Networks and writing technologies

We’ve started to think about the histories and material underpinnings of the internet and writing technologies in the past two weeks.  Consider the reading selections from Walter Ong, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Manuel Castells and Mark Buchanan as you respond to this post.  You may choose to respond to one article or make interconnected points between various readings, but be sure to include and unpack at least one quote from the readings in your post.

While some of these readings are quite challenging, think about and discuss why we might look to a material history of writing and communication technologies in order to understand other theoretical or aesthetic aspects of the course.  We will return to many of the concepts introduced in the past two weeks as we analyze different digital artifacts.

For example, why is it important to understand the military history behind what we currently think of as the internet?  Consider how Mark Buchanan and Manuel Castells discuss ARPAnet and the military rationale behind networked communication systems.  Why should we understand the difference between distributed versus centralized networks?  What does “small-world theory” indicate about emergent social groupings?

When Marshall McLuhan claims “The medium is the message,” what do you make of his iconic and provocative phrase?  We talked about how we often consider content to be a “pure” expression that isn’t influenced by media technologies, but what does McLuhan suggest about such assumptions?  Explain his example of the light bulb or the steam engine.  When a new technology is introduced, how does McLuhan analyze counter-intuitive or unexpected consequences?

Walter Ong gave us ways to consider differences between oral and print cultures.  Much like McLuhan, Ong helps us to think about the unanticipated impact of new writing technologies on human consciousness. What do you make of his claims that the introduction of the printing press leads to a wealth of other societal effects, including the development of science, the Enlightenment, democracy, and even our contemporary concepts of human history?

As always, you may respond to one or more of these prompts, or explore other aspects of the readings that interest you.

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12 responses to “Networks and writing technologies

  1. People are taught from an early age that before history there existed a pre-history in which writing did not exist. Walter Ong wrote Orality and Literacy to bind the two ideas of history together to delineate the importance of a shift in human consciousness (whether it be a move from oral to print culture or vice versa). According to Ong, print, not writing, prompted the shift from hearing to visual culture. This makes sense in that print created a set form for letters (fonts) and a uniform set of symbol could then be easily recognized making the switch more fluid. “Writing moves words from the sound world to a world of visual space, but print locks words into position in this space.” (121) The development of science would not have occurred without the set format of print that could be replicated. With print ideas could spread quickly and be referred back to at a later date. Memorization or use of a scribe became obsolete. Print also created the feeling of foreclosure. “The printed text is supposed to represent the words of an author in definitive or ‘final’ form.” (132) Writing signifies drafts and handwritten copies never look the same when rewritten.

    Using Ong’s theories in contemporary history the internet has started to blend the two cultures. Forgery and copywriting are new concepts relating to print. With the introduction of the internet, the originality of a person’s writings has become harder to identify although it can be recorded. Television had been thought to create a shift back from a seeing culture to more of a hearing one. A person can use the internet as a mixer for oral and visual media. One can post a youtube clip almost as easily as a blog post. Web pages contain visual stimuli and sound bites for advertisement. In recent years as the internet’s speed has increased people can watch TV show series and movies through the computer. And many people I know surf the web with music playing in the background. The internet is the new media that will shape human consciousness.

  2. In McLuhan’s article he explains that the way we view something’s message is largely affected by the medium chosen to project it. His point is that we don’t get the message without the medium therefore “the medium is the message (7). With his light bulb example he talks about how we assume that the content is the message, like when we see names or images spelled out in lights. However, we fail to realize that without the lights we would not see the message (8). To explain this he says that the “content of any medium is another medium” and uses the example of the process of thought (8). To get our thoughts across we use speech or writing. These mediate our thoughts to those we want to express them to.

