Speaking, Writing, and Typing: Human Voices of Communication
By Sienna Mae Heath
Published in Reeves Library’s Archives, Moravian College, 2011
Exploring The Enduring History of Writing
Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Honors in English
Advisors: Dr. John Black and Dr. William Falla
Liaison: Dr. Larry Lipkis
The purpose of this study is to explore the effects of technology on communication. This study examines a critical question about our societies and about us as individuals. I hope to prove that there are benefits and detriments in the use of the spoken word, handwriting, and newer communicative technologies, as global communication is achieved with a loss of “humanness.” My thesis is inspired by two disciplines, the philosophy of language and technology; therefore it is proven through multiple lenses. My basic conclusion is that the levels of purity and personality increase as the level of technology use decreases.
Chapter 1: The Introduction
The technology of writing is an instrument of power. It has proven its capability to foster unity and understanding in addition to a creating connection between the past, present, and future. An effect of and not a cause of society (Fischer), writing contributes to essential communicative action with the invention and development of different technologies. It continues to redefine human communication and identity across the globe. Understanding the definitions of pure communication and of human connection allows for a greater exploration of the topic at hand. Pure communication is rare, for the nearly perfect revelation of ideas, as well as a clear personal connection, is not an easy task. Strong human connection is thus just as rare, since it is fostered by the least, if not any, technological mediation as possible. From clay, to the pen, to the printing press, to the computer, the intersection of language and technology has been constantly altered over time. The current inclination toward romanization, which is interrelated with the Internet as means of communication, is also producing advantages and disadvantages regarding human connection and disconnection across various cultures and geographical boundaries. Romanization with a capital ‘R’ refers to the use of the Roman alphabet to express non-Latin-based scripts; while romanization with a lowercase ‘r’ refers to the cultural hegemony that occurs due standardization of various scripts. The enduring history of communication can be understood through this analysis of the evolution of writing. The analysis of the evolution of writing and the progressive popularity of the Internet as types of communication illustrates that deeper human relationships are formed with purer forms of communication including the spoken word and handwriting, while less personal yet more global human relationships are formed with the use of the Internet.
“Is there such a thing as pure communication” (Gelb 1)? Truly, purity is effective and revelatory communication. This “linguistic purity” (Lynch 457) provides a proper view of oneself and of humanity. It fosters true human connection and an understanding of one another’s true human identities. Purity helps us reach what we truly want out of communication, but mediation, a term that will be discussed in further depth shortly, gets in the way. “Language,” identified as the spoken word, “speaks” (Heidegger 1971, 188). Heidegger notes, “to talk about language is presumably even worse than to write about silence” (Heidegger 1971, 188), since pauses and gestures in conversation produce an absence of sound that is still identified with communication.
This absence of sound goes along with the definition of speaking. “Speaking is expression…and is regarded as an activity of [wo]man” (Heidegger 1971, 190). Artists and creative writers define what makes us human, which is the ability to express ourselves through speaking creative thoughts. Heidegger claims that artists will save us and they will help us keep our human essence through “poetic revealing” (Heidegger 1971, 340). There is a fear that technology will diminish our humanness, but it is preserved through artistic revelation, through reciting a poem, for example (Heidegger 1971, 340).
Therefore, the spoken word is the most pure means of communication since there is nothing mediating in between the speaker and the listener. Indeed, language is speech and nothing can replace the gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, or the traditions and mannerisms that come along with it. On the other hand, handwriting is not as pure as the spoken word because pencil and paper mediate the communication involved. There is a potential hermeneutical relationship with handwriting, since there is a distinct possibility of misinterpretation, as the relationship between thought and writing can get blurred. Thoughts and intended meaning do not always match through writing, and what is written, if not well-written, can come across the wrong way (Ihde). In contrast to online communication, however, handwriting is more personal and pure, as online communication is the most mediated mode of communication.
Purity, therefore, is a relative term, since the spoken language is much more pure, as it came first in the timeline of communication. As time progresses, handwriting and communication by means of more advanced technologies gain more prestige yet they are less pure and more mediated.
Mediation, accordingly, is the level of separation between people who are communicating. The least amount of mediation is expressed through the spoken word, since at least two people are facing each other eye-to-eye and there is nothing in between them to mediate the conversation. Supplementary mediation is achieved through writing and even more so through online communication. Through writing, mediation is achieved because pen and paper separate the people who are communicating. A person looks away from the other person; therefore the reader and the sender are separated by at least two technologies. Through online communication, mediation is present to an even greater extent. A computer screen separates the reader and the sender’s communication. They can both hide behind the computer screen and can revise what they want to say as many times as they want before they send it in to cyberspace. Online communication, therefore, is to date the most mediated form of communication. Ultimately, mediation is accomplished the more the reader and the listener or the sender and the speaker are separated from one another, determining the increasing level of mediated communication (Ihde).
Furthermore, the analysis of communication is identified with several philosophical disciplines, as discussed by Martin Heidegger, Don Ihde, and Jürgen Habermas. Epistemology, for example, defines the possibilities of knowledge. With an understanding of this definition of what we know and how we know it, the presentation of a communicated statement or question becomes clear. Epistemology allows for a greater understanding of how we understand and acquire information as we communicate. Similarly, hermeneutics, the art or practice of interpretation and a theory of knowledge, decides how communication is interpreted. It may be interpreted how the sender intends or it may be misinterpreted (Ihde 21). Finally, the mediation of technology is understood through phenomenology, a systematic reflection on an analysis of the structures of the consciousness. Phenomenology allows us to examine how technological mediation increases the use of an unreal, more virtual world as opposed to a real, authentic world (Ihde 10).
There are other conceptual philosophical ideas, which allow for a deeper understanding of the enduring history of communication. The idea of moralizing human nature connects particularly with the Internet’s power to trigger communicative action across the globe. Communicative action, with the mediation of the romanization of foreign scripts, is very possibly immoral, as cultures sacrifice their ethnic identities to the existence of a global online community (Habermas 25). Further philosophical ideas are discussed in greater depth in Chapter 2 of this essay.
With regard to these philosophies, the evolution of writing from its beginnings until the invention of the printing press in 1436 CE is a vital time period. Its analysis helps us to understand the progression of communication over time. Handwriting is a modestly mediated form of technology than technologies invented post-fifteenth century. Writing’s role began to gain social momentum early on, as papyrus grew in popularity and hieroglyphs were used for texts of religion and literature (Fischer 44). Writing, particularly the handwriting of various cultures’ scripts fostered more personal communication as opposed to the use of technologies invented later on. From its very beginnings, handwriting not only gained social momentum, but it also preserved historical records and universal moral beliefs and was also used for educational and propaganda purposes. Handwriting in contrast to speech has therefore proven its increasing capability to foster productive communication and artistic expression, preserving classic and analytic human thoughts and preserving cultural identities to a similar extent as compared to modern online communicative technology (Fischer 73).
The history of orality suggests that handwriting is a more mediated form of communication than the spoken word. As time progresses post 1436 CE, the use of the spoken word is once again proven as much more personal. The oral tradition sustains itself as a much stronger means of exchanging ideas and establishing a strong human connection. Nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation or a phone call, as compared to a handwritten letter or an email. Nor can anything replace reading aloud as opposed to silent reading, which is reading to oneself alone in quiet contemplation (Fischer 237). Also, with the aid of oral communication, people remember more and do not have to rely on the written word to document words on clay, paper, or a computer screen. The spoken word is expressed through the Scottish oral tradition, for instance, which increases its people’s memory capability and contributes to the preservation of their culture (Robinson). It provides “a linguistic purity” (Lynch 457) that no other technologically mediated form of communication can offer.
