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Lecture

History of Media and Technology - Lecture 002

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Department
Media Studies
Course
MDSA02H3
Professor
Michael Petit
Semester
Winter

Description
15 January 2013 WEEK 2: TECHNOLOGIES OF THE FUTURE AND THE PAST Technological Determinism presumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. A technological determinist would see technology and new technologies as the primary cause of major social and historical changes at the macro level of social structure, and at the micro-social level in terms of their profound social and psychological influences on individuals. The ideology of a “hard” or pure technological determinism has been rejected. Technology causes. Does it determine our social structure and cultural values? No. Technological determinism is a totalizing claim. Technology operates in more nuanced ways. Technology affects us. To affect means “to have an effect on something or someone.” In a media studies context, affect also points to the ways that meanings circulate between, among, through, in, and around human and non-human settings alike. The weather, for example, has affect. It is a non-human agent that has “an effect on something or someone” and its meaning weather circulates between, among, through, in and around things both human and non-human. Mediated communication technologies appear to have agency, and we respond to them as though they do. The weather, however, does not determine, for example, a person’s mood. Technology operates in the same manner. Technology affects. “OZYMANDIAS” BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLY (1818) I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz8VG1zIEL8 INTRODUCTION AND WRITING: GATHERING KNOWLEDGE “WRITING IS A TECHNOLOGY THAT RESTRUCTURES THOUGHT” BY ONG Literacy is a supreme power by taking itself as normative for human expression and thought in high technology cultures built on literacy. Illiterate suggests that persons belonging to the class it designates are deviants. Views of writing as simply a mechanical skill obligatory for all human beings distort our understanding of what is human is only because they block understanding of what natural human mental processes are before writing takes possessions of consciousness. The fact that we do not commonly feel the influence of writing on our thoughts shows that we have interiorized the technology of writing so deeply that without tremendous effort we cannot separate it from ourselves or even recognize its presence and influence. Articulated truth has no permanence. Plato’s objections against writing are essentially the very same objections commonly urged today against computers by those who object them:  Computers are artificial contrivances, foreign to human life  Written text is basically unresponsive  Writing destroys memory, writing will become forgetful, relying on an external source for what they lack in internal resources. Calculators weaken the mind  The written word cannot defend itself as the natural spoken word can. If you punch the keys to a computer they will not fight back on their own but only in the way they have been programmed to do Writing is a technology. Writing technologies have differed in different parts of the world. It initiated what printing and electronics only continued. For a text to be intelligible, to deliver its message, it must be reconverted into sound. All verbal expression, whether put into writing, print, or the computer, is ineluctably bound to sound forever. Writing is completely artificial. Oral speech is fully natural to human beings. Writing or scripts differs as such from speech in that it is not inevitably learned by psychologically or physiologically unimpaired persons. The process of putting spoken language into writing is governed by consciously contrived, articulated procedures. Writing raises consciousness. Technology does not degrade human life but on the contrary enhances it. We are not born with art but add it to ourselves. The use of a technology can enrich the human psyche, enlarge human spirit, set it free, and intensify its interior life. Separation is also one of the most telling effects of writing. Writing separates the known from the knower. It promotes “objectivity”, the alphabet does so most of all. Writing interposes a visible and tangible object, the text. The objectivity of the text helps impose objectivity on what the text refers to. Writing will create a state of mind in which knowledge itself can be thought of as an object, distinct from the knower. The physical text is not itself knowledge like, it cannot be transferred from one person to another physically even in oral communication. Medium applies properly to manual or machine transferral of pattern not to human communication. Oral cultures tend to merge interpretation of data. Writing separates interpretation from data. Writing distances the word from sound. For every reading of a text consists of restoring it, directly or indirectly to sound, vocally or in the imagination. Whereas in oral communication the source (speaker) and the recipient (hearer) are necessarily present to one another, writing distances the source of the communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader) both in time and in space. Writing separates past from present. Writing makes it possible to separate logic (thought structure of discourse) from rhetoric (socially effective discourse). Writing separates academic learning from wisdom making possible the conveyance of highly organized abstract thought structures independently of their actual use or of their integration into the human life world. Writing can divide society