  3. As we read these articles that help us understand the relevance and importance of digital media of our time we have to ask ourselves this; Are the machines being revolutionized through us, or are we being revolutionized by the machine? To understand this question in a more wide context you have to ask yourself how do we define ourselves as humans beings. Today, in this Information Age the human being and the machine are virtually inseparable. In Kittler’s article he quotes Nietzsche as saying, “For both people and computers are “subject to the appeal of the signifier”; that is, they are both run by programs. “Are these humans,” Nietzsche dares to ask, “or perhaps only thinking, writing, and speaking machines.” You have to ask yourself what makes the human being and the machine so different and how would we even know if were the machine. It is exceeding fascinating to examine how we and the machine are different but even more amazing to look into what commonalities we share.
    The Information Age, as Kittler calls it has, “split up so-called man into physiology and information technology. ” “So-called man,” or whatever our evolution has allowed us to become has given human beings the capacity to become a new entity-this new entity that even Kittler is unaware of what to call it. Kittler, and other philosophers and journalists do not know what to call us because this new form of being and age is relatively new to us. Extending beyond our genetic makeup a seeming new and awesome aspect of our ourselves is being translated into technology. Chastell uses the phrase that helps explain this statement, “Computers, communication systems, and genetic decoding, and programming, are all amplifiers, and extensions of ourselves.”

  4. Reading Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy, was very surprising to me. I growing up in a society where print was so widespread has caused me to take its effect for granted. Ong listed things such as the development of modern science and the use of lists and indexes in books. I was most surprised when Walter Ong argued, “Print was also a major factor in the development of the sense of personal privacy that marks modern society. It produced books smaller and more portable than those common in a manuscript culture, setting the stage psychologically for solo reading in a quiet corner, and eventually for completely silent reading” (130-131). I have always lived with the ideas of “personal space”, “private property”, and “silent reading”, but I had never connected those ideas to print because having privacy and the ability to constantly be able to think about things without talking is natural to me. Reading silently is something I have always done and when read was made into a social activity at school I would always be annoyed because I always thought that reading was something you did alone and not with a group. Our society is now overrun with concerns over privacy and copyright. I did not attribute the desire to keep things to ourselves as a result of print; I had just always assumed that people naturally wanted to be alone. In reading Little Brother Marcus’ fight for privacy would not have been possible without the advent of print because, print is what totally spurred the desire to have privacy. The lawsuits that are constantly being filed or the harsh punishments for plagiarism would not exist without the development of print because before print words and stories and information were passed by word of mouth so people would not have been able to truly claim ownership of ideas. Print created a sense of individuality that had not ever existed before.
    Not only bring about a sense of individuality but it also brought about efforts that required communities to all be unified such as modern science and democracy. The printed word has allowed for information to be identical with “exact observation and exact verbalization”(127). Not only observations be made and remembered by a scientist but those observations could be written down precisely and passed on to another human being who would be able to replicate the other scientist’s experiment and replicate those results. Print culture also verified what was being said by people instead of life being a giant game of telephone, people could actually have exact records of events, so people could congregate under the banner of freedom because they knew exactly what issue in politics needed change. This is similar to the development of the xnet in Little Brother being able to react against specific injustices written about in blogs. The development of print has had a much greater effect on my life than I ever realized, it has allowed for both greater privacy and community in society.

  5. In “Orality and Literacy,” Ong discusses the shift between hearing literature to seeing literature with the development of print. Before the printing press, reading was auditory. People would read manuscripts aloud either to others or to themselves and the act of memorization was still as prominent as it had been before the invention of writing in the purely oral cultures of yesterday. The act of composing a page was done with much less scrutiny than a typographer would now set the type. The letters were often of different sizes, jumbled on a page, words crashing into others, hyphens separating words in their middle.

    However, with the birth of print, all aspects of creating and receiving literature changed and shifted culture from “hearing-dominance” to “sight-dominance.” The press allowed a person to more easily and fluently typeset by positioning each preformed letter, both upper and lower cases, by hand in standard sizes. Now typesetting is done electronically with computers with the aid of installed programs. Pages have become uniform in style, the type stays the same size on a page, there are even spaces between words, lines, and paragraphs and there aren’t any disturbances of text such as the previous hyphens.

    Originally, Ong writes, “whereas we feel reading as a visual activity cueing in sounds for us, the early age of print still felt it was primarily a listening process, simply set in motion by sight” (121). Now, text is viewed aesthetically. When a reader looks at a page, it has to be visually pleasing, uniform, and easy to read. Oftentimes a reader absorbs a page visually, skimming over words, taking in more sight than meaning and loses the effect of reading all together because of the visual aspect literature has evolved into.