While the oral tradition is the least mediated form of communication, the technological inventions are increasingly the more mediated forms of communication. With the invention of the printing press, the communicative power of writing was revolutionized. It was a turning point in the evolution of writing, as literacy rates rose and the global communication of ideas began to transcend various geographical boundaries. As these post 1436 CE technologies increase, they become the primary means of communication and their communication becomes more and more mediated as time progresses.
Ultimately, the intersection of language and technology promotes both human connection and disconnection over time. The spoken word is a much more pure and less mediated form of communication; while writing with a pen or with a keyboard, for example, increasingly disconnects humans from one another yet creates the notion of a global society. Indeed, writing’s use, meaning, and place in society change dramatically with the progression of a variety of technologies. From its beginnings, writing replaces the spoken word with a civilized yet less personal interaction. The ever-advancing use of the personal computer leads to more hours per day of not using handwritten communication or spoken language. An editor, for instance, will look into a writer’s eyes less and less and communicate only through the written word, which cannot completely express facial expressions or tone of voice. Therefore, humans are disconnecting from themselves, from each other, and from their invented technology. As an example, Romanization, with regard to the Internet, is a potentially uniting force of communication, yet its potentiality for misunderstanding and dehumanization are disadvantages that cannot be ignored (Laungani 197). Whether a piece of text is expressed with the mouth, or written on clay, papyrus, leather, wood, parchment, paper, or a computer screen, the content, means, and outcome of the communication are what matter the most.
The following chapters, therefore, analyze the history of communication from its inception. Chapter 2 provides a philosophical foundation to support its history and analysis. Chapter 3 elaborates upon the history of writing before the invention of the printing press, expressing the notion that handwriting is in the middle of the language food chain between the spoken word and newer advances of communicative technology. Handwriting, therefore, is personal and unmediated but not as personal and unmediated as the use of the spoken word. Handwriting is, accordingly, more personal and unmediated as compared to communicative technologies post the invention of the printing press in 1436 CE. Chapter 4, furthermore, elaborates on the use of the spoken word after the invention of the printing press until the present time. Chapter 5 elaborates on the effects of relatively newer technologies up until the current use of the Internet as means of communication. Finally, Chapter 6 is the conclusion.
Chapter 2: Philosophical Background
Several philosophical ideas relate to the enduring history of communication. Through a philosophical analysis of the history of speech, handwriting, and printed and online communication, a clearer understanding of communication’s progression over time is achieved. These means of communication are placed on a language food chain, starting with oral communication on the highest level of purity and following it with written and with more technologically advanced means of communication. Don Ihde, Martin Heidegger and Jürgen Habermas are three philosophers who study related philosophical ideas including epistemology, hermeneutics, phenomenology, moralizing human nature, enframing/epistemology, freedom, and a way to language.
Epistemology is the definition of the possibilities of knowledge. This philosophical idea asks the questions: What is knowledge? How is it acquired? What do people know? How do we know what we know? Asking and answering these questions allows for a deeper understanding of how information is transacted between two or more individuals. Epistemology relates to communication by studying the process of giving and receiving information. With reference to communicating, epistemology asks: How do we know what a person is trying to tell us (Ihde and Heidegger 1993)?
Similarly, the philosophical idea of hermeneutics asks questions about how communicated information is understood. Hermeneutics is the art or practice of interpretation, or a theory of knowledge (Ihde 82). This philosophical notion relates to the comparison of loud reading and silent reading. “Loud reading,” (Fischer) or reading aloud, is interpreted as being less technologically mediated than silent reading, since it is face-to-face, oral communication, which is more inter-personal than sitting alone in the corner of the room with a book. Loud reading is less mediated, since humans are looking into each other’s eyes and are able to ask questions, allowing for a more accurate interpretation of the information communicated in person (Ihde 78). Silent reading is an individual, solo act, while loud reading is often in a group. Loud reading by the author particularly offers more accuracy and reveals more information from a hermeneutical standpoint. Loud reading also expresses meter, tone, inflection, and body language, which silent reading cannot. Poetry, songs, and stories, for example, particularly older ones, are meant for loud reading. Stories passed down orally are purer and more personal, as in the Scottish oral tradition (Robinson).
As the history of communication progresses, the printing press is an example of how even more mediated technologies express the interpretation of communicated words. Ihde illustrates this mediation as the following: I-[TECH-WORLD] or I-[PRINTING PRESS-WORLD] (Ihde 78). These equations show technology with a healthy balance of connection to a separation from technology and the surrounding world (Ihde 21). This balance is acquired through less mediated forms of communication, as the hermeneutical relationship with the spoken word, handwriting, and more technologically mediated forms of communication varies across time. With less mediation, therefore, comes more accurate interpretation.
This potentiality for accuracy and inaccuracy is shown through the existence of either a real and authentic world or an unreal and inauthentic communicative world. With this authenticity and inauthenticity arises the following question: What satisfies a basic human need during an exchange of communication? This question is answered through the exploration of phenomenology, the systematic reflection on the analysis of the structures of consciousness. There is a continuing “[human] nostalgia for innocence” (Ihde 16), a tendency toward craving a less mediated and more authentic realm of communication. This is an innate human desire to return to the abstract possibility of the mythic Garden of Eden (Ihde 11-20), to a time before technology-mediated human experiences. This return to this time of innocence was attained before the invention of the pen and paper. The phenomenological question is the following: Will particularly young people’s brains and emotional reactions change with the use of more online, less personal interaction? The answer lies in this philosophical idea. Indeed, “dedifferentiation might change our ethical self-understanding as a species in a way that could also affect our moral consciousnesses” (Habermas 42). What Habermas suggests is that humans’ view of the self and of others’ selves are skewed as technology mediates their communication process. As this view is skewed over technological time, the “technosphere,” an enframing technological bubble that diminishes one’s freedom of expression, is more and more clouded, mediated, and controlled (Ihde 10). An increased use in more personal forms of communication, including the spoken word, will break this technosphere and allow for clearer and less misunderstood exchanging of information from person to person or people to people. People not only experience something and experience a conversation, but they also experience themselves experiencing. There is this significant desire to be able to feel at home in one’s body and to feel comfortable with another fellow human being. Therefore, phenomenology connects to the progression of communication, since the analysis of the structures of the consciousness allows for a deeper understanding of how people’s emotional reactions deep down shift with the clouding and clearing of the technosphere, which mediates the human communicative experience.
The possibilities of moralizing and de-moralizing of human nature relate to various degrees of technology’s abilities to trigger communicative action. As technology mediates human communication, there is a de-moralizing effect with romanization of non-Latin scripts, for instance, with the possibility of losing ethnic identity, sacrificing for the creation of a global online community (Habermas). The political power, with regard to Romanization, skews communication and prejudice suppresses communication. Romanization, for instance, was a dehumanizing force as it promoted Christianity and as papyrus faded away with paganism (Fischer 145). Without a doubt, technology becomes a part of our world, moving to the background of our attention, but still affecting our conditions and our acts. While we may not realize it, technology triggers our moral and immoral acts (Heidegger 1993, 310). Due to technological progress, an unbalanced movement of immorality and of inauthentic living ensues, which hinders a potential authentic and moral lifestyle that may occur with the use of purer, more personal means of communication. Truly, the machine becomes a means and not the object of the experience, as moral and immoral, real and unreal, flicker along a technological timeline (Heidegger 1993, 318).
