My Journal



Must New Media Depend on Writing?

“Written texts all have to be related somehow, … to the world of sound, … to yield their meanings.” “Reading a text means converting it to sound, aloud or in the imagination… Writing can never dispense with orality.” (Ong, 8).

“Oral expression can exist and mostly has existed without any writing at all, writing never without orality.” (Ong, 8).

Reading these lines in Ong’s “Orality and Literacy” I consider the ways Audio and Visual New Media (AVNM) –or what I’ve come to call digital orality– depend on writing. I am not necessarily looking at the way it they do use text, as much as the extent to which they need to do so. In other words, are there ways, if we so choose, to increase the amount of more oral/visual-based communication?

The first way that text seems most useful and essential in digital orality is in navigation. Consider trying to locate a podcast on a given topic without out being able to see it listed or type anything in to search for it or navigate to it. This could be done with the right software design, and in some ways it might be a bit easier, if it were successful. For example, I could merely state, into a microphone, that I want an audio podcast, recorded in the last 60 days, on the topic of foil fencing, at my local university. I could receive audio back, stating how many returned hits there were, and I could begin interacting to narrow down the list. Even if the returned hits were over one million (highly unlikely with this particular topic), this should be no more intimidating than receiving such a textual list from a Google search. I could interact auditorily (not unlike conversing) to narrow the list and locate files that meet my desired search.

Considering the quest for a video podcast or blogcast; that I could navigate without text it is even more logical, since I would follow a similar path (as the noted audio example), but can see stills and images that are more intuitive in regard to what I am looking for and what file I am about to view. The imagined scene is not so unlike Deckert interacting with the image in the film version of Bladerunner. For the noting fencing example, it might go something like, “Find podcasts on fencing, limit to sport, limit to foil fencing, limit to the last 60 days, limit to my State University.” The system would return a list, either narrowing the list with a each statement or collecting all information at once and returning a list. I could then continue to interact to view one: “Display newest to oldest. Scroll, slower. Stop. Get information on video. Back. Scroll. Get information on video. View this video.” While this sounds a bit sci-fi, clearly it is within the realm of possibility and would not HAVE to use text, albeit, I fully admit labeling and text would simplify the process given our current literacy (use and understanding of textual navigation).

Similar to locating a podcast, one can consider the other side of the activity, that of creating a document or podcast. In most cases, it is suggested to have some type of outline to use as a reminder of what points one is to discuss during the podcast. However, this too is not essential; one could just record a presentation without using any writing preceding or during the cast. If it were not scripted, one could almost get by using no text, but not entirely; it is virtually essential for the sake of navigation, labeling, storage, organization, etc. Also, while one can learn the procedure from another individual, it is far more difficult without some sort of educational and referential documentation presented in print. But it does not have to be this way: directions/tutorials for how to navigate and operate an interface could be presented in A/V format. Of course, I cannot deny that the back-end is still reliant on text, that is the RSS, CSS, HTML, and PHP code that forms the interface is required. I found this resource that helped with setting up the page to follow the principles of predictive analytics.

Currently, much podcasting is for instructional purposes. Therefore, the concept of reliance on writing for documentation, in this case, becomes somewhat cyclical, since the viewer actively seeks the file for the purpose of receiving instructional knowledge. Writing, of course, can be used to enhance understanding, but it is not essential. The speaker can be solely oral (a talking head), can include diagrams of pictorial examples (actual whiteboard on-screen, virtual whiteboard, PowerPoint with overvoice, etc.), can include demonstrative instructions (display a task being completed – assembly, procedure, etc.). However, while these examples might or might not include text, there need not be a dependence on writing in the presentation.

Again, such a presentation would not have to be to totally audio to be text-free. Going back to the fencing podcast example, I could still use a mouse or touch screen to locate a podcast by icon, in this case, I could click on a sports icon => fencing icon => geographic icon => and all the way to a logo of my University. Certainly, it is interesting to imagine and predict such methods. However, more to the point is that in attempting to do so, one must consciously try to come up with ways to not use text… unnecessarily. That is, I see no reason in attempting to remove this factor entirely.

Currently, much of my research is heavily weighted on Walter Ong. Ong did not attempt to create a binary between orality and literacy (although it seems many do strive to create such a binary). Rather, he was very much about discussing how the two interact in general and in certain media.

As I noted before, nothing in my discussions should suggest that I think we are moving back to a primarily oral culture. We are a writing, electronic, and digital culture. That is, we have writing, so orality is not going to replace writing. Rather, I mean to suggest that there are factors of our current digital orality conditions that closely parallel those of primarily oral cultures and that there are ways we could move even further away from being such a text-dependent culture, such as removing the dependence on (though not entirely removing the use) textual keyboards. What is important to examine is that communication and the transfer of information can exist in this NM in a form that is more oral than it is textual.

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