, Interaction, Discussion, Timeliness, Xenoblogging, and Wildcards.  While the blogs under all of the categories are worth exploring, I especially worked to create in depth blogs that would allow for learning, discussion, and interaction, so be sure to take a look at these categories.   I hope you enjoy all of my entries.  Please feel free to leave comments!  It is always nice to hear that others are reading and thinking about what one has written. 


Coverage:  This section is supposed to show that I have blogged on each of our course readings.  I have done so each week, so I will not put links to all of these blogs here.  However, I have included blogs in this that I feel especially show that I was attempting to fully cover the material by relating to other works we have read or to personal experiences.  

"Anyone Can Provide Some Truth" -- This blog deals with Plato's Socrates' criticism of the written word, especially concerning its veracity.  This is especially important in our culture today with such references as Wikipedia, so you should take a look at this.

"How Do We Think?" --This entry, focusing on an chapter about thinking and oral communication suggests that our brains our the same as they were years ago, we just think about different things and remember in different ways.  Read this to find out more about this connection. 

"Have Our Stages of Communication Really Changed that Much?" --In this blog, I related a video about PowerPoint we watched to a discussion of the oral phase.  Is PowerPoint mainly oral-based or mainly text-based communication, or is it something else?  Read this to see what I think.

"Are Our Own Ways of Teaching Appropriate?" -- I placed this blog in this section because I related Rheingold's essay about the strict process that the Amish go through before choosing a technology to incorporate into their society to Havelock's ideas about teaching in oral societies.  I also talked about teaching and learning in our own society.


Depth:  In this section, I have included blogs that show how I have gone beyond the necessities in terms of mostly informal online research, but also by drawing on my own knowledge and reinforcing this with online examples. 

"Ancient Romans, Illiteracy, and the Internet" --In this blog, I link to sites such as the CIA Worldfactbook and to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy in order to show that illiteracy in the United States is still a major problem. 

"Today I'm Liking the Physical World the Best" --This blog talks about the interaction necessary between the physical, oral, and written worlds, even today.  I was listening to the Super Bowl as I wrote this, so it might be interesting to sports fans.  I chose to put it in the depth category because I linked it, not to online research, but to another blog I wrote, citing my ommision of the important oral qualities of literacy.

"PowerPoint-Not So Bad Afterall?" -- I decided to include this blog in the Depth section because, although I only connected it to another assigned video for this class, I was able to discuss this often quickly settled topic in a more academic manner.  Using the video and the text, I was able to see both the benefits and downsides to PowerPoint, a stance that was positively commented on by a professional PowerPoint creator.  Don't like PowerPoint? Take a look at this and then see what you think.

"The Alphabet: Simplified, but Is It Really Simple?" -- I really enjoyed reading about the development of the Greek alphabet and how it has influenced our current alphabet, probably because of my future career as a teacher.  In this blog, I connected the development of the alphabet to the ways that the alphabet is currently being molded through new programs in order to better explain English sounds and the abstract letters that represent them.  I have posted some links to Youtube videos, so you should check it out.

"Classic Orality Is... Translatable?" -- Although I did not do any outside research for this blog, I feel like it belongs in this section because it challenges one of Havelock's points about the untranslatability of Greek text into English.  While I agree with some of his details, I also think that he leaves out some considerations in his argument.  Take a look to see who you agree with.


Interaction:  These blogs show my ability to engage in productive discussions with my peers, mainly on their own blogs.  Take a look at these, because they all have a lot of interesting ideas!

"Translation and Homer's Iliad" --I could not decide if I should put this into the discussion or the interaction category, so I just put it in both.  This blog discusses various translations of Iliad, as well as the problems of translation in general.  I included it within this section because Megan and I disagreed as to which translation flowed better for us.  Take a look at what both of us have to say.

On Maddie's blog entitled "Mother Goose and Scary Stories for Kids," I was not only able to offer experienced and research-based advice about reinforcing literacy skill development in young children, but I also commented first, which started a discussion that Chelsea also commented on.


Discussion:  Similar to the Interaction section, these blogs revolve around productive discussion; however, these are the discussions that occurred on my own blogs.

"Translation and Homer's Iliad" --As I said above, this blog shows interaction and discussion.  I also included it here because it caused two other classmates to present their opinions about the translations in comments posted on my blog.