Enframing, our lack of control on technology, furthers inauthentic living and limits our freedom in how we manage our actions, good or bad (Heidegger 1993, 309). There are ways to be unfree, not knowing, knowing and accepting, and resisting along this technological timeline of purity and impurity, real and unreal, personal and impersonal, and authentic and inauthentic living (Heidegger 1993, 126). This line of authentic and inauthentic worlds is understood through a linguistic superiority, which is achieved through the use of romanization. Romanization very easily oppresses other cultures’ ability to express themselves accurately without their specific scripts that they would otherwise use to communicate. Nonetheless, romanization is also potentially authentic, since the use of it presents the possibility of a global online community, which will be discussed later in Chapter 5. Akin to an epistemological standpoint, moralizing human nature affects how we know and what we know, and with regard to romanization, what we know is translated over geographical boundaries. Moralizing human nature is thus epistemological and shows how technology affects our free will or our actions, moral and immoral, depending on the level of technological mediation.
In Martin Heidegger’s essay, “The Question Concerning Technology” (Heidegger 1993, 311-341), he discusses enframing and epistemology further, as a way of revealing and a way of knowing in the highest sense. He says that “everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it” and whether we realize it or not (Heidegger 1993, 311). He elaborates on the notion of enframing, expressing that it hinders humans’ ability to recognize one’s and another’s true selves and to clearly recognize our true human desires. Breaking out of this “technomirror” is essential to breaking the “technosphere,” or technological mediated bubble, of enframing.
In his essay, Heidegger claims that any technologically based form of communication is a way of bringing forth the true self. “Enframing” is a challenging to self-revealing one’s own knowledge and the revealing of the others’ own knowledge through mediated communication (Heidegger 1993, 324). A way of revealing is the “unlocking, transforming, storing, distributing, and switching [on]” of ideas and “regulating and securing” (Heidegger 1993, 318). This revealing of the self and of knowledge is related to his study of epistemology, as knowledge is sent and received between at least two people. It also relates to the study of hermeneutics, as one’s perspective and way of looking at things through a technological, communicative lens liberates oneself. Once one passes through the doorframe of enframing, then he or she is ready to interpret their perspective on another person’s communicated words accurately. Accordingly, once one recognizes that this is being done, he or she must look beyond this door of enframing. The understanding of the façade or the meaning of the words and, moreover, understanding the uses of the words liberates one to accurately interpret them. The dictionary, for instance, shows the outward appearance of the words, the façade, but not their meanings; hence the uses are recognized after passing through this doorframe of enframing. Clear communication is not possible without enframing. Once one bypasses enframing, then he or she is ready to reach the desired goal of the free, authentic self. Enframing is thus the first step of the process of learning. Getting past that open door of enframing is essential in order to accurately interpret another person’s communicated words, particularly through handwriting and more technologically advanced means.
With regard to these technologies Heidegger asks, What is “the essence of modern technology” (Heidegger 1993, 328, 329)? He answers that it “lies in enframing” (Heidegger 1993, 331). It is the danger of surrendering to a loss of free will (Heidegger 1993, 337), a loss due to an increasing amount of technological mediation. This loss of power leads to a loss of the essence of truth, a loss of a true, authentic communicative lifestyle (Heidegger 1993, 344). Enframing not only liberates but also traps oneself, as one must pass through this door in order to acquire freedom. Enframing, as a gaining of freedom due to technology, causes its users to think in another way, to unfold, “sway, administer, develop and decay” (Heidegger 1993, 335).
Heidegger also asks: What is freedom? The answer to this question also lies in enframing. He claims that humans become free only through enframing, and so they become “one who listens, though not one who simply obeys” due to a gaining of free will (Heidegger 1993, 330). This “occurrence of all truth,” (Heidegger 1993, 330) this way of revealing, “lets the veil appear as what veils” (Heidegger 1993, 330). Indeed, there is a trade off between individualization and universalization, since a global community, online or otherwise is not possible without some standardization of writing. So what is freedom with regard to writing-related technology? Complete freedom is not possible without some give and take, without a sacrifice of some of the individual’s free will and self-expression for a global community, which began with the invention of the printing press and sustains itself in the present time with the use of the Internet. One, therefore, must get beyond enframing, a concept that can be compared to a slightly opened door, which initially keeps one out and then lets one in, welcoming one into a free and authentic selfhood.
In another of Heidegger’s essays, “The Way to Language,” he analyzes proper and improper as well as authentic and inauthentic uses of speech, writing, and modern communication (Heidegger 1993, 398, 405). He discusses the use saying and showing (Heidegger 1993, 396), claiming that saying is, like enframing, a form of revealing through mutual understanding between the speaker and his or her listeners (Heidegger 1993, 410). Speech, therefore, according to Heidegger and other sources, is the purest, most reliable means of communication.
He also cites Humboldt’s description of a way to language, a clear understanding of how language speaks and how words express authentic human identity and their analytical thought. Humboldt says that writing is an “incomplete preservation, a kind of mummification” (Heidegger 1993, 403). It is a “labor of spirit” (Heidegger 1993, 403), an attempt toward mutual understanding and bonding between speaker or writer and listener or reader. The relationship between writer and reader is enframed by technology, or, as Phil Hefner calls it, a “technomirror,” as technology is another layer over speech. Truly, speech sits above writing, the printing press, and online communication on the language food chain. These various types of communication sustain themselves as “depiction[s] of the intellectual development of the human race” (Heidegger 1993, 405). Communication, therefore, is an embodiment of the development of the human race and both its less and more personal interactions.
Heidegger analyzes the layers of the language food chain, since these labors of the spirit encompass many layers of communication. These varied labors of spirited communication find themselves on the language food chain, as the spoken word asserts itself as the most pure and as the written word through progressively advanced technologies is less and less pure and personal on this food chain. He asks, “What is speech as the expression of thought? What is speech when we ponder it in accord with its provenance from the inner activity of the spirit” (Heidegger 1993, 403)? He claims that language speaks and he defines speech as a slew of articulated sounds. He cites Aristotle, who states that speech and writing identify a human being. They are not identical from person to person. Aristotle says that language “shows the afflictions of the soul” (Heidegger 1993, 401) and that “speaking is one form of human activity” (Heidegger 1993, 401). Aristotle’s and Heidegger’s analyses illustrate that human communication reveals each individual’s personality traits and shows “the diversity of the structure of human language” (Heidegger 1993, 405). A communicative style varies from person to person; as people communicate across the barriers of the language food chain they express themselves on levels of less and less authenticity.
As Heidegger explains this purity linguistic timeline or language food chain, he also states that there is no such thing as a natural language and that formalization is the ultimate goal for language in this day and age (Heidegger 1993, 421, 422). Language was originally intended for its users’ discovery of who they are and to get to know others through the use of language and through the understanding of its essence (Heidegger 1993, 423). Yet, as technology mediates the use of language to greater extents, this discovery is clouded (Heidegger 1993, 424). Heidegger claims that speech as a “way [of] making movement toward speech first opens up the path on which we can follow the trail of the proper way to language” (Heidegger 1993, 419). Pauses in speech are also a way of saying, “the stillness of saying,” which is also part of language (Heidegger 1993, 420). As speech, language, and text follow this proper pathway to language, formalization occurs in the form of romanization, and a global community is formed at greater ease with the use of more modern technological advances from the printing press to the Internet.
