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.
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
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
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
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
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