Other documents by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood:

The Effect of Novel Communications Technologies on Society

Note: I have read most, but not all of these materials yet. The ones that I have not yet read are referenced heavily by other works.

Orality and Literacy

There is a whole bunch of work that talks about "literate" versus "oral" cultures.

Secondary Orality

There are a number of works that argue that Western society is entering into "secondary orality", where a lot of our information comes from audio sources. Note that the Web has many "oral" characteristics, as does email.

  • From Orality to Literacy to Hypertext: Back to the Future? by Bob Fowler lines electronic communication up against Ong's description of oral cultures. Point-by-point, he shows how hypertext is fits nicely in the box labeled "oral".

  • Characteristics of Oral Culture in Discourse on the Net by John December is a version of a paper presented at the twelfth annual Penn State Conference on Rhetoric and Composition on July 8, 1993. It, like Bob Fowler's essay, shows point by point how computer-mediated communication match Ong's description of oral communications.

  • Introduction: Orality, Literacy, and Electronic Discourse by Victor J. Vitanza is the introduction to his book, Writing for the World Wide Web. He contends that because hypertext allows users to shape the experience they consume, hypertext is fundamentally an oral-style discourse.

  • The Theory and Practice of Hypertext Authoring by Paul Dyck is a little weird and hard to follow, but has some interesting ideas about hypertext as a medium.

  • Politexts, Hypertexts, and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print by Nancy Kaplan has interesting ideas on computer-mediated communication. Like Paul Dyck's, it is heavily hypertextual and not very good at defending a thesis. In fact, it is difficult to figure out exactly what the thesis is. That may be the most interesting thing about her site: perhaps hypertext essays are inherently more collegial, less argumentative, and more experiential. ?

  • (Alas, this doesn't seem to be on the Web any more.) Literacy And Orality Are Still In Our Times by Jeff Rice has really neat memes in it. He argues that the biggest problem facing poor writers is overcoming their "inner voice". He contends that most of his freshman rhetoric students are products of a secondary oral culture - one that gets its stories from radio, television, and movies - and not a literate one. These students then have a hard time converting what "sounds" right to them into what looks good to rhetoric teachers.

Print Cultures vs. Scribal Cultures

  • The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, by Elizabeth Eisenstein, is another book that will blow your mind. It shows all the different effects that the printing press had on religion, politics, creativity, nationalism, celebrity, and the way people thought about the world and their place in it. This book also blew my mind.

    Note, however, that it is a very academic book; as a non-historian, I found it a bit of a tough slog. The abridged version is probably better for casual readers (and cheaper!).

  • I've moved my blurb on The Calligraphic State by Messick to my page on written Arabic.

  • The Alphabet and the Goddess by Leonard Shlain claims that there's something about literacy that changes peoples' thinking to be more linearally abstract ("masculine") and hence more hostile to the feminine.

    I'm not sure I buy this, either. It seems more likely to me that, because men traditionally are responsible for stuff outside the home -- "public stuff -- and women are traditionally responsible for stuff inside the home -- "private stuff" -- that when people started writing, it was more natural to write about public stuff than private stuff. Once you start reading over and over about men and not women, you start thinking that men are more important than women.

  • Paper Before Print by Jonathan Bloom, which I didn't have a chance to read carefully, says that paper came to the Arab world around 700-800 AD, while it didn't come to the West until 1200 AD.

  • I have not read The Culture and Commerce of Texts : Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England by Harold Love but it looks like it might be interesting.

There are interesting reading lists at the UCSB English 125 Course Outline and the Biases of the Ear and Eye bibliography
Last modified 8 July 2003

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