Ultimately, philosophy allows for a better understanding of the continuing history of communication. Through this philosophical analysis of the layers of the language food chain, which includes the spoken word, handwriting, and online communication, this history is better understood. Don Ihde, Martin Heidegger and his influences including Humboldt and Aristotle, as well as Jürgen Habermas present various philosophical ideas that foster a clearer understanding of how communication is known, interpreted, used, and misused. These philosophical ideas include the following: epistemology, the definition of knowledge; hermeneutics, the art of interpretation; phenomenology, the systematic reflection on analysis of the structures of the consciousness, as well as the potential moralizing and immoralizing power of human nature. In Heidegger’s essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” enframing, freedom, and epistemology as ways of revealing and ways of knowing are explored in greater depth. In another of his essays, “The Way to Language,” the language food chain and the authentic and inauthentic uses of communication are further explored through a philosophical lens.
Chapter 3: The Evolution of Writing, until 1436 CE
Writing, particularly handwriting, is understood as a mediated form of communication as compared to the spoken word (which will be further explored in Chapter 4 of this essay). As compared to relatively new technologies, handwriting lies in the middle of the language food chain (Heidegger 1993, 405). This chapter will elaborate on the history of writing from its initiation until the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the fifteenth century (Millward). The history of writing suggests that the use of handwriting as means of communication is more personal than the printed word but not as unmediated as the use of the spoken word. While speech is a valid means for establishing strong human connections, writing asserts its purpose on an increasingly more global scale (Millward 30). Writing is much more personal than more recently invented technologies, which will be further explored in Chapter 5. As the history of writing unfolds throughout this chapter, a better understanding is gained of the progression of communication across time. A general analysis of the origins and study of writing unfolds throughout this chapter, and following it is a history of writing from its inception.
What is writing? Writing, first and foremost, is a system of human intercommunication by means of visible, conventional marks (Gelb 12). It is communication, most importantly, through well-understood pictures (Gelb 12).
Writing “became a tool of speech” (Gelb 12) and became a well-documented, more reliable yet a less personal and unmediated form of communication. It is a “medium of information exchange” (Fischer 11), thus a means of communicating information from one or more persons to another. Indeed, “the human need to communicate is…universal and diversified” (Senner 2). Writing is a communicative, technological tool that has been used by many from its very beginnings.
What is the impact of writing? Harris asks, “Is writing in the end a handy communication technology? Or are signs of writing signs of a distinctively human form of thought” (Harris 164)? Writing is indeed a handy tool and it is also an expression of human analytic thought. It is vital to the development of the human race, as human thought is the core of its development (Senner 4). Writing therefore brings awareness of each other as people and their shared experiences and environments, but it is not as strong, pure, and effective as the spoken word, which will be explored further in Chapter 4. Humans and their writing have a phenomenological relationship, as writing produces changes in individual and collective consciousness (Senner 7). As a result “writing has been the foundation for the development of [humans’] consciousness and intellect” (Senner 5) as well as a contribution to a development of their comprehension of themselves and the world around them, as well as, in the very widest sense possible, their “critical spirit” (Senner 5). There are often discrepancies between the consciousnesses of one’s thoughts and how they are expressed in writing. Thus a person may or may not discern how to communicate effectively, personally, and accurately. Senner continues with the following statement: “At the same time, [writing] opened the door to more original and analytical thought…thereby changing the very nature of human consciousness itself” (Senner 5). Indeed, language both shapes and creates human thought. Writing, therefore, triggers this phenomenological relationship between technology and humankind, still allowing humans to communicate through their consciousnesses on a deeper level than they would with a more mediated technology (Ihde).
In addition to this phenomenological relationship, “the technology of writing” causes “social stratification” (McClain Carr 288, 289). Writing prompts communal bonding and action and puts a person in the role of a leader (McClain Carr 12). It also intellectually shapes and marks off groups of people from one another (McClain Carr 287). McClain Carr compares and analyzes the relationship between text, textuality and curriculum, as text is a material used in a teacher’s curriculum. There is a clear difference between using texts versus discussion in class, since the use of texts is much more mediated than the use of verbal discussion. Nonetheless, “the ongoing role of the performed oral-written text [is in] contemporary enculturation and socializing” therefore these characteristics of writing are also existent in the oral tradition (McClain Carr 296). Writing also separates people into elite and non-elite groups through literacy, which plays an important role in social organization and interaction (McClain Carr 13). With higher literacy rates comes advanced democratization of learning and cultural instructions as well as the concept of universal literacy (Senner 7, 9). Therefore, the technology of writing, in addition to oral communication fosters both unity and disunity, as their uses bring social groups together but also divides people through social stratification.
Unlike the people who write and experience these phenomenological and social stratification relationships, writing is relatively immortal (McClain Carr 10). Indeed, the oral tradition and the written tradition are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum (McClain Carr 6). “Writing actually allows people to recognize when different performances of their cultural tradition vary from one another” (McClain Carr 7). While writing is less personal, it has established a withstanding global society and understanding across geographical borders (McClain Carr 7). Indeed, the oral tradition is more personal, pure, and more unmediated, while writing is less personal, less pure, and mediated; as described later in Chapter 4, cultural traditions are passed down with more purity and personality through oral educational practices (McClain Carr 7). Hence, “writing formalizes, generalizes, and perpetuates features and intentions of language” (McClain Carr 10). But there is a “permanence of writing” (McClain Carr 10), which is not achieved through less mediated and less reliable means of communication like the spoken word.
A better understanding of writing is also achieved through defining the writer, the reader, the communication involved, as well as communication’s forming, processing, and interpretation. The writer is the sender and the reader is the receiver, while communication is the transmission of an object (Harris 64). Forming this communication is the instance of an activity, writing, which produces the written word. Further, processing is the instance of forming in addition to being examined to either accurate or inaccurate interpretation while proofreading and reading more carefully (Harris 65). Henceforth there is a hermeneutical relationship between the sender and the receiver of writing, as communication is either understood correctly or misunderstood (Heidegger 1993). As communication is more and more mediated, it is imperative to understand what a particular piece of writing says and to understand that “we have to see it as communicationally integrated into a world where your chances of impressing instructors, clients or potential employers are seen as possibly related to the quality” of writing; and thus you submit it for them to read with the intention of impressing them and forming a mutual understanding and authentic relationship (Harris 161). This potential bond is not the easiest task through communicating with handwriting, yet it is possible if the communicated text is written effectively and clearly (Harris 161). Misunderstandings are bound to occur, since a calligrapher’s work is one-of-a-kind and handwritten and since it is interpreted hermeneutically with regard to cultural tradition, workplace tradition, and values (Harris 160, 161). In addition, a person’s handwriting is one-of-a-kind, calligraphers or not, and it is indicative of their personality and intention of what they are attempting to communicate. Since writing is a mediated form of communication, there is room for interpretation and misinterpretation between the writer’s intention and the reader’s reception of the material being written. Accordingly, there is less room for misinterpretation with the use of orality as means of communication since it is the most pure communicative form, as there is more to orality than words, including body language, tone inflection, time for questioning and dialogue between the speaker and listener, etc. Truly, “technology is not demonic but it is dangerous” (Heidegger 1993, 333), as there is the possibility of writing as a technology to promote dangerous misinterpretation across cultures and otherwise. The progression of technology through handwriting and through other technologies elaborated on in Chapter 5 includes benefits of spreading ideas across the globe, and yet it comes with a quite possible cost of losing truth, purity and personality, which orality provides. Understanding these definitions and possibilities provides a more detailed interpretation of the history and definition of writing.
