What is Digital Orality?

[Edited 11.15.2007] Digital Orality is a term I have applied to refer to the way we communicate now with technology using audio and video tools and methods. In many of my past blog posts and notes, I’ve used the acronym AVNM (Audio Visual New Media) to refer to new media, such as podcasting, vodcasting, blogcasting, Skype, Voip, etc. I have, however, a few issues with this term. First, it should really be “audio and/or visual,” since some of the tools and applications to which I apply this term use sometimes just one or sometimes both audio and visual media. Also, abbreviating audio visual as AV, makes me recall K-12 educational filmstrips (OK, maybe that one’s just me).

I will acknowledge that one could also extend this category to include written media, such as blogs, Instant Messenger (IM), and email, since they are still verbal communication (as opposed to non-verbal communication) and therefore are a form of orality. However, I do not support this application of the term, largely because placing these writing type of media and pod/vodcasting and other audio and visual media into one big group is to break with Ong’s perspective that they are two very different elements, tools, and forms of communication. [Thanks to John Walter for helping me work through this one].

Admittedly, I sort of tried to avoid the term, it seems a little to sexy, hip, and non-academic in some ways. However, it is accurate, it encompasses all of the communication methods I noted above, it follows Walter Ong’s discussions of our transmissions from primary oral cultures through each milestone to electronic orality, the point where Ong left us. I find this a necessary step and condition to establish, since it is really the essence of my larger research and dissertation focus.

3 Responses to “What is Digital Orality?”

  1. Comment From John Walter on November 13th, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    A comment on your post here, specifically the passage “Additionally, there is the point that I would also extend this category to include written media, such as blogs, Instant Messenger (IM), and email, since they are still verbal communication (as opposed to non-verbal communication) and therefore are a form of orality.”

    Can’t one say this of all verbal written communication? Which raises the question as to what the point of using a word like literacy? Or, to put it another way, why does Ong title the book Orality and Literacy? For Ong, the distinctions between sound (aural/oral) as a medium and writing and print (visual/tactile) as a medium are important, which means lumping blogs, IM, and email into orality is to break with Ong’s classification system, is to break with the underlying structures upon which Ong developed this system.

    What you’re getting at here is a difficult question that vexed me (and many others) for years, and the one time I talked to Ong about it, around 1999, he said he wasn’t sure what to make of it either. It turns out, however, that he did have an idea, which I discovered when I stumbled upon his short piece “Secondary Orality and Secondary Visualism” as I was processing his papers for the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Manuscript Collection. (You can find the piece on the Digital Collections’ Lectures page: http://libraries.slu.edu/sc/ong/digital/lectures.html.)

    You might also be interested in a series of posts I’ve written at both my own blog and the Notes from the Walter J. Ong Collection. See, for instance, “Musings on Ong’s Expansion of Secondary Orality,” “Revising Secondary Orality and Secondary Visualism,” “Ong on the Auditory-Visual Shift,” “More Musings on Ong’s Terms Secondary Orality and Secondary Visualism,” “(Mis)Uses of Secondary Orality,” and “Tertiary Orality, Secondary Orality, and Residual Orality.”

    These might give you some places to start, and I include references to a number of Ong’s writings that are crucial for understanding his thoughts on this subject that you don’t yet have listed on your dissertation bibliography. You might also want to browse the bibliography I’ve compiled of Ong’s orality and literacy publications as well. For instance, relatively unknown articles like “I See What You Say” and “World as View and World as Event” should be considered must reads for your project as are much better known works like The Presence of the Word.


    John Walter

  2. Comment From admin on November 14th, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    Hello John,

    You raise an extremely valid point and I have been working it over in my head. I’ve already considered that I’d like to retract the statement about including blogs and other media. The initial thought was sort of with the canon of Delivery in mind and the concept that there are two types of communication: verbal and non-verbal. So, with Delivery, there is the oral, written, created word juxtaposed to the non-verbal, which is more the gesture, location, physical appearance, etc. While I see that as a reasonable dichotomy, I am realizing that it is not logical for what I am looking at and trying to establish. My original intent was actually looking at solely audio podcasts. However, I am expanding that to the “Digital Orality” aspect of New Media, which is largely podcasts and vodcasts.

    Clearly, I need to drill into Ong’s work far more than I have, and I certainly wish to stick with his underlying structures, since I will be using his concepts heavily. However, while the lines between oral/aural and written remain pretty firm, I think that with Digital Orality, the lines separating aural and visual become less solid. In some ways, this is not entirely unlike something such as television. Yet, there are clear differences. This is a large chunk that I really need to flesh out. … watch for it a sliver at a time.

    I’m inordinately grateful for the links you sent. To be honest, I’ve already bookmarked some of these from the Ong Collection, your blogspot blog, and the digital connections, among others. However, I am pleased you directed me to these articles/posts and I will go through them directly (after this McLuhan compilation).


  3. Comment From Tertiary Orality — Time Barrow on November 5th, 2019 at 9:14 am

    […] some ways New Media (NM) and Digital Orality (see previous post What is Digital Orality?) are more examples in Ong’s concept of secondary oralities that are present in the electronic […]

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