war on text? 11.27.2005, 3:23 PM
posted by lisa lynch
Last week, there was a heated discussion on the 1600-member Yahoo Groups videoblogging list about the idea of a videobloggers launching a "war on text" -- not necessarily calling for book burning, but at least promoting the use of threaded video conversations as a way of replacing text-based communication online. It began with a post to the list by Steve Watkins and led to responses such as this enthusiastic embrace of the end of using text to communicate ideas:
Audio and video are a more natural medium than text for most humans. The only reason why net content is mainly text is that it's easier for programs to work with -- audio and video are opaque as far as programs are concerned. On top of that, it's a lot easier to treat text as hypertext, and hypertext has a viral quality.
As a text-based attack on the printed work, the "war on text" debate had a Phaedrus aura about it, especially since the vloggers seemed to be gravitating towards the idea of secondary orality originally proposed by Walter Ong in Orality and Literacy -- a form of communication which is involved at least the representation of an oral exchange, but which also draws on a world defined by textual literacy. The vlogger's debt to the written word was more explicitly acknowledged some posts, such as one by Steve Garfield that declared his work to be a "marriage of text and video."
Over several days, the discussion veered to cover topics such as film editing, the over-mediation of existence, and the transition from analog to digital. The sophistication and passion of the discussion gave a sense of the way at least some in the video blogging community are thinking, both about the relationship between their work and text-based blogging and about the larger relationship between the written word and other forms of digitally mediated communication.
Perhaps the most radical suggestion in the entire exchange was the prediction that video itself would soon seem to be an outmoded form of communication:
in my opinion, before video will replace text, something will replace video...new technologies have already been developed that are more likely to play a large role in communications over this century... how about the one that can directly interface to the brain (new scientist reports on electroencephalography with quadriplegics able to make a wheelchair move forward, left or right)... considering the full implications of devices like this, it's not hard to see where the real revolutions will occur in communications.
This comment implies that debates such as the "war on text" are missing the point -- other forms of mediation are on the horizon that will radically change our understanding of what "communication" entails, and make the distinction between orality and literacy seem relatively miniscule. It's an apocalyptic idea (like the idea that the internet will explode), but perhaps one worth talking about.
gary frost on November 27, 2005 4:48 PM:
I love this quote from Henri-Jean Martin from his great book, The History and Power of Writing:
"The tendency of alphabetic writing to transmit the flow of spoken discourse was so strong that it long neglected to separate words and sentences. Finally, it never proved capable of expressing anything more than language, so that it was ill-suited to the task when it was called on to break out of the framework of language. This limitation is particularly noticeable in our own century."
So advocates for non-text need only adopt a non-alphabetic language encompassing visual and audio expression. Interestingly this has been done. Asian pictographic characters can be read by people who cannot understand each other's dialects. The skilled reader can also understand meaning much faster that the alphabetic reader. That reader is literally seeing pictures of sentences and concepts. But the keyword there is "skilled"; tens of thousands of characters are in play.
Cindy Orr on December 4, 2005 12:29 PM:
Maybe I should hesitate to suggest a book title as a comment on a discussion about whether books are dead. But regarding the prediction that video might be replaced by direct interface to the brain...I'd highly recommend reading Marge Piercy's book He, She and It, set two or three decades into the future when people have a socket in their necks making this connection possible, and where much of society spends its time experiencing virtual reality "stimmies" instead of participating in real life. This is a truly wonderful book on many levels as well, and reinforces, to me anyway, that fiction is often a more powerful medium than nonfiction in getting ideas across.