  6. Walter Ong’s book Orality and Literacy brings light to the issue of how the shift from oral culture to print culture changed our society. Ong describes the shift from oral to written speech as being “essentially a shift from sound to visual space” (Ong 117). Before print, everything was recorded verbally. The introduction of the alphabet was the pivotal moment in the shift from oral culture to print culture. The introduction of print allowed people to express themselves more widely than they could in oral culture. Ironically, print gave people a voice more than oral culture. Overtime, print led to the development of the internet. Today, the internet is the vessel of free speech. Anyone can say whatever they want without many consequences. Websites like Wikipedia is an enabler of this scheme. People can post false information and pass it off as fact. Though the internet has become the new platform for individuals to freely speak their minds, the problem of stealing ideas has become more of a issue. With the introduction of print, as well as the internet, originality becomes vital. People want to be credited for their ideas and creations. Before print, originality was not a problem. This is an example of how the shift from oral culture to print culture has changed our society. As new medias are introduced, new measures must be taken by society in order to compensate for the new issues that may arise with these new methods of presenting information. Information is continually evolving and as the communication age advances it is unclear to the new resources that will be offered in information’s distribution.

  7. Everything has a background, as is the case with new digital technologies. A theme that has been apparent throughout popular literature on the subject of print and digital media that has spurred from print technology is history. History does not only tell us where we are, but also lets us know where we are going. Buchanan’s Nexus explores the history of the internet. The parent of the internet was the ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), established by the U.S. Department of Defense (Buchanan 75-76) to provide a way of communication in case of crisis spurred by the Russian Satellite “SPUTNIK”. Originally made of military use, the ARPANET changed the world in ways that even the US Department of Defense couldn’t have imagined.

    For example, the internet no longer belongs to the U.S. government. In fact, once the government lost control of the project it became a global sort of network, sparking the world wide web. It can even be said that there is no official “head” of the internet, the internet is no longer ran by anyone, government or society. The internet, as it continues to collect and feed off of knowledge grows like a hungry child. As time goes by it takes and takes in information, forming connections between things and moves on to the next place as the process is repeated. A good example of this is the distributed Network, a form of networking that processes and shovels out information that is distributed from one source to another as opposed to the central network where all processing and communication is from one source. The most popular network now is the distributed network.
    It is because of this distributed network that the internet has become a “small-world” (Buchanan 82). Because there is no longer a need to feed off of one source “now, the internet is not like a city where one is required to get permission from a planning board before making changes, and there is no central authority…Anyone can link a new computer to the net…” (Buchanan 82) computers are rapidly exchanging information. The ARPANET which started out as a government controlled network has now spurred into a world of its own, separate from authority. Which would be scary if one really believed the medium is the message, like Marshall McLuhan.

    McLuhan claims in “Understanding Media” that “The medium is the message” (9). McLuhan believes that the message is no longer delivered through the medium, but that the medium itself has shaped the message. In order to get the point of “the medium is the message” across, one has to think of life without a new technology. McLuhan gives the example of a lightbulb. The bulb itself does not have content, but it is the bulbs existence that stems content. Without the bulb certain things would not be possible, the bulb brings light to football games at night and to a heart surgeon in the middle of an operation (McLuhan 8). McLuhan realized also that with these new breakthroughs where medium now shaped the message, that message thus shaped society. Just the same as the development of the print age.

    During the early stages of the print age it was not just as yet discovered that print would change the way that man interacted with both literature and fellow man. Orality became a thing of the past, print became a thing of the present and so did literacy. A major issue today is literacy as well, a burning hole in our society. Walter Ong gives a bit of coverage on the how new writing technologies have shaped our interactions. When things were all oral there was no need for grammar, there was not as much consciousness between the speaker and the listener, because it was a shared sense of learning. However, with the move over the print media “print created individualism” (McLuhan 19) and the listener did not have to sit to listen anymore, the listener could become a reader and listen on his or her own time. Thus, “such reading in turn makes for a different relationship between the reader and the authorial voice in the text” and from this new writing styles take place, styles that directly connect reader to audience. Which leads us to wonder where things are going.