"Ancient Romans, Illiteracy, and the Internet" --Someone outside of our class left an interesting assessment of the illiteracy problem in Bangladesh and what was being done to better the education system there.  I thought that a lot of what was said reinforced my ideas and added to disscussion.

"PowerPoint-Not So Bad Afterall?" -- As I mentioned above, Mr. Simon Morton, who professionally designs presentations for clients, commented on my "balanced view" of PowerPoint.  I think this shows not only an in depth analysis, but also the ability to create an argument that creates positive discussion with professionals.


Timeliness:  This is an area of blogging that I, as well as most of the class, needs to improve.  Because we are not posting our blogs early enough, online discussion is limited, even though in-class discussions are going well.  Even though I did not have many of these, I have included those that were posted early below.

"Simple Paths, but Empowering Consequences" --This focuses on the reader's free choice that has been allowed because of the creation of the book, which has caused me to refocus my ideas about reading and writing.

"Not Loving Technology, but Learning to Appreciate It" --Here, I talked about some of the negative effects of technology, while referring to an essay about how the Amish selectively choose which technologies their culture should adopt.  I must say that the one comment on this blog shows the opinions of many in my class, so take a look.

"Have Our Stages of Communication Really Changed That Much?" --This blog focuses on a very fun and interesting video about failures when using PowerPoint.  You should watch it.

"The Alphabet: Simplified, but Is It Really Simple?" --I spent a lot of time on this blog because it is something I am very interested in as a future teacher.  I have included some videos about Direct Instruction, as well as references to other essays we have read, so you should take a look.


Xenoblogging: In this section, I have included my own entries on others’ blogs that have forwarded discussion or given credit to my classmates.

On Shellie's blog entitled "Walter Ong," I recognized the fact that I had read her blog and gained insight from her for my own.  We both chose the same quote to discuss, although in different ways, so take a look at both blogs.

On Maddie's blog entitled "Mother Goose and Scary Stories for Kids," I was not only first to post, but I was able to given some informative comments about young children and reading based on my own experience and on research I have read.



Wildcard:  This section is supposed to highlight blogs that show is special ways how we have been blogging that may or may not directly relate to this course. 

"Translation and Homer's Iliad" --In this blog, I referred to another course I was taking, Islam: Religion and Culture, and how in this course we also talked about the problems and benefits associated with translations.  Also, although I could not link this blog to it, I did comment on a private forum about the ways Topics in Media and Culture affected my view of the translation of the Qur'an, and even linked those Islam classmates to this blog.

Stay tuned for more in this section in my next portfolio.  My Senior Seminar class is blogging about our project that we are calling Seniors Helping Seniors, and I will be participating in leaving comments about our progress.   


"Classic Orality Is..." Translatable?

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"… classic orality is untranslatable."

--From page 96 of Eric A. Havelock's chapter 9, "The Special Theory of Greek Orality," in his book The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present


In the above quote, Havelock is reviewing how his many examples of translated verses transliterated Greek show that the oral elements of the early written word cannot be properly translated to grasp the full meaning.  Although I agree to some extent with his argument, I also have to say that I can see areas where he has not considered some aspects of oral communication in written material today. 

One example of this inability that Havelock gives is as follows:

“Oedipus opens the play that bears his name with a public address in which he describes the city’s condition: ‘The town is heavy with a mingled burden of sounds and smells’ (Grene 1954)…The grammatical structure is atomistic, item is added to item using the connections supplied by the verb ‘to be’ and the preposition ‘with.’ The whole effect is static.  Meaning is accumulated piece by piece.  The original Greek says: ‘The city altogether bulges with incense-burnings.’ The imagery is dynamic: the city turns itself into a pregnant woman or a packed container” (95). 

Another example reads:

“‘Unpainable would I exist.’  In literate translation, this becomes ‘I would be very hard’; all the color has gone out of it” (96).

I personally enjoy the “original Greek” better than the smoothed-over translations above.  I think it is more poetic and it shows the oral qualities of this written work, something that I think is important to the preservation of the culture and to an understanding of the literature itself.  This makes me wonder why Havelock even brings these ideas up if he is not going to suggest a reason for this or a suggestion as to how to correct this phenomenon in translation of ancient texts.  It may be more difficult to read, but it would also allow the reader to fully experience the feel of the Greek oral structures. 