After exploring this basic analysis and study of writing, the history of writing from its inception provides a greater understanding of how writing has progressed as a technology and as a means of communication. The technology of writing established the groundwork for more mediated communication elaborated on in Chapter 5. Writing was first invented and is appreciated for its ability to permanently preserve a variety of information. In the beginning of its recorded history, it was invented for mundane purposes – only recording the most commonplace information essential to society and their current beliefs and needs at the time. For instance, primary purposes of writing at the start of its history were keeping track of things such as the number of lambs born in a season, the number of pots of oil shipped to a customer, and the wages paid to workers (Millward 29). These less mediated uses of writing left more room for accurate interpretation in the societies that made use of them (Heidegger 1993). Thus, writing’s first role and catalyst was economic expansion, and with this writing began to gain social momentum and encouraged the preservation of cultural identity, universal moral beliefs, and historical documents (Fischer 66). Cave art’s “purposeful engravings” (Fischer 16) marked the beginning of writing as pictography told of humanity’s history and economic endeavors (Fischer 16).
Moreover, around 3700 BCE, the first records of logographic letters, symbols, or signs used to represent an entire word [for instance, / $ / for dollars in modern US usage] (Fischer) and systematic consonantal phonetization resolved some of pictography’s ambiguity and made writing a more specific, accurate, and authentic technological communicative tool. In Egypt, hieroglyphs were written vertically from right to left with ink on papyrus, parchment, wood, and leather. Accountants first used their script, and then as papyrus grew with popularity hieroglyphs were used for texts of religion and literature when writing’s role began to gain social momentum (Fischer). While the less mediated uses of writing left more room for interpretation in their societies, these more mediated uses in more civilized texts were more complex and more cultural. Meanwhile, faster shorthand and cursive promoted individual styles, allowing handwriting to express an individual’s personality, growth, and intended communicated message. Hieratic, also written from right to left, was widely used on stone as compared to Rosetta’s Stone (Fischer 44, 45). Egypt’s papyrus was better than Mesopotamia’s clay tablets at the time. Still, Mesopotamia’s clay tablets palpably withstood the passing of time and are better preserved today (Fischer 47). Writing on papyrus and clay were done much longer than on paper, which has only existed and been in use for the past 500 years (Fischer 36). In approximately 2500 BCE, script direction changed to horizontal left to right from the original vertical right to left for reasons that are unclear.
This change along with others was first used in the first formal educational systems that inspired revered Egyptian scribes and the consequential spread of written knowledge. Yet Mesopotamian scribes were less revered, and so the social division fostered one of the first writing-induced controversies. In Mesopotamia, the popular script of this time was cuneiform, which was written with a reed stylus on clay. Cuneiform used one of the first recorded linear alphabets. Old Persian is the key to cuneiform’s alphabet, which has preserved ancient epic stories such as Gilgamesh, a tale of humankind’s grasp at morality, life, and death (Fischer 50). In these very early stages of writing, the technology proved its “hardware” and “software” (Fischer 66) capabilities, which encouraged education, and, once again, the preservation of historical records and the preservation of cultural moral beliefs.
As the technology of writing spread and progressed, its economic and social uses expanded to commercial, domestic, religious, and literature-based uses in the Middle East through the use of Phoenician scripts, establishing its capability as a more mediated technology to advertise human thoughts across various geographical boundaries. During the 5th century BCE, Anatolian script’s purpose was communication, specifically propaganda (Fischer 73), a less personal and more mediated and rhetorical form of communication. Earlier, around 2000 BCE, Crete’s hieroglyphs were written in free direction for sacred and royal documents such as a ceramic plate with propaganda written in a spiral shape (Fischer 76). Tinfiniah was a primarily domestic script (Fischer 93). Aramaic writing outlived the fall of the Persian Empire and was a primary building block in the development of Iran during the 3rd century BCE (Fischer 95). Hebrew was used for religious purposes, as Arabic was also a “vehicle of faith” (Fischer 96, 98). Hebrew promoted Judaism around 850 BCE and Arabic promoted Islam during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries CE. Arabic script uses dots to distinguish vowels. These dots can be compared to more sophisticated dotting of the current Latin ‘i’ and crossing of the current Latin ‘t’. In its early stages, Arabic script was used only in the Koran and in valued poetry (Fischer 100). These are examples of writing’s ability over the course of time to publish and spread humanity’s ideas in many cultures and societies.
As the use of writing became more widespread and complex, it manifested itself in different cultures. In contradiction to the aforementioned pattern between a society and its writing, while India’s high illiteracy rate is frowned upon by very literate countries such as the U.S., their illiteracy has its advantages (Fischer 105). Fifty percent of India’s population is illiterate since oral communication is preferred in their country. India’s history once valued the use of Brahmi script until about the 8th century BCE, but once something was written down, the oral communication of important tales to future generations became a more significant aspect of their culture (Fischer 105). This oral tradition and focus in Indian culture fosters more human connection than sitting alone and reading a book in hand or at a computer. Perhaps humanity is better off and more connected if technology is used sporadically. Yet it is immoral to restrict anyone from learning how to write or how to use other technology because it causes disunity and social barriers (Fischer 105). Still, India’s “disunity” as a result of their high illiteracy rate fosters another kind of human connection during this present, intensely communicative technological time. Writing thus creates disunity as well as unity among societies. Accordingly, as writing is expanded by the uniting influence of religion, the spread of Buddhism caused a dissemination of Indian Pali script as the script spread their faith to the eyes and ears of many people, who are united in their faith (Fischer 114).
While the success of India’s oral tradition suggests that orality is the purest and most effective means of communication, the success of the Phoenician scripts of the Middle East was eventually overshadowed by the Greek alphabet, which exhibited the early stages of Romanization, a uniting force that standardized non-Latin-based scripts and homogenized cultures. Scribes liked Greek’s alphabetic writing since it was easier to learn and write than syllabic writing (Fischer 122) due to the alphabet’s fewer letters and phonemes (Fischer 121). Around 2000 BCE, Old Phoenician ‘a-lep’ became the Greek A, ‘alpha’ (Fischer 124). The Greek alphabet created unity because it could convey any language on Earth (Fischer 123). People could read the old Greek manuscripts only if they were familiar with the capital hieratic non-Egyptian lettering, therefore technological mediation began at an early age in the history of writing, as writing mediated one’s understanding of the text. The use of the spoken word, however, was unmediated because everyone in a certain culture could understand the words coming out of a person’s mouth (McClain Carr 4). Moreover, also around 2000 BCE, the accessibility of papyrus, or “skins,” allowed for more writing and the spread of ideas. Ionian writing acquired prestige because of great works such as Homer’s Iliad and Ulysses (Fischer 124), which were traditionally written in cursive and uppercase and lowercase lettering (Fischer 129). In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt caused the distribution of Greek script and discoveries, and therefore was a catalyst in the growing focus on religion and liturgy in Greece and in Greek-influenced countries. In Egypt, Egyptian writing [hieroglyphs, hieratic, and demotic] was successfully used side by side with Greek writing, but soon thereafter Greek writing overthrew that of the Egyptians as Greece conquered Egypt (Fischer 135). These beginning stages of romanization, a standardization of scripts seen with the Greek alphabet as well as the Latin alphabet, are connected to the philosophical idea of the potential for either moralization or demoralization of human nature. That is, the Standardization and universality of scripts, resulting from Romanization, produced cultural hegemony. This influenced the uniting of cultures yet dehumanized and took over Middle Eastern scripts, which is a common theme in current online communications, explored later in Chapter 5.
