Connecting the Jotts to Plato

In past posts, I have established digital orality as relevant to the way we communicate using non-textual (largely oral), computer-mediated communication forms, such as podcasting and vodcasting. I have juxtaposed this concept to writing, noting the differences between the two and why communicative writing tools, such as IM and Chat cannot be forms of digital orality. I have been careful to not form a binary (“orality vs. writing”), since one of the foundational points I want to examine is how the two interact in given situations and media. However, looking at the many forms of communication media and trends that arise seemingly weekly, I question how something like Jott fits in with this structure.

Jott is tool used to turn spoken word into transcription. Essentially, one speaks into a phone (or computer microphone) and Jott automatically transcribes the message and emails it to the account on file. There is not a human on the other end; it is all automated, and it is amazingly accurate. Jott does require one to manually add contacts on the Web site (in a personal account), but once there, Jott messages can be sent to anyone in the address book from a phone. More useful (at least to me) is that I can send messages to myself. About 93% of what I use Jott for is to send myself messages, ideas, reminders, etc. The messages are transcribed and sent directly to both my phone and my email account. It is important to note that with the textual transcription is also a link to an audio recording. So, while the receiver can read it (the main point of Jott), so too can he or she listen to the original recording.

While usually quite accurate, I clean up the writing a bit and then use that text as needed: to expand on ideas, create blog posts, and to remember resources, plans, and other information. In this way, it is similar to an answering machine, to texting, to the old personal recorders… only it transcribes for the speaker. Also, one can connect Jott to Twitter, Facebook, or ample other social media tools so one can create written blog posts, tweets, etc., orally (over the phone). The remainder of this blog post in based entirely on Jott messages I sent to myself about Jott.

In the larger discussion of digital orality, how does Jott relate? Is it an example of digital orality as I have defined it? Surely Jott is oral; however, the form in which it is received is textual. When I speak into Jott, I’m orating directly to make a written transcription of my statement/speech in a textual form, but it’s direct and, assuming it is accurate, unchanged.

Plato dislikes the concept of writing and the practice of writing because it assimilates voice/orality which assimilates thought. So, primarily, the root of the topic is in thought. That’s the genesis of a text or speech; it is in thought. Therefore, when I orate a statement, that’s coming directly from me, and it’s not quite as accurate as my own thought, since I could never express it a 100% as well orally. However, it is a step better than writing, according to Plato.

If, as Plato thought, writing is an assimilation of voice oration, which is an assimilation of thought, and I orate/speak into Jott, what comes out textually is a direct, and presumably accurate, transcription of my spoken word. Therefore, it is technically in textual form, but it was not written; it was spoken. Thus, it should still be seen as oral, one step back from writing, according to Plato’s concept.

However, the missing element of the transcribed oral statement, which separates it from the traditional speech, is the speaker’s voice intonation, pitch, volume, physical gesture, and appearance an audience would experience if the oration were live or on video; that is the difference. One cannot experience all that presence and humanness through a text. This concept relates closely to the rhetorical canon of delivery.

One of Plato’s issues with writing was that the text can’t answer for itself. While this is true of a recording, as well –it can’t answer for itself–the nature of a podcast often allows for ongoing immediate discourse. This is to say, just like with a blog, a viewer could post an immediate retort as a comment, agreement, or disagreement. Such a response to a published text, such as a journal or book, can occur, but it takes inordinately longer and there is no assurance that the response will actually be published or read.

So, is Jott a form of digital orality? Given the fact that it is oral in origin AND that it is transportable (comes directly to a handheld device as both audio and text), I contend it is. Of course this opens the door for much further research on my part, partly because it draws possible inclusion of many other digital orality examples that I had not previously considered too deeply, such as traditional transcription (courtroom, police) and direct closed captioning (that, which does not deviate remotely from the spoken word). As I examine these and other examples more deeply, I’ll expound on what media and tools should be excluded and included in the list and define the factors on which I make such placement decisions. In this way, I will expand, detail, and solidify the definition of digital orality.

3 Responses to “Connecting the Jotts to Plato”

  1. Comment From John on August 1st, 2008 at 11:41 am

    What you’ve got in something like Jott, I think, is multiple levels of media dynamics at play.

    John Miles Foley, in How To Read An Oral Poem, identifies four kinds of oral poems based on their media dynamics, making distinctions between oral or written composition and oral/aural and written performance.

    You might also want take a look at Ong’s “Media Transformed: The Talked Book,” in which he discusses the experience of being interviewed with a tape recorder present, having that interview turned into a written transcript by the editor, and then rewritten/edited by both Ong and the interviewer.

    Ong, Walter J. “Media Transformation: The Talked Book.” College English 34.3 (1972): 405-10; Rpt in Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 82-91.

