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Media, Information and Technoculture 2000F/G Study Guide - Midterm Guide: Canada Gazette, The Canadian Press, Clay Tablet

Media, Information and Technoculture
Course Code
MIT 2000F/G
Daniel Robinson
Study Guide

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MIT 2000: Communication History in Canada - Reading Notes
Topic 1: Oral Society
Psychodynamics of Orality
- Malinowski made the point that among primitive (oral) peoples generally language is a mode of action
and not simply a countersign of thought
- oral people commonly consider words to have great power
- all sound, and especially oral utterance, which comes from inside living organisms is dynamic
- in an oral culture, restriction of works to sound determines not only modes of expression but also
thought processes
- you know what you can recall
- the organized knowledge that literates today study so that they know it, that is can recall it, with very
few if any exceptions, be assembled and made available to them in writing
- sustained thought in an oral culture is tied to communication
- even with a listener to stimulate and ground thought, the bits and pieces of your thought cannot be
preserved in jotted notes
- in a primary oral culture, to solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated
thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence
- thought must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antithesis, in
alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions, in standard thematic settings, in
- since in a primary oral culture conceptualized knowledge that is not repeated aloud soon vanishes, oral
societies must invest great energy in saying over and over again what has been learned arduously over the
- knowledge is hard to come by and precious and society regards highly those wise old men/women who
specialize in conserving it, who know and can tell the stories of the days of the old
- by storing knowledge outside the mind, writing, and print downgrades the figures of the wise elders in
favour of younger discoverers of something new
- writing is of course conservative in its own ways; shortly after it first appeared, it served to freeze legal
codes in early Sumeria
- text frees the mind of conservative tasks of its memory work
- narrative originally lodges not in making up new stories but in managing a particular interaction with
this audience at this time - at every telling the story has to be introduced uniquely into a unique situation,
for in oral cultures an audience must be brought to respond
From Empire and Communications
- Monopoly of the fur trade held by the Hudsons Bay Company checked expansion northwestward from
the St. Lawrence until Confederation was achieved and political organization became sufficiently strong
to support construction of transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, completed in 1885
- the railway and the steamship facilitated concentration on agricultural products
- concentration on staple products incidental to the geographic background has involved problems not
only in the supply area but also in the demand
- the concepts of time/space reflect the significance of media to civilization
- media that emphasize time are those that are durable in character (ex: parchment, clay, stone)
- media that emphasize space are apt to be less durable and light in character (ex: papyrus, paper)
- the latter are suited to wide areas in administration and trade
- materials that emphasize time favour decentralization and hierarchal types of institutions, while those of
space favour centralization and systems of government less hierarchal in character
- large-sale political organizations such as empires must be considered from the standpoint of 2
dimensions: those of time/space, and persist by overcoming the bias of media which overemphasize either
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- can conveniently divide the history of the West into the writing and the printing periods
- in the writing period we can note the importance of various media such as the clay tablet, the papyrus
roll, the parchment codex, and paper
- in the printing period we are able to concentrate on paper as a medium but we can note the introduction
of machinery in the manufacture of paper and in printing at the beginning of the 19th century and the
introduction of the use of wood as a raw material in the 2nd half of that century
- we are apt to overlook the significance of the spoken word and to forget that it has left little tangible
remains but we can sense its importance even in contemporary civilization
- prior to the intro of writing, music played its role in emphasizing rhythm and metre which eased the task
of memory
- poetry is significant as a tribute to the oral tradition
- many primitive languages have a formal richness; a latent luxuriance of expression that eclipses
anything known to languages of modern civilization
- the written tradition has had a limited influence on them
- it is scarcely possible for generations disciplined in the written and printed tradition to appreciate the
oral tradition
- Herbert Spencer wrote that language must be regarded as a hindrance to thought, though the necessary
instrument of it, we shall clearly perceive on remembering the comparative force with which simple ideas
are communicative signs
- a change in the type of medium implies a change in the type of appraisal and hence makes it difficult for
one civilization to understand another
- character of the material much is preserved when little is written and little is preserved when much is
- Becker stated the art of writing provided man with a transpersonal memory
- men were given an artificially extended and verifiable memory of objects and events not present to sight