  8. Marshall McLuhan is known for his phrase, “The medium is the message”. But what does it really mean? According to McLuhan, “This fact characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium,” (pg. 8). This means that the content of the medium is most important. But what exactly is the content of media? It is safe to assume that most of us can name a media source – whether it be TV, a radio, or a computer. According to McLuhan, the content of the media is the the way that particular media contributes to our understanding of the way that media is used in our lives. An example of this would be watching a film. The difference between this and reading a book is that in a book, you would imagine the characters and the scene as you go along, whereas in a film, the images of the characters and the setting is already given to you. With this said, it is important to note that the message of a medium somehow affects the way someone views the message. For the most part, I can agree that different media types can greatly vary one’s perception on things. I can definately agree with my example, and I am sure that many of us could agree as well – that the message is a lot more clearer on film than in a book. It is not just images that we will view differently in certain types of media, but words as well. For example, we are able, in general, to depict clear pictures by listening to a radio than reading a comic book, which often does not describe a scene in full detail, which can lead to guessing. McLuhan also describes an electric light bulb, which he explains as just “pure” information because it does not tell of a particular story, but rather a floating image of nothingness. With this in mind, it is safe to reinforce that the “content” of a medium should in fact give us some sort of message, and however we perceive that message is up to us.

    McLuhan also explains his reasonings on the introduction of new technology. McLuhan describes a hot medium as, “one that extends one single sense in high definition. High definition is the state of being well filled with data, ” (pg. 22). This means that the type of media explains a lot more about what is depicting, and does not leave a person to guess or imagine what has happened or what is happening – it is low in participation. Examples of hot mediums would be pictures or films. A cold medium, therefore, is the complete opposite and thus, a person must guess or imagine the situation. It is almost like filling in blanks on a test. Examples of cold mediums would be telephones or drawings. When it comes to new technology, McLuhan analyzes unexpected consequences when it comes to “the disruptive impact of a hot technology suceeding a cool one,” (pg.24). McLuhan describes a reading by Robert Theobald, “The Rich and the Poor,” which tells about Australian natives who were given steel axes by missionaries, and because the steel axes were given to women and children and not the men, the men felt a loss of traditional roles. This example relates to McLuhan’s consequences of new technology because once a hot technology (or a change in traditional roles) comes into play, it is easy for the cold technology (or the men’s taking away of axes) to be lost or changed. Out with the old, in with the new. The disappearance of typewriters to the discovery of computers, or the disappearance of manuscripts to the discovery of the printing press did in fact change the way we perceive things. Clearly, by changing from auditory communication and memorizing every detail to being able to carry small books and read to oneself changes the scope of communication altogether.

    Every media is different, and thus, the content of that specific media depends on who sees what. That is the beauty of communication, the different opinions of human experience really shapes the scope of our technology – hence, “the medium is the message.”

  9. I read the prompt but none of those questions really grabbed me. I really wanted to use the Castells reading for this post because it was easiest for me to understand and engaged me the most. This reading is concentrated on the rise of network society, and while reading there was one sentence that really peaked my interest and stuck out to me. It states, “differential timing in access to the power of technology or people, countries and regions is a critical source of inequality in our society. The switched – off areas are culturally and spatially discontinuous…” (Castells 33). This statement really made me think about things in relation to technology that I have never really thought about or haven’t thought a lot about. When talking or thinking about inequality the first things that come to mind are the two big issues of equality between men and women and equality between the different races, not technological equality. Once you stop and think about it though – there definitely is technology inequality. There are the “digital natives” like my generation and those who are on the total opposite end of the spectrum and those in between. There is never going to be equality in technology because of the differences in ability to access technology. Your knowledge of technology and the social network depends on the country and culture you live in and their ability to access technology. Since that is the case, equality in it does not seem near to happening. I think that technology and social networking is important and the equality of it should be thought about.

