What’s on the Telly? – Navigation and Control of our Content

In a primarily oral culture, there is no way to record and recall a speech or oral performance. As Ong, Heim, and others have detailed, this is the reasoning for the structured, rhythmic nature of the oral epic. It was just not possible for the human mind to organize and remember a detailed, complex story without some form of mnemonic method applied.

The only way to reproduce a speech or orl performance would be to apprentice with the speaker, going off of his (rarely her) memory and rhythmic prompts to get the speech down and by repeating many times over the tale. However, beyond the use of writing to record these speeches, there came a point where writing was used as its own tool to produce creative works.

“Besides transcription of oral performances, such as orations, writing eventually produced strictly written compositions. …. Many of which were listened to aloud, as opposed to being read.” (Ong, Orality and Literacy, 10).

This point also reminds one of the pre-TV period in which people used to gather around the radio. Clearly, text was very involved and essential on the broadcast side, but not at all on the receiving side. Tying back to the discussion on the necessity of text in electronic and digital orality, such radios had knobs too adjust volume and those to change the station. However, that was really not essential for the text to be there. One did not need to know that the volume was on level 7; he or she simply rotated it to a comfortable aural setting. In regard to the station-setting knob, this is somewhat more important. If it is a matter of searching for something to listen to without conscious desire to listen to a specific show, one could simply search by scanning (rotating the knob). This is the form of navigation. If there was a specific show at a specific time, it was ideal, albeit not necessary, for the listener to see the marking on the dial that represented the station that would be playing that particular program.

However, the accuracy of this type navigation was substantially less so than that of new media (NM) today. Consider trying to find a particular show or even something similar to the type of show desired; one would use the above-noted scanning method. We are not unfamiliar with this in regard to our car radios (more so than home radios mostly). At best, one would end up finding something satisfactory, but only in the rarest cases might one find exactly the item they wanted too hear at that moment.

Now, consider the same situation with NM. The use of text for navigation purposes increases the accuracy hugely. If I have a general idea of what I want to hear (or see) I can search by performing Web searches, site searches, and even clicking through a hierarchical structure to focus down to an exact item. To play out a scenario:

I might search for podcasts on the topic of Ford cars. This search might reveal a large list of related podcasts. I could then see one on Mustangs. Another, more focused list is produced. I then click on one related to Classic Mustangs. This might be an actual link to a podcast or another list. Let’s assume the latter, and I see a list of podcasts by people discussing their own cars, about repairing specific parts of a classic mustang, perhaps a link to another list of specific years, accounts of some recent event revolving around classic cars or even classic mustangs, etc. In this way, I’ve been able to search through a mass of specific files to find something that fits exactly what I am looking for. It should be noted that there was far less information and material in my analogy of the 1950s radio setting. Our current condition today offers an overwhelming amount of available information.

In the other situation, — that of one knowing the specific show to be heard — one would have to know the time and the radio station it would be on. But how would one even know this would be on: Such information might be obtained by word-of-mouth, perhaps announcements on the radio show itself (or another show). As shown here, the ability to announce such events was limited. Also, one would have to tune in at that moment each time the show was on and be in a specific location that had such a radio.

With NM, announcements are made in ads, through other sites, links, by email, by RSS. In fact, by an RSS feed, once one is aware (perhaps even by searching) of the show, he or she need not bother learning when new shows are or when they are broadcast. Rather, by subscribing to the RSS feed, it is automatically sent to the user. Also, one need not be in any specific location. The show could be downloaded to a computer and then saved to a handheld device for travel. It could be listened to on the computer itself., or it could actually be sent directly to the handheld device (like a blackberry or iPod) for listening at any place and time.

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