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History of Media and Technology - Lecture 003

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Media Studies
Michael Petit

22 January 2013 WEEK 3: LITERACY AND ORALITY “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, and inventor. Writing seen as an intrusion into the life world, as something foreign. In Phaedrus (370 BCE), Plato critiques writing, arguing that it is:  Inhuman as it establishes outside the mind what should only be inside the mind  Unresponsive as the words can’t talk back; they always say the same thing; essentially passive  Destroys memory as individuals come to rely on an external source; writing weakens the mind  Written word cannot defend itself whereas the spoken word can  Falsifies as writing freezes dynamic orality into discreet objects Literacy has a special status in our culture; it’s imperious, domineering, arrogant, overbearing. “Ill- literacy” is akin to having an illness and to being deviant. 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. Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing, but even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. Mediated Communication is using any external means to convey communication. Each means of mediated communication creates its own pattern, its own signature of human behaviour. The affects of mediated communication include:  Collapses of Space and Time o Expands personal knowledge base and provides ever more information remote from the here and now; information become anonymous o It takes our attention from the here to connect to the there  Expands as it Limits o Trade off with other activities through the expansion of the personal into mass communication modes with a weakening of the economic underpinning of traditional mass communication  Dazzles as it Stupefies o Ubiquitous and always on to draw one’s attention o Drives out deep thought that accompanies silence o Talent trumps individual expression (IE: The star)  Power o There are always efforts to control mediated communication o Used by rulers to maintain power and by specialists to undermine it o Increase in information producers o There is a knowledge gap, a divide between information rich and poor o More educated means more mediated communication Symbols and Signs are things with special meaning that allow us to conceive, express and communicate ideas. The use of symbols and signs is a central characteristic of human behaviour. From the beginnings of humanity, symbols and signs have encapsulated the knowledge, experience and beliefs of all people. Their meaning is arbitrary. Not perceived by the senses or by logic but can only be learned from those who use them so meaning becomes enigmatic. Stone Age (Pre-History) Middle and late Upper Palaeolithic, c. 30,000-12,000 BCE The archaeological evidence for the use of symbols comes from the use of ochre, a brownish red pigment believed to be used for symbolic rather than for functional purposes, funeral paraphernalia such as flowers and antlers deposited in burial sites suggesting a religious function or symbolic purpose, and tallies, parallel notches engraved on bones. Himba (northern Namibia) woman covered with a traditional ochre pigment. Steps in data processing:  Made Information Concrete (sign, not a symbol)  Made Information Abstract as concrete info becomes abstract markings. The data is removed from the original text and separates the knowledge from the knower generating unprecedented objectivity in dealing with information  Rudimentary means it is unspecific and for one-to-one correspondence only New Stone Age Neolithic 10,200 BCE - 4,500-2,000 BCE Clay tokens moulded in
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