  10. Almost nothing is created just to be created. For almost every invention ever made, someone had a reason for why they created what they created. The military was very involved in the making of the Internet. Seeing as Russia (Soviet) had just launched Sputnik into orbit, the U.S. military decided that it was starting to lack in technology. And thus ARPA was created. Buchanan allows the audience to see into that history and understand the conclusions of the military when he writes, “By yoking together the often competing research arms of the various armed forces, ARPA would guarantee that the United States would never again fall behind in military technology”(74). Understanding the history of it all is important, because the military did not want a way for other countries to plot against or possibly overtake the U.S. So the beginnings of the Internet were created to help upkeep national security. And as technology has gotten increasingly better, Castells introduces the audience to transistors, the concepts and details of what and how microchips work, etc., when he essentially tells the audience what things were used and how the Internet came to work as it does when these technologies were used together. “This opto-electronics-based transmission capacity, together with advanced switching and routing architectures, such as the asynchronous transmission mode (ATM) and transmission control protocol/interconnection protocol (TCP/IP), are the foundation of the Internet” (pg.44). Also, when discussing technology and the Internet, the concept of different types of networks have to be analyzed. Two of which are important for understanding are the distributed and centralized networks. A centralized network is very problematic. There is one main point through which all communication is sent. If that central point is obstructed or destroyed, then all communication is lost. Whereas with a distributed network, there are many possible links for communication to pass, but the problem with this is that despite popular belief many networks aren’t linked like this type of network and it seems to be a model for what an ideal network would look like. Due to the way networks are linked, when social grouping occurs, everyone is linked together somehow and communication is constantly flowing amongst them, creating which is known as “small-world theory”.

  11. Looking back at history, oral culture and print culture have come a long way. In his reading Orality and Literacy, Ong stated, “Eventually, however, print replaced the lingering hearing-dominance in the world of thought and expression with the sight-dominance which had its beginnings with writing but could not flourish with the support of writing alone.”(121)
    Writing has taking over from oral culture which was mostly talk and no words, but now we have print and writing. Even though we have those we just can’t have those alone. We need to have all three. As children we don’t first learn to write, we learn to speak by listening to stories that we hear and the things that people say to us. As we grow and develop we begin to print. It may not be words that we are printing, but it is something. Lastly, we form words from the things that we hear and the letters or scribbles that we print.
    We first started off with just stories and spoken words that have been passed down from generation to generation. Years later we developed forms of recording and talking and then we had the alphabet. The alphabet is still the same now as it was years ago and contains no images just sound. From there, we evolved to manuscripts and writing lists, words, stories and so much more. As times progressed, we now have the computer and internet, which takes everything on a whole other level. As I have talked about oral culture as brought us along way and more is still yet to come.

  12. Walter Ong’s challenging article titled, “Print, Space, and Closure” taken from the book, “Orality and Literacy” helps the reader see how print has evolved from orality and how they both have influenced our culture in the past and continue to influence our lives today. Ong emphasizes many ways to consider the differences between oral and print culture. However to fully comprehend the extent of the impact of modern print culture, one must imagine how a preliterate civilization was like. In an oral/aural culture, there was no immediacy and fact. The key point that existed during this time were myths. Since an alphabet had not yet come into existence, everything was to be memorized and passed down only by mouth.
    Print culture evolved during the Medieval Ages, after the manuscript had emerged into society. According to Ong on the subject of medieval print, “Sixteenth century title pages very commonly divide even major words, including the author’s name, with hyphens, presenting the first part of a word in one line in large type and the latter part in smaller type” (120). This practice of writing is where our print culture originally came from. Also, after print culture had been established, we as human beings were able to become our own individual selves for the very first time. The reason for this was because for humans thinking is impossible without a language.
    Another important aspect that Ong points out in his text is that ever since the introduction of the printing press, there have been many new creations that have evolved from print in our society such as the development of science, the democracy, and the Enlightenment time period of history. All of these belong to what is known as the Typographical Age, which starts during the 18th century. Also, Walter Ong emphasizes in “Print, Space, and Closure” that, “Writing is here once more at the service of orality” (124). In other words, Ong is referring to the fact that in the 20th century and unto now, we have now evolved into a society called a “Secondary Orality. “ This age includes the creations of the telephone, television, radio, trains, subways, recording technology, and the internet.
    Finally Ong’s key point throughout this text is composed of three things:
    1. Having the alphabet doesn’t mean you cannot speak to one another.
    2. Print does not mean our society cannot write letters anymore.
    3. Technology is not going to take over reading texts.

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