by giving rise to a special kind of diglossia splitting verbal communication between a high language completely controlled by writing even though also widely spoken, and a low language or low languages controlled by speech to the exclusion of writing. Writing differentiates grapholects, those low language dialects which are taken over by writing and erected into national languages from other dialect, making the grapholect a dialect of a completely different order of magnitude and effectiveness from the dialects that remain oral. Writing divides or distances more evidently and effectively as its form becomes more abstract, which is to say more removed from the sound world into the space world of sight. Writing when it separates being from time. Print and electronics continue with new intensification and radical transformations the diaerect programme initially set in motion by writing. They separate knower from known more spectacularly than writing does. The computer achieves the ultimate (thus far) in separation of the knower and the known (the subject of discourse) between the two it interposes limitlessly complex structures of mechanically articulated bits of information, each consisting of the ultimate in divisive patterning, the dichotomy or binary division, which translates into “yes-no” or “is-isn’t.” Writing separates the known from the knower more definitely than the original orally grounded manoeuvre of naming does, but it also unites the knower and the known more consciously and more articulately. Writing is a consciousness-raising and humanizing technology. In his essay, “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought,” Walter Ong submits that literacy is not an innate human understanding; but a learned process which has developed along with technology as humanity has progressed. He argues that many people do not make the distinction between having an idea, and putting it down on paper; a thought is only legitimate if it is written down. Ong compares Plato’s theory of writing as an arbitrary human invention to modern day criticisms of technology, notably the computer. He posits that writing is a technology, much like typing on the computer. To write one needs tools and training. Ong comments, “Once reduced to space, words are frozen, and in a sense dead...removed from the living human life world, its rigid fixity, assures its endurance and its potential for being resurrected into limitless living contexts by a limitless number of living readers. The dead, thing like text has potentials for outdistancing those of the simply spoken word.” Ong compares Plato’s critique of writing to critiques of computers that were being made in 1986 when he wrote this essay. The same critiques are often made of new technologies:  The calculator externalizes what should be internal (arithmetic)  The mobile cell phone destroys memory “FROM PENCILS TO PIXELS: THE STAGES OF LITERACY TECHNOLOGIES” BY BARON The computer promises or threatens to change literacy practices for better or worse, depending on your point of view. The computer will be put to communication uses we cannot begin to imagine. There is dependence on the new technology of writing because of the flexibility of digitized text. After an invention, their spread depends on accessibility, function and authentication. Each new literacy technology begins with a restricted communication function and is available only to a small number of initiates. Because of the high cost of the technology and general ignorance about it, practitioners keep it to themselves at first. As costs decrease and the technology become better able to mimic more ordinary or familiar communications, a new literacy spreads across a population. Only then does technology come into its own. While brave new literacy technologies offer new opportunities for producing and manipulating text, they also present new opportunities for fraud. Procedures for authentication and reliability must be developed before the new technology becomes fully accepted. Humanists have long been considered out of the technology loop. Thoreau, an engineer, didn’t make pencils for the same reason he went to live at Walden Pond, to get back to basics. Rather, he designed them for a living. Thoreau sought to improve the process by developing a cutting edge manufacturing technology of his own. The development of the wood cased pencil as a paradigm of the engineer process, hinging on the solution of two essential problems: finding the correct blend of graphite and clay so that the lead is not too soft or too brittle, and getting the lead into the cedar wood case so that it doesn’t break when the point is sharpened or when pressure is applied during use. Pencil technologies involve advance design techniques. The development of the pencil is also a paradigm of the development of literacy. The humble wood pencil underwent several changes in form, greatly expanded its functions, and developed from a curiosity of use to cabinet makers, artists, and note takers into a tool. Plato was one leading thinker who spoke out strongly against writing, fearing that it would weaken our memories. The invention of the printing press occurred in Europe. Jay Bolter thought the typewriter as nothing more than a machine for duplicating texts, that it has not changed writing at all. Bolter characterizes the computer as offering a paradigm shift not seen since the invention of the printing press, or for that matter, since the invention of writing itself. The earliest Sumerian inscriptions record land sales, business transactions and tax accounts. Greek or Roman populations could have been literate, writing technology remained both cumberso
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