As with the development of the Greek alphabet, the well-crafted and flexible Latin alphabet allowed inventions of different functional aesthetic styles. Imperial Romans used a broad nib to write legible square capitals, rustic capitals, and serifs (Fischer 143, 144). Like the Greeks, the Romans invented their own cursive, unical writing. However Roman Latin cursive did not flow together for aesthetic beauty: its invention had a more practical purpose – to reduce the number of strokes per letter for legibility. As Roman Latin cursive writing was indicative of their culture, other “styles of lettering possessed particular cultural and social associations, each befitting a given class or circumstance” (Fischer 145) like the writing of CAVE CANEM [Beware of dog] in mosaic tiles in front of a Roman residence in Narbonne, France that reflected the social or desired standing of the house’s residents (Fischer 145).
Another turning point in the history of handwriting is an evident pattern, which began by the 1st century CE, in which many scripts that were originally developed for economic expansions were later on widely used for religious texts (Fischer 158). The power of the Latin alphabet did not come from Christianity, which was merely a vehicle for this linguistic upheaval; it rather came about from the rise of the Roman Empire. And so, writing defined civilization (Fischer 165). Still, “writing is an effect of [civilization], not a cause” (Fischer 165). Writing only preserves analytic thought; it does not cause it. This preservation facilitates great thinkers and discoverers in various fields, like Isaac Newton who built his theories upon “the shoulders of giants.” By the 1st century CE, writing continued to not only be used for necessity and accounts. Its use grew for priests and eventually gained a “full range of human activity” for such purposes as letters and communication, signs and propaganda, great works of expression and graffiti (Fischer 164). This was more widely seen than it was before, as these less mediated forms of communication and writing left more room for cultural interpretation.
In comparison to the well-used logography in Europe and the Middle East, Chinese proved the equal and perhaps superior power of pictography in its beginnings in the second half of the second millennium BCE. China’s pictographic writing, unlike Latin-based scripts, fostered one of the most successful nations on Earth (Fischer 165). Learning Chinese stimulates regions in the brain different from those of alphabetic readers and writers (Fischer 173).
Accordingly, the Japanese noticed the Chinese’s success and used some Chinese morphemes in their alphabet. Chinese writing has a more lasting effect on their culture’s identity than any writing before its time due to its stability. It is a less mediated example because it preserves the historical and cultural identity and origins but not as much as the spoken word due to its national political, economical, and linguistic success.
Despite the purity of the oral tradition, the technology of writing progresses with reliability and other positive traits. Another example of how writing fosters clear communication and of the usage of symbols was in the Americas’ earliest texts were the Epi-Olmec texts in Mexico (Fischer 211). In addition to Epi-Olmec texts, Zapotec and Mayan texts were discovered on carved stone monuments. Mixtec and Aztec were discovered on cloth, bark paper, and hide (Fischer 213). Diffusion of the scripts caused a sudden systematic phoeneticism and a shift in iconography, the connection between a symbol to a word, word phrase, sound, or concept; a combination of logography, the symbol itself; and phonography, the phonetics (Fischer 215). A Mayan 260-day ritual calendar written in logography also avoided ambiguity. Zapotec writing was like logography of Epi-Olmec and Mayan writing. The pattern of change in society affecting change in script occurred in Zapotec culture. This alphabetic shift in their society was an effective means of communicative action, as books, genealogies, and maps were written in Zapotec script, spreading its culture across geographical boundaries until the their downfall in 1500 CE (Fischer 219). Epi-Olmec, particularly in its more advanced stages, is comparable to Mayan writing with its phoeneticism and glyphs (Fischer 220). Mayan culture and its writing are known as the “quintessence of American tradition” (Fischer 221). Mayan writing was very advanced, using four types of signs: logograph, rebus, phonetic complement, and semantic determinative (Fischer 221). Mayan scribes were highly regarded in their royal caste. Literacy was common in their culture, so writing had a profound effect on public opinion and on public assemblies where writing was understood as a legitimization of power. Writing also fostered connections with heritage – a connection that has continued until the present time due to Mayan’s elaborate libraries of histories, genealogies, astronomical tables, and ritual prescriptions. As this “quintessence of American tradition” unfolds, changes in society illustrate that writing and various alphabets spread culture effectively or not effectively depending on the society’s status. Effective writing in these cultures communicates their values and traditions successfully across time throughout their culture’s generations during their society’s existence. While other cultures have more mediated and complex handwriting systems, the Mayans’ and the Zapotecs’ exhibit extremely subtle examples of handwritten mediation (Fischer 227).
Essentially, the relationship between printing and communication has transcended geographical borders. Following the pattern of the history of writing, Roman society flourished and its writing did too. Roman society and its surrounding areas experienced a manifesting and flourishing of ideas in different, surrounding cultures. Roman Emperor Constantine I advanced a renaissance and transformed pagan Rome into a Christian Byzantium. His interest in moving the status of Rome to the Middle East fostered a glorious rebirth and dissemination of Greek culture caused translations of Arab writing to be carried to 8th century Muslim Spain and other centers of learning as well as Greek philosophy and science into Western Europe. Styles like “book hand” were used in literature, such as in Bibles, proverbs, and popular literature, while “cursive hand” (Fischer 239) was used for everyday purposes on papyri and parchment, which was easily written on in cursive and was easier to read (Fischer 239). Unical writing, large uppercase letters with curves was only used for ecclesiastical works. And, as in the publishers in Western Europe, during the Middle Ages Roman publishers reigned with the success of their culture, printing educational texts while raising the literacy rates of Rome. With this flourishing, writing promoted documented ideas in cultures in the West and in the East.
The invention of vellum codex yielded to the production of books and to some of the most renowned literature, high societal statuses, and, most significantly, styles of script. During the 4th century CE, the vellum codex, a manuscript of individual sheets bound together, replaced the papyrus scroll. Its advantages were the ability to write on both sides and its producing of the earliest known books [Germanic ‘bōka’ or ‘beech’ derived from early rune tablets] including writings by Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Ovid, Liby, and Martid (Fischer 244). In the 8th century CE, the Carolingian manuscripts were used for legibility with no ornateness or abbreviations (Fischer 248). In the 16th century CE, Italian Humanist cursive was considered “par excellent” (Fischer 252), a symbol of high status, due to its balance between legibility and beauty. Italian Humanist scribes used it for its classical elegance (Fischer 252). This invention allowed for some of the most renowned literature with its use of legible and easily understood scripts.
Paper, another invention that advocated more reading and writing, particularly later on along with the printing press, was a well-kept secret first invented in China in 105 CE. The Chinese lost their claim on their invention during the Central Asian Conflict of 751 CE. Samarkand’s Muslim governor captured Chinese people who were proficient in paper production (Fischer 263), and Samarkand paper became a valuable export until the end of the 9th century CE. Manufacturing of paper spread across the Muslim world and to Arab merchants and to India in the 1200s. In the 1300s, with a century passed, paper replaced parchment and vellum almost entirely, chiefly because of the printing press. Originally made of rags prior to 1800, paper’s main ingredient was replaced by wood due to its unlimited supply in spite of its lesser durability compared to tug-based paper or parchment or vellum. From the mid 1800s to the 1900s, paper caused educational reform and was a source for social, economic, and intellectual power, as European paper was beginning to rival vellum as the preferred material for book production due to the invention of the printing press, thus making an impact particularly on Western civilization where it promoted mass literacy, world-wide printing, modern offices, newspapers, government records, and, most significantly, general modern education. Compared to past times, the Internet on the computers, technologies which will be elaborated on in Chapter 5, has libraries that can be printed, which affects a demand for paper that has not been witnessed since the educational reforms of the mid 1800s (Fischer 264).