Not only do I think that “classic orality is” translatable to the written word in English, I also think it is translatable in the sense that many characteristics of the ancient oral tradition are still very popular today.  Of course, as Havelock suggests in his previous chapter, children even today are first learning the language orally, so it would make sense that their means of learning the language would be through a primarily oral medium, the children’s or picture book.  Although the genre of these books shows that they do not only rely on the oral/aural method of transmission, but also the visual, they still exhibit primarily oral qualities, such as didactic purposes, moral undertones, rhyme or repetitious rhythms, the presence of magical or fantastical elements and repetition of similar sorts of characters, word choice, or subjects.  Throughout his book, Havelock supports all of these as characteristics of oral storytelling, and even suggests at one point that well known images or images within the actual surroundings of the location of the oral telling were incorporated into ancient storytelling as well. 

Beyond children’s stories, however, orality is still very much present.  Dramas necessarily rely on some of these oral characteristics, as do novels with dialogue.  Magazine writing and other forms of news writing that I have read also seem to contain some of these characteristics, especially the didactic elements, although they do so in a more formal and fact-based way.  Even text books rely on repetition and the highlighting of important parts, although this is done textually rather than verbally. I think that the more I read about the development of communication from the oral to manuscript stages, the more I see that our communication structures today have allowed much from this primary oral structure to remain.   

I think that if we are ever able to recognize these effects in our culture, we will be more likely to accept the “Greek translation,” as Havelock puts it, of ancient texts.  And, by accepting this translation instead of the more linear and English-ized ones we can begin to solve some of Plato’s Socrates’ warnings about the written text.  Instead of people misunderstanding, forgetting, or misinterpreting the written word, and thus others’ ideas about both the past and the present, we can better understand and use the information that is available to us today.


Read what others have to say about Havelock's chapter.


Are Our Own Ways of Teaching Appropriate?

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"Tradition in short is taught by action, not by idea or principle.  For its teaching, oral societies have to provide suitable performance context attended by audiences who will be invited or invite themselves to share in what is on the one hand a language of specialist, yet on the other a language in which all to varying degree participate... The festival became the occasion of epic recital and choric song and dance...On such occasions the verse of an oral society discovers its means of 'publication.'"

--From page 77 of Eric A. Havelock's chapter 8, "The General Theory of Primary Orality," of his book The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present


As I read this quote from Havelock, I was immediately reminded of Howard Rheingold's essay "Look Who's Talking" in Tribble and Trubek's Writing Material.  Havelock focuses on explaining the way that the oral method of communication was used to pass on important knowledge about that society.  This was their primary way of teaching the youth about the culture's past, maintaining cultural values in the future, and promoting the recording of future cultural values and important events.  However, in Rheingold's essay, he discusses how the Amish choose to strictly evaluate technology before fully accepting it as part of their culture.  I think that they do this because all that they want to pass on to their youth about their culture can be done so through oral stories and preaching, through apprenticeships and one-on-one teaching,  and through print sources.  By opening their society up to technologies like the Internet, they will be less able to pass on their cultural values because so much time will be spent on retaining or searching for information that does not reflect what their society is all about.

I think this is an important idea for even us to think about.  The Internet is great because it allows for the freedom of speech; however, I think that we also need to consider whether or not it is promoting our societies values.  Is freedom of speech a value that so important to us that we are willing to pass on some of the negative content that is on the Internet to our youth as part of our culture?


See what others have to say about Havelock. 


The Alphabet: Simplified, but Is It Really Simple?

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"It is easy to see why pre-Greek systems never got further than the syllable.  This 'piece' of linguistic sound is actually pronounceable and so empirically perceptible.  The consonants by strict definition are by themselves 'dumb,' 'mute,' 'unpronounceable'...The Greek system got beyond empiricism, by abstracting the nonpronounceable, nonperceptible elements contained in the syllables.  We not style these elements 'con-sonants'...Their creation separated out an unpronounceable component of linguistic sound and gave it visual identity...In so doing they for the first time supplied our species with a visual representation of linguistic noise that was both economical and exhaustive: a table of atomic elements which by grouping themselves in an inexhaustible variety of combinations can with reasonable accuracy represent any actual linguistic noise.  The invention also supplied the first and last instrument perfectly constructed to reproduce the range of previous orality."

--From page 60 Eric A. Havelock's chapter 7, "Speech Put in Storage," of his book The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present


I thought that this quote from Havelock's book is very interesting because it touches a lot upon ideas we have discussed in class so far, as well as upon ideas that deal with my future career as an Elementary teacher.  First, it is amazing to think about the actual creation of writing.  I am sure it, like many inventions, was a product of necessity, but the above development of the written word by the Greeks is even more amazing because of the difficulty in creating a written language that would economically but accurately emulate speech. 