    One question I might ask is whether or not being oral in origin is sufficient to categorize something as oral. In one sense, yes. (Again, see Foley.) While the Jott audio file is clearly oral and the original, unedited transcript is oral, could you not revise that transcript to the extent that it becomes a written rather than oral text despite it’s origins?

    And then there’s the question of noetics, of course. I tend to have a strong oral written style, what one might characterize as heavily paratactic or having a strong oral residue (residual orality). On the other hand, I had a department chair whose speech patterns were heavily literate (hypotactic in form). The question of noetics, of course, gets you away from the issues of medium and materiality, and might take you too far astray.

  2. Comment From thbarrow on August 5th, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Thanx for the references, John. I will take a look at John Miles Foley’s book. I just read Ong’s "Media Transformations" and found some great material in regard to this discussion. Ong’s account of going through three interview sessions over three days, which were taped, edited by three people, and alter compiled and printed all to put forth the impression of a single-sitting, free-flowing oral interview seems illogical, even ridiculous. But it does not seem surprising, since we tend to have a fair idea of what goes on behind the scenes of a recorded audio or video production.

    I have addressed in writing, as well as in class and workplace lectures/sessions on podcasting and voice quality/intonation that it is helpful to create an outline, or even a script, but to attempt to not sound like you are not reading a script. We want that element to be invisible. I do not see this as any form of deception, but rather of part of the presentation. My voice intonation is part of my Style and Delivery. In this way, the decision to read but avoid sounding like I am doing so keeps that factor invisible, perhaps removes an audible distractor, and helps to add to the person-to-person human delivery aspect of the presentation.

    Not long ago, I was interviewed at a distance. This is to say the interview took place via Skype and seemingly went relatively smoothly. However, it turns out the recording procedure the interviewer was using failed on a few levels, and so we were forced to re-record a few of the questions. In addition to the fact that I was at a different location from the interviewer and that the interview was not conducted at one sitting, I’ll also share that I had some advanced knowledge of what I was going to be asked, allowing me some time to prepare, however informally, for how I might respond. In this setting, the question seems to again arise, at what point does it matter that it is oral? If I had written down some notes, or even a script to be read verbatim, it is first writing before it is orated. The fact that it might be recorded during multiple sessions does not really alter the level or orality; however, it does alter an element of kairos in some way. The external timeliness of the speech and it’s relevance to a given place in time is not altered, but the first-thought spontaneity is forced (particularly since two of the questions I received as an audio file for re-record and attempted to match the timing with a response).

    One point I was making in the post was in regard to Plato’s hierarchy of thought/speech/writing and that my orated statement transcribed is closer to speech than it is to writing due to its origin. However, the lines do blur on both ends. This is to say, most professional speeches are scripted. Many, if not most, podcasts are scripted, depending on the genre (yes) of the podcast. So, what is the real origin of the speech/podcast in this case? Following the thought process, it was written, but then the presented item is in oral form. Drawing this back to Memory, which I know is your current focus, the writing serves as a way to enhance (or, if it is all audio and no one sees me reading, replace) the memorization of the speech. In this way, I still see this as oral. Actually, the idea of scripting speeches falls into Ong’s Media Transformation discussion on the way that a new medium does not replace but transforms the previous medium. "Thus, we still orate as did the orators before writing and print, but our oratory is completely transformed not only by writing and print but aslso by our new electronic orality." (410).

    Coming back to Jott, and to answer your question, I definitely think that a transcription can be manipulated/edited to the extent that it is written text as opposed to oral text. Such an outcome is really the product to which Ong was referring. noting that the total is something that was neither written nor spoken by anyone (pg. 406). The end result might more accurately be termed a presentation or a production. Such a title is fitting, since podcasts ARE produced; they are generally edited for length, sound quality, and even content. I suggest Jotts are more raw and unrehearsed. However, the output is text, which I (can) edit.

    Here, it perhaps becomes a fine line with what sort of editing I do. When the Jott message comes to my email, while Jott is surprisingly accurate, there are invariably a few mis-transcribed words. So, in this state, it is not what I actually said. Assuming I do recall exactly what I said—pretty easy if it is a word or two placed in the context of what I was stating—my edits make it accurate. However, further editing for clarifying, expounding, etc., transforms the content enough that it is really not what I originally said, therefore, not oral. I must say, I am interested in this concept of "oral text" and will ponder it further.

    While I see your point about noetics, I’m not so sure it comes into play much with where I’m going. While one’s speaking style might be heavily literate, it may or may not be so in that individual’s writing. However, a transcription from such an individual’s oration might seem more likely to have been written than that of an individual with a more paratactic style. That said, the latter transcription could be chalked up as that coming from a person with a more oral writing style.

    Thanx again, John – great source(s).

  3. Comment From Websites tagged "vodcasting" on Postsaver on October 7th, 2008 at 10:17 pm

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