Handwriting is more personal than newer technological advances in communication, and it is less personal than the spoken word. This statement is supported through this analysis and history of writing. This notion is also insinuated through the following relatable and modern anecdotal experiment, conducted in October of 2010. Thirty people were invited to a birthday party. Fifteen were given handwritten invitations and online invitations, while the other fifteen were only given online invitations. In turn, 79% of the guests who attended received written invitations, while the other 21% received only online invitations.
When the guests were asked about the written invitations, they all declared that the written invitations were personal and endearing, while the online invitations were quite commonplace. Therefore, through this experiment and through the analysis and history of writing in this chapter, handwriting proves itself as solid, more personal means of communication on the language food chain. While handwriting is a dying breed, its occasional use is still more personally effective and pure in this day and age.
Ultimately, writing transcends geographical borders and proves itself as a solid means of communication. Still, the invention and use of vellum in Roman culture was a technological turning point, which fostered the power that the Romanized Latin alphabet had over other less standardized scripts, a uniting yet dehumanizing force, which diminished cultural individuality and which remains prevalent in the study of communication today, as it promoted Christianity and papyrus faded away with paganism. The Romanized Latin alphabet is the most mediated on the continuum of mediated handwritten communication. This mediation and standardization of non-Latin-based alphabets result in the loss of individuality across cultures, which were regarded as the less prestigious cultures like paganism. Compared to the spoken word, which will be elaborated on in Chapter 4, writing is less pure and more mediated. It is, nonetheless, more reliable than the spoken word and it sustains itself strongly in the middle of the language food chain (Heidegger 1993). Compared to the more technologically advanced means of communication, which will be elaborated on in Chapter 5, writing is more pure and less mediated; while compared to the spoken word, it is less pure and more mediated. With an understanding of the general analysis of writing as well as its historical overview, the idea of writing as a mediated and not a completely pure means of communication is grasped. With the knowledge of its definition, its impact, and its history, writing establishes itself as a means of communication with both strengths and weaknesses.
Chapter 4: The Oral Tradition, to the Present
An analysis of the oral tradition’s capability to preserve cultural identities demonstrates the spoken word’s power to improve communication skills as well as to unite and spread cultural traditions’ ideas and values. Indeed, the spoken word, the less orderly and more simple and pure model, permits us to recognize the differences between the less pure, less personal, and more mediated forms of communication such as handwriting and also writing by means of more advanced technology (Fox 8). Nothing can replace a face-to-face, unmediated conversation as means for effective, pure communication that expresses a revelatory, authentic representation of the self, just as nothing can replace a phone call as opposed to an increasingly impersonal email exchange. Through the use of the oral tradition, therefore, humans more effectively express themselves with the accompaniment of facial expressions, gestures, revealing pauses, and the manifestations of cultural identities, mannerisms, and traditions in the way that they were traditionally expressed versus published, written text. While there is less room for misunderstanding and a greater propensity of transcending cultural boundaries with this use of communication, there are some possibilities for “verbal misunderstandings” between different cultures (Laungani 195). The spoken word, nonetheless, sustains itself as the most pure, personal, and unmediated form of communication.
As the oral tradition is the most effective form of communication, speech is the oldest form of intelligent communication (Fox 1). The human voice is “the primordial medium of communication, the basis of all dialogue” (Fox 5). As the tension between oral culture and printed culture ensued, Plato tended to support oral culture as more immediate, personal and pure than the written, while he supports written as the more modern (Fox 9). The comparison gives rise to the following question: Is the oral tradition as reliable as the written word (Fox 10)? The oral tradition’s reliability is difficult to compare to that of the written. Fox instead notes the positive aspects of the use of the spoken word as a means of communication. He claims that it’s more creative and expressive (Fox 10). He compares oral culture, oral communication, and oral tradition. Oral culture is “the aggregate of those things which are communicated orally in a specific social, linguistic, and geographic setting, together with vocal means by which they are communicated” (Fox 13). Oral communication is an aspect of oral culture, involving the method of transmission. This is the act that routinely occurs in the form of a verbal exchange between individuals, or between individuals and groups, primarily relying on the human voice. The oral tradition is a subspecies of oral communication – the means by which an oral story, song, or saying is transmitted from one generation to the next. With an understanding of orality, the oral tradition and the use of the spoken word are proven as “vehicles that [trigger] wisdom, the creation of cultural capital, and the dissemination of knowledge” (Fox 13).
A comparison between reading aloud and reading silently allows for a greater understanding of the power of the spoken word. One’s knowledge of the uses of loud reading and silent reading affects one’s understanding of human communication. Loud reading promotes community bonding and human connection for prompt discussion, whereas silent reading promotes self-reflection and self-discovery, ideas that are useful for later discussion. While silent reading has more mediation of experience, since the technologies of writing and in particular the technology of printing foster introversion and quiet contemplation of the text being read; whereas loud reading has less mediation of experience, it utilizes the technology of writing, through facial expressions, gestures, revealing pauses, and the manifestations of cultural identities, mannerisms, and traditions (Ihde 78). Indeed, through a hermeneutical lens, there is more propensity for misinterpretation with silent reading, since loud reading, particularly by the author of text being read, is generally more pure, revelatory, and expressive. If the author reads aloud, there is a greater possibility for more accurate interpretation, using the expressive means of communication including body language and tone inflection. On the other hand, introversion as a result of silent reading can be frowned upon as a loss of human eye-to-eye and face-to-face connections and its disconnections of the self, but it can also be an advantage in human communication due to its effects of self-reflection and self-discovery. This quiet contemplation gives readers time to process and interpret the text and proves the hermeneutical relationship between human and technology that is beneficial toward essential communication action, which is discussed earlier and later in this essay. Nonetheless, silent reading cannot replace loud reading’s ability to inspire a sense of community and of personal, pure, and unmediated human connection.
Reading aloud, also referred to as “loud reading” (Fischer 237), became a trend during the first few CE centuries in Western Europe and it reinforced understanding externally and internally. People read aloud and literature served as a memory aid. Silent reading, or reading to oneself alone, was unknown. During this time, St. Augustine promoted “writing’s role in society as an autonomous form of information conveyance” (Fischer 237). Later, during the Middle Ages, silent reading replaced loud reading. “The written word became thought itself” as the use of the spoken word gradually diminished due to the invention and trend of the printing press in 1436, which gave rise to “multiple impressions” and multiple understandings of the material being read, particularly when read silently (Fischer 238). The trend proved that loud reading was a more accurate conveyance of information, since it presented body language and allowed for questions to be answered face-to-face. According to Fischer, loud reading, previously, had been a trend due to the price resulting from the scarcity of papyrus. People bought less and so writings were published less and less. However, when papyrus’s availability increased in the 2nd century CE, publishing thrived as people bought more books for lower prices. And so the trend of silent reading transpired (Fischer 238). About 190 BCE, similarly, the invention of thinly stretched and dried skin of sheep goats’ parchment (the name originated from Pergamum in Asia Minor) was a major success. Through the Middle Ages, the “Age of Parchment” (Fischer 238) would reign until the 1300s and 1400s, when paper took over. The reign of silent reading over loud reading proved itself less effective for pure, universally revealed and accurate communication, as the printed word offered less personal interaction and less pure communication (Fischer 238).