However, when you consider how arbitrarily a symbol could be applied to a sound, and how symbols could never fully recreate the sound, one can understand Plato's Socrates' disdain for the written word.  In an excerpt of Plato's Phaedrus in Tribble and Trubek's Writing Material, Socrates says, "you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth...they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality" (362).  Although Socrates is referring to the loss of memory and true learning when the context is taken into account, these specific words also show that Socrates'/Plato's beliefs or commentary could be applied to the lack of the sensory experience that is available in oral discussion but not in print.  Although Havelock points out that the Greek alphabet was a great advancement that has helped in the transmission of very important works and information from the ancient past to people today, as well as has influenced our own alphabet, it still cannot independently provide the experience of the spoken word.  

Although the effects of the Greek alphabet are important and necessary to the way we communicate today, we have to admit that there are characteristics of our alphabet that make it difficult to learn.  Think about how long it takes to learn how to read.  Even at the college level, we often mispronounce words or do not know the meanings of them.  Our alphabet may be efficient, but as Socrates points out, it does somewhat limit what we know.  

Because of this difficulty, as well as many others that I will not address here, word memorization is less relied upon in the teaching field as a means of teaching reading.  Phonemic and phonic awareness is more important.  Some programs have even been created that does not follow the traditional English alphabet.  One of these programs (I unfortunately cannot remember the name and could not find an example of the alphabet online without the specific name of the program) uses an alphabet that is phonetically designed.  This alphabet contains more than the normal 26 letters.  For instance, it includes an "hw" sound, because this is the proper way to pronounce words like "whale," as well as other similar looking letters.  The alphabet picture card has all of these letters with pictures underneath.  This is almost a return to some of the pre-Greek systems, but many professional educators use this program.  Another program is called Direct Instruction and is often used in Special Education.  This program, especially when students begin to learn to read sentences and phrases, features pictorial clues such as dots, arrows, and connected letters (for instance the "th" is connected at first) as well as verbal cues like taping or clicking to illicit the response and cue phrases like "Get ready" to prepare the student for reading.  Both of these programs complicate the simplified alphabetic style that was created by the Greeks, but they do so to facilitate learning and both are eventually, and ideally, phased out to allow for popularized print. 

I think that the use of these sorts of programs, as well as Socrates' remarks about the written word, show us that writing, although efficient, is also has some problems.  Not only can the real oral word not be truly expressed only in writing, but the simplified print makes it difficult to learn to read because there is so much distance between the abstract symbol in a flat world and the oral word in a sensory world.


See what other's have to say about Havelock


Have Our Stages of Communication Really Changed That Much?

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Whenever I watched Don McMillan’s video about Powerpoint, I could immediately connect it with some of my own experiences, mainly in college, that involved poor use of PowerPoint.  However, I could also connect it to Jay David Bolter’s article entitled “The New Dialogue” in Tribble and Trubeck’s Writing Material.  In his essay, Bolter talks about how the digital age allows the reader to make his or her own path because it represents a networking pattern rather than a linear pattern (76).  PowerPoint is similar; however, rather than allowing the reader to make his or her path, it allows the presenter to make his or her own path.  McMillan illustrates in his own PowerPoint the faults of such a freedom, highlighting the misuse of text and picture animation, graph labels, and text placement. 

However, by comparing these very different sources of information, I think that PowerPoint seems to be an extension of the oral phase of communication, which made me think that I might be looking at the phases incorrectly.  Manuscript did replace oral, print did replace manuscript, and now digital is replacing print as the most important forms of communication; however, oral communication is still so important in our lives, perhaps more so within our current stage.   Instead of each moving into the other, perhaps we should look at each type of communication development separately?

See what others have to say about McMillan's video. 

PowerPoint-Not So Bad Afterall?

