Tertiary Orality … Continued

In this post, I return to the conversation about whether digital orality is part of the secondary orality or can be considered a tertiary orality (see post on 11.12.07) and whether there is anything in the current age and level of orality that can be seen as a return to orality (see entire section on return to orality). Basically, new media and digital orality is not a return to orality, at least not primary orality, because we cannot at this point let go our reliance on, awareness of, recalling of words… even if we wanted to, which I doubt would ever occur. On page 3, Ong states, “The electronic age is the age of secondary orality.” So, what is our age now, how is it different from the electronic age, and is it logical to apply a new level (tertiary)?

In the 11.12.07 post, I established that the third level is applicable, but I want to expand on that a bit, for if I want to consider new media and digital orality as a tertiary orality, I must establish a real difference with it. As I stated before, we still use the telephone, television, and radio, and in some cases the way that we used those items — both in how they operate and what we use them for — has not changed. There are still land lines in homes, one can still by tube televisions (even “rabbit ears”), and the am/fm band radio still exists. In this way, we have not left the electronic age; we are still in it and still use many of the tools and media in the same way. However, we are now in the digital age, which is clearly unique from the telephone, TV, and radio of the electronic age.

Radio is, perhaps the least changed, but digital and satellite radio has expanded many barriers in radio. We still use phones to communicate, but we also use them for virtually everything else that our full computers do. Digital (cell) phones are the majority of those used now and function as planners, reminders, and other business related tools; they function as our televisions, radios, game systems, and other entertainment, and they function as phones, email, IM, and any other form of communication. Television has expanded greatly over the last 20-30 years in the amount and the diversity of what is available, but one can now record shows digitally, watch multiple shows at once (screen-in-screen), and perhaps most important for most individuals, the size and quality of the screen is better. The improvement in quality is actually debatable, as is the quality of digital sound recordings over analog (a post to come).

The advancements that have been made are varied, but one common factor is that the three media I discussed, and others, have become increasingly interactive and by extension, more individualized. The user now has a greater control of what the tool will do, how it will be used, and even how it looks (with customizable screens, themes, and skins). Phones are still used as two-way communication (and sometimes more with speaker phone). Although communicating in this way is live, it is not visual … at least not usually. Being live IS closer to primary orality. However, the addition of video, such as in a vodcast, adds the visual aspect that brings the communication form even closer to a purely oral communication.

But, to bring it back on topic, this digital orality does not return us to a time or condition of primary orality, nor does it making any attempt to do so; that could not happen… ever. At this point I do not feel it important to discuss, at least not extensively, or show that what we have now is better or is worse. Rather, I seek to show how digital orality is different and how it is similar to primary orality, what effect this has had on our consciousness (or vice versa), and how we use this orality today. This rather general idea will be a great focus of my current topic direction.

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