The ability to spread such knowledge across geographical and cultural borders illustrates the oral tradition’s hermeneutical relationship to true, effective, and pure communication and to its experience (Ihde and Heidegger 1993). This epistemological relationship is further explored through the spoken word’s levels of meaning. There is a relationship between its expressions and meaning, since oral performance needs to be interesting and engaging in order to convey a certain culturally based idea(s). Otherwise, it will not survive long in an oral culture that expects good stories (Foley 158). As language is “a medium of information but also a creative force” (Foley 160), the following questions must be asked about creative oral presentations that preserve cultural identity: What is interesting/original about this story? How does it refer to the real world? What is the idea (cultural or otherwise)? What does the story explain? Attempting to answer these questions allows for a higher understanding of singing and storytelling’s ability to express culturally based knowledge through the oral tradition (Foley 423).
As the oral tradition spreads such knowledge, it has the capacity to keep cultures alive. Unfortunately, cultures in Scotland and Wales especially are decreasingly bilingual and less passionate about their native language and tongue. Still, there are quite a few fervent members of these cultures who continue to encourage the preservation of their cultural identities, often through the oral tradition, through the use of stories, songs, and theatre (Robinson and Fox 13). This folklore is “the pure water of unmediated oral tradition” (Fox 19). It also aids in the advancement of their children’s education (Fox 23). The “performance of folklore…establishes a link between the individual and the larger group and suggests a guide for future action” (Foley 426). These oral traditions are thus vehicles for preserving their cultures and connecting with one another on a personal level (Fox 32). The oral tradition is also kept alive in Scotland and Wales through bilingual printing. While Scots Gaelic began as “barely a language of print” (Fox 24 and Robinson), today it and the Welsh language are printed bilingually on commonly received publications. Therefore, these cultures and their previously more popular oral traditions are kept alive through the beneficial relationship between the oral tradition, writing, and printing.
For a further example of the oral tradition’s means of keeping its cultures alive, the Native American oral traditions exhibit a formal level of declamation in contexts of sacred processes and commitments that take place during formal occasions like tribal meetings, potlatches, festivals, and other large gatherings. In Native American cultures, oral presentations include formal openings and closings, lengthy pauses between utterances, a repetition of four or five phrases, elevated volume by good posture, and formal clothing and accessories, and some of these aspects are akin to many other oral communications. Yet more currently, the oral tradition has given in to the use of printing in order to preserve the Native American cultures. Preserving their literary traditions helps their dialects become a full-fledged language. This use of printing their native tongues does not necessarily keep their cultures afloat, however. Printing inspires the notion of standardizing English, which fosters the spread of reading and writing skills but also the homogenization of cultures (Fox 31).
As writing is less capable of conveying the essence of meaning with regard to hermeneutics, orality varies in utility due to this relationship between speech and printing. Printing is a more reliable form of communication/documentation, while the spoken word is a more personal, pure, and unmediated form of communication (Fox 35). As the oral tradition preserves cultural identity and preserving memory (Fox 38), “speech continues to evolve today in relation to a dizzyingly rapid pace of technological and social change, so current knowledge of how speech and other forms of communication in previous times will need further elaboration and debate” (Fox 38). Indeed, oral cultures are dying out; while their pure and revelatory qualities are positive aspects that cannot be ignored, writing preserves cultures’ ideas and traditions as they have a likelier chance to survive the passing of time. Nonetheless, as time progresses, humanity yearns for a “linguistic purity [that is achieved through] the art of speaking” (Lynch 457), for Ihde’s “Garden” of purity, “the return back to the primitive purity and shortness” (Lynch 459) and for its “correctness” (Lynch 468). Indeed, the use of the spoken word is “pure, strong, and perspicuous” (Lynch 470). This purity is expressed through the attitudes and emotions that only the spoken word can communicate.
Despite this purity and its possibility of diminishing misunderstandings and cultural homogenization, there are dangers that cannot be ignored with regard to misunderstanding across cultures and cultural homogenization due to current technological advantages in globalization. The dangers of homogenization can likely lead to an erosion of cultural identities and values, since there are “verbal and non-verbal misunderstandings” when languages are “spoken” that cannot be ignored (Laungani 195). Thus, there is a hermeneutical relationship with the oral means of communication, as a “failure to perceive subtle non-verbal and/or bodily cues with accuracy can mean the difference between life and death” (Laungani 196). This failure is very possible when people of different cultures are attempting to communicate.
As the spoken word triggers the least amount of misunderstanding across cultures, different cultures’ metaphors still cause misunderstandings across cultural borders. So the question is: “Do we really understand and interpret correctly” (Laungani 196)? As people of different cultural backgrounds use different metaphors, expressions, and body language, this can lead to severe misunderstandings. While words are an integral aspect of the communication process, body language is also a significant part of the oral tradition’s means of communicating. Indeed, we all understand words and body language differently, especially those that reverberate with strong feelings and emotions. Therefore, “the choice of words and…metaphors” (Laungani 197) is integral to establish a pure and personal human connection. This is not an easy task, since word choice is often culturally specific (Laungani 198). Metaphors, especially, “help us to articulate, interpret, and reinterpret our own world of experience to ourselves and hopefully share it with others” (Laungani 198). They are, furthermore, a “part of everyday speech, a form of shorthand, which strengthen a mutual sharing and understanding of common modes of communication, thus facilitating interaction at a deeper and more meaningful level” (Laungani 199). Thus an understanding of other cultures’ metaphors or a use or development of universal metaphors leads to a stronger human connection across the globe. If humanity stays trapped its own private cultural worlds, this pure understanding will not progress across different cultures as people attempt to speak clearly to one another (Laungani 200).
So another question is: Will multiculturalism or homogenization win in the end (Laungani 202)? The goal of multiculturalism is to preserve different cultures, while homogenization attempts to unite the East and the West, as the “East shall no longer be East, and the West [no longer be the] West” (Laungani 202). There is a distinct possibility that as humans interact with each other through their oral traditions and through face-to-face interaction with the spoken word that these two possibilities can be linked, since “human beings, like chameleons, have the distinct ability to adapt and incorporate the changes within their cultural identity, without wreaking their ancient structure” (Laungani 202). With this coexistence of multiculturalism and homogenization, humanity will hopefully usher in a new era in which people shall live in peace, mutual trust and understanding, and harmony.
With further regards to the use of the spoken word during the present time, the use of the phone call as compared to the use of an email exchange illustrates the differences between the two means of communication, spoken and printed. The email has replaced the phone call, yet not every phone call should be replaced. In this day and age, the phone call “takes courage” (Shipley 41). Truly, the phone call “allows words and ideas to overlap, mingle, and amplify one another” (Shipley 42). An email is much less personal than the spoken word, allowing the person to construct his or her message or response to you, at his or her own pace (Shipley 19). Emotions are lost in translations without the use of the spoken word. The use of capitals (Shipley 132) and emoticons (Shipley 134) are not sufficient, since email removes temporal and physical barriers that keep emotions from happening in other forms (Shipley 175). An in-person presentation is therefore the bravest; other forms allow a person to hide behind a telephone or a computer screen without the necessity of learning local and/or cultural etiquette and rules first (Shipley 24). Truly, “there are some things that are far better done in person than any other way; a job interview, a performance review, a firing, and a marriage proposal are a few obvious ones” (Shipley 50).
Ultimately, the spoken word is the most bravely used means of communication and possesses the most purity and personality and exhibits the least amount of technological mediation. The use of the phone call, loud reading, and face-to-face communication are a few primary examples of how the oral tradition fosters such pure communication. The spoken word proves itself as a means of uniting and preserving cultures’ individual identities. The strong hermeneutical relationship with the oral tradition sustains itself