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I really enjoyed Ian Parker’s essay “Absolute PowerPoint” in Tribble and Trubek’s Writing Material because Parker seemed to fairly present both the positive and negative aspects of PowerPoint.  For instance, Parker writes, “In the glow of a PowerPoint show, the world is condensed, simplified, and smoothed over…” (356).  Despite the somewhat sarcastic or negative tone, Parker points out in this quote that although “simplifying” the world may not be exactly positive, it can be positive in some situations.  He cites Stanford professor Clifford Nass as one proponent of the constructive aspects of PowerPoint: “‘What PowerPoint does is very efficiently deliver content, Nass told me.  ‘What students gain is a lot more information—not just facts but rules, ways of thinking, examples’” (357).  I think this can be very true.  When I was in high school, only one teacher in the building had a Smart Board in his room.  The rest lectured, read from notes, or wrote on the board or plastic overhead sheets for the projector.  I would have loved to have had PowerPoint that would neatly list important terms, ideas, and a basic outline for the information we would be covering that period.     

When I came to college, however, I found that PowerPoint was not as great as I thought.  One course in particular influenced my opinions of PowerPoint.  In this course, the professor used nothing but PowerPoint lectures every class period.  This professor’s PowerPoint lectures were filled with text that he read word-for-word while standing behind the podium.  He used an obnoxious bright blue color with white, and worse sometimes black, lettering that, although it did not fly onto the screen, usually involved some sort of text animation.  Don McMillan could have used one of this professor's PowerPoint slides in his comedy acts.   

Occasionally, such a presentation is necessary, although the colors, flying text, and large amounts of text are not.  I have given similar PowerPoint presentations before, as have other professors whose courses I have taken (with none of the added headache and boredom creators), because at times, PowerPoint can be the best way to explain material simply.  PowerPoint is simple to use, simple to understand, and it effectively simplifies most topics.  It provides an easy way to incorporate large visuals into the classroom or workplace, and even, as Parker points out, at wedding receptions or religious services (354-355).  However, it for the same reasons, it can also be negative.  Sometimes, ideas should not be simplified, or simplification can lead to misinterpretation.  Also, PowerPoint removes creativity from the picture.  Yes, one can chose the colors, font, and text placement, but I would rather look at a scrapbook of special photos that a husband and wife worked on together instead of a PowerPoint of hundreds of photos.  Parker refers to these dilemmas in a different way.  He writes, “Instead of human contact, we are given human display” (355).  PowerPoint, when used all of the time, allows us to hide our human imperfections behind each bullet point and sweeping line of text.  I personally do not mind PowerPoint when it is used to show visuals and some facts, but I think that small and large group presentations and discussions, online chatting and blogging, and one-on-one conversation is just as appropriate to use at various times in the various settings in which PowerPoint is used.  Such varied interaction allows us to truly understand one another and what we all have to say.

See what others have to say about Parker's essay.

Today I'm Liking the Physical World the Best

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In the essay “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought” in Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek’s Writing Material, author Walter Ong suggests that, “Writing is an intrusion, though an invaluable intrusion…” (318).  I am not so sure I agree with the second part of this statement, but I agree wholeheartedly with the first because as I was reading this essay, I was also listening to the Super Bowl on the radio.  At that moment, writing was an “intrusion” for me: an intrusion into my enjoyment of oral culture.  Of course, I was listening to it on the radio instead of watching it on the television because I knew I needed to get work done, but I felt this article was interfering with my having fun with my friends today.  Even Ong says, “…the oral sensibility is out to hold things together, to make and retain agglomerates, not to analyze (which means to take things apart)…” (317).  Doesn’t this sound so much better than the ripping apart that writing seems to facilitate? 


With such comments as these, I started to enjoy what Ong was talking about.  Two quotes from his essay especially made me think about writing differently than I had before, and not just because I didn’t want to do any so that I could watch the Super Bowl.  Ong writes, “…the written text, for all its permanence, means nothing, is not even a text, except in relationship to the spoken word” (321).  This is a really new way for me to think about writing and literacy.  In another blog, I talked about the importance of literacy; however, I did not really include the necessary oral aspects of literacy in my discussion.  To use Ong’s example, if someone does not know what a tree is, has not experienced the sight or identification of a tree, the written word “tree” will not be very effective.  


This relates directly to the second quote that I enjoyed from Ong’s essay: “One of the most generalizable effects of writing is separation” (326).  Writing separates the material world from meaning.  If one does not know what a tree is, he or she may still be able to read the word “tree,” but it will mean, essentially, nothing.  Similarly, if one lives in a country where soccer is more popular than American football, one would not truly understand what I mean when I write about my disappointment at having to do homework while listening to the Super Bowl.  It seems that Ong does not fully explain this idea he has because he leaves out the material world-a world defined by the senses.  Yes, he discusses sounds and events abstractly, in the context of orality and literacy; however, he never explicitly states that without the physicality of the person and the world around him or her, there could be no orality or literacy.  I think that this is actually an unspoken point that is underlying his arguments about orality and literacy.  We discussed this a bit in class, bringing up how different a phone interview is from a personal interview because one cannot see or interpret the possible employer’s body language.  At some point in the line of communication, usually at the heart and purpose of it, the physical world is necessary.


It seems that in our world today that is so intimately connected via radio, phone, and more technologically, via the Internet, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of the connecting force of the physical world.  While it is amazing that we can experience so much more because we are not limited to only experiencing the physical world, I think we do need to see the importance of it.  Next time there is an important event like the Super Bowl, I will take Ong’s unspoken advice and physically and orally experience it.  After all, I can write about it later. 


See what others have to say about the Super Bowl and about Ong's essay.

How Do We Think?

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"More simply, did human being once think differently from the way we do now, and do we now think differently from the way we may think in the future?"

-From Eric A. Havelock's The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present, page 27

Even though Havelock is disgussing a book (The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan) that was written almost fifty years ago, I think these questions posed by it are still relevant.  I definitely know that I think differently than people did in the past.  From our readings so far, especially Plato's work, we can see that in the past, memory was an important part of each person's everyday life.  I can see this even when I look at my own family.  My mother remembers much more than I do.  In fact, she still sometimes reminds me of things that I have to do that I have forgotten.  And, when I talk to my grandmother about what she did when she was young, she can remember extremely specific details, like what she was wearing when such-and-such happened.  Part of this strong memory may be a personal characteristic (my father's memory is not nearly as good as my mothers); however, I do think it has a lot to do with what and how we think today.

Now, we have so many more ways of remembering things.  First, paper was more available so people could take notes.  Then there were audio recording devices, then personal computers and Blackberries, and now most cell phones can retain large amounts of information and personal computers are the size of a small tablet.  Also, because of this technology, there exists a greater availability of information, so we are not required to remember as much.  We can simply go to sites like Wikipedia to find any basic information, and extend our almost limitless search from there.

However, thinking and remembering are slightly different, and I do know young people today who can remember every detail of whatever people tell them.  What is different about our thinking today is that we think more often in terms of how to aquire information than how to remember it.  If we are looking for scholarly information, we usually (hopefully) do not think about going to Wikipedia.  We think about going to the library homepage, then to a search for online articles, then to a specific search engine, and so on.  The ancients only had the information they had memorized or could obtain from another person, and people in the more recent past had what these, but also what they could write down or find in books.  Now, so much more information is available to us that the ways of aquireing that knowldge is what we spend more time thinking about.  I wonder what people in the future will spend most of their time thinking about?


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Ancient Romans, Illiteracy, and the Internet

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The ideas puts forth in Anthony Di Renzo's essay "His Master's Voice: Tiro and the Rise of the Roman Secretarial Class" were very interesting because I have never really studied ancient Rome in much detail.  I was completely unaware of the place that slaves held in the community, and did not even know that they could free themselves, so Tiro's story was fascinating to learn about.  For instance, Di Renzo writes, “Tiro was sent to elementary school, the ludus litterarius, to learn reading and writing.  This was not an act of generosity but necessity.  Rome was the most literate society of the classical world, ‘a civilization based on the book and the register,’ and ‘no one, either free or slave, could afford to be illiterate’ (Dupont qtd. in Di Renzo).  Previously, I was only familiar with the more modern idea of slavery that includes not allowing slaves to be literate for fear of revolt.  I think this fact shows so much about what was important to their culture. 

Reading this also made me take a closer look at our culture in the United States today, where illiteracy is found far too often.  The CIA World Factbook reports that 99% of the total population (over the age of 15) of the United States in 2003 could read and write; however, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, “twenty two percent of adults [in 2003] were Below Basic (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills) in quantitative literacy, compared with 14 percent in prose literacy and 12 percent in document literacy.”  This does not seem to coincide, even though children are not assessed in the second survey.  I am fairly certain that if we as Americans do not even ensure that our actual citizens are literate then we would not educated those who are not citizen anywhere near as well as the Romans did their non-citizens.  However, Rome was moving into the manuscript culture that required a knowledge of reading and writing that their previous oral culture did not. 