or recollection
- writing enormously enhanced a capacity for abstract thinking which had been evident in the growth of
language in the oral tradition
- the monarchies of Egypt and Persia, the Roman Empire, and the city states were essentially products of
- it has been claimed that an extended social structure was not only held together by increasing #s of
written records but also equipped with an increased capacity to change ways of living
- following the invention of writing, the special form heightened language, characteristic of the oral
tradition and collective society, gave way to private writing
- records and messages displaced the collective memory
Topic 2: Writing & Print Culture
Literate Revolution
- the intro of Greek letters into inscription somewhere about 700BC was to alter the character of human
- Greeks did not just invent an alphabet; they invented literacy and the literate basis of modern thought
- letter shapes and values had to pass through a period of localization before being standardized thought
- even after the technology was standardized or relatively so - 2 competing versions: Eastern and Western
- its effects were registered slowly in Greece
- democratized literacy/ made democratization possible
- Greek system by its superior analysis of sound placed the skill of reading theoretically within the reach
of children at the stage where they are still learning sounds of their own oral vocabulary
- if acquired in childhood, the skill was convertible into an automatic reflex and thus distributable over a
majority of a given population provided it was applied to the spoken vernacular
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- the acoustic efficiency of the script had a result which was psychological: once it was learned you did
not have to think about it
- though a visible thing, a series of marks, it ceased to interpose itself as an object of thought between the
reader and his collection of the spoken tongue
- possibility arose of placing 2 or several languages within the same type of of script and so greatly
accelerating the process of cross-translation between them
- this is the technological secret which made possible the construction of a Roman literature upon Greek
models - the first such enterprise in the history of mankind
- full vernacular was not in fact the first thing to be transcribed
- the alphabet was not originally put at the service of ordinary human conversation; it was first used to
record a progressively complete version of the oral literature in Greece
- thought fluent transcription of the oral record became primary use to which the alphabet was put
- the alphabet, making available a visualized record which was complete, in place of an acoustic one,
abolished the need for memorization and hence rhythm
- the need to remember had used up a degree of brainpower which now was no longer needed
- the alphabet did not fully come into its own until Western Europe had learned to copy the letter shapes
in moveable types and until progress in industrial technique made possible the manufacture of cheap
- in Greece, stone and baked clay initially provide earliest testimony to the use of the alphabet
- other basic surface was that if papyrus available in Egypt
- first half of the 15th century saw the increasing use of papyrus & waxed tablets in Athens
- Athenian children in elementary school learnt their letters using sand and slate as materials
- the world of literature could constitute itself a sort of large club, the members of which were familiar
with each others words even though separated by spans of historic time
- books and documentation multiplied in the Hellenistic and Roman periods
- the production of script and hence the resources available for readership were bound to remain restricted
as long as it reminded a handicraft
- strict uniformity of letter shapes was rendered impossible by the vagaries of personal handwriting
- calligraphy becomes the enemy of literacy and hence also of literature & science
- alphabetic literacy, in order to overcome limitations of method and so achieve its full potential, had to
await the invention of the printing press
Rise of the Reading Public
- although printing did not introduce silent reading, it did encourage an increasing recourse to silent
instructors which nowadays carry farther than to public lectures
- the storyteller was replaced by the exceptional literate villager who read out loud from a stack of cheap
books and ballad sheets turned out anonymously for distribution by peddlers
- complaints about the sullen silence of newspaper readers in 17th century coffee houses point to the
intrusive effects of printed materials on some forms of sociability
- communication with the Sunday paper has replaced Church going
- after printing, news gathering an circulation were handled more efficiently under lay auspices
- the monthly gazette was succeeded by the weekly and finally by the daily paper
- more provincial newspapers were founded
- by the last century, gossiping churchgoers could often learn about local affairs by scanning columns of
newsprint in silence at home
- displacement of pulpit by press points to an explanation for the weakening of local community ties
- the shift in communications may have changed the sense of what it meant to participate in public affairs
- a reading public was not only more dispersed, it was also more atomistic and individualistic
- bookshops, coffee houses, and reading rooms provided new kinds of communal gathering places
- even while communal solidarity was diminished, vicarious participation in more distant events was also
enhanced and even while local ties were loosened, links to larger collective units were being forged
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