Still, despite our movement into the digital age, print remains a major part of the digital system.  Yes, more concrete visual and aural areas are being developed through the use of the Internet; however print is still the major focus, or if not the explicit focus, the facilitator or explainer of the more visual or aural spotlight.  Perhaps print is still playing such a major role because many people alive today grew up using only physical print sources.  Di Renzo points out at the end of his article that, “Scholars and historians of professional and technical writing often claim that technological revolutions in communications empower the marginalized and encourage freedom, but the story of Tironean shorthand shows that not all communications revolutions are benign and that empowering the disenfranchised does not necessarily encourage good citizenship or secure liberty.”  This statement can be applied to the illiteracy problem.  Because we did not have high literacy standards, in my opinion, newspapers were written on an elementary school level, the Internet allowed for the prevalence of non-text based spread of information, and so on.  However, in doing so, we may not be promoting the best types of citizenship or liberty. 

For instance, slanderous gossip is spread more quickly and easily, but less obviously.  I’m thinking particularly of such gossip spread by young people online; however, this could also apply to that spread about celebrities and politicians.  Also, think of all of the fears that the Internet brings with it, such as viruses, identity thieves, and hacking.  These certainly do not enhance our liberties.  The Internet is also much easier in some ways to regulate in the sense that certain groups, from school students to entire countries like China, can be prevented, for better or for ill, from visiting certain websites.  It is so interesting that by looking at a society that existed thousands of years ago, we can see our own as if looking in a mirror.  Hopefully, though, our current and future movements in technology will not be so violent as the Roman movement from oral to manuscript culture.

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Not Loving Technology, but Learning to Appreciate It

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I found Howard Rheingold's article "Look Who's Talking" in Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age by Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek fascinating for two reasons.  First, I really did not know much about Amish society, and what I did know was based mainly in hearsay.  However, I really enjoyed the article because the Amish have what I think is a very refreshing view of technology.  I am not technologically savvy at all, and I do not really enjoy using technology very often.  Yes, I have a computer and cell phone, but I rarely use them for anything fun.  Occasionally, I'll watch a movie on my computer or shop online, but this is really the extent of my use aside of school work.  As for my cell phone, I use it to talk to my family and a few close friends, but that is really it.  I do not text often, and if you got one of my texts, you would see basically proper spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.  At school, I don't even have cable in my room.  Do I value these forms of technology?  Of course.  They allow for ease of certain forms of communication as well as provide an outlet for many important recreational and professional activities. 

However, I also think that technologies such as these lead to tons of wasted time and in many cases a lack of certain forms of communication.  Rheingold raises some of the same questions that I have: "How often do we interrupt a conversation with someone who is physically present in order to answer the telephone?  Is the family meal enhanced by a beeper? Who exactly is benefiting from call waiting? Is automated voicemail a dark hint about the way our institutions value human time and life?  Can pagers and cell pones that vibrate instead of ring solve the problem?  Does the enjoyment of virtual communities by growing numbers of people enhance or erode citizen participation in the civic life of geographic communities?" (387).  My roommates love technology, which is great because they know a lot more about it than I do and benefit from this, but which is also not great because they sometimes do very silly things.  Once, we were all quietly working on our computers in the same room, when two of them started giggling.  I asked what they were laughing about, looked at one of their screens, and I realized they were instant messaging each other.  They were sitting beside each other on the couch.  Need I say more?  I am also so glad Rheingold brought up "virtual communities" because I think that Facebook is one of the biggest time wasters today.  I cannot count the number of times I have gone into a computer lab on a beautiful, sunny day because I had to do school work and found at least one person on Facebook.  And don't even get me started on Farmville.  Please, just go and plant your own garden.  At least then there will be an actual product of your time. 

Anyway, I will get down off my soap box.  I just believe that technology inhibits real conversation, real interest in humanity, and real living.  I think that the Amish have a great view of technology.  They use it and see its value, but they do not let it rule their lives.  Rheingold puts it perfectly: “Far from knee-jerk technophobes, [the Amish] are very adaptive techno-selectives who devise remarkable technologies that fit within their self-imposed limits” (382).  I think this is a very healthy way to think about technology.  I know that I would benefit from such a perspective because I am quick to avoid technology instead of looking at the benefits of it.  Am I going to give up my cell phone and occasional Internet shopping?  No, but I am going to look at the ways I use and value technology and think about how this impacts my life.  Who knows, maybe I will even find a positive use for Facebook.


Take a look at what my classmates have to say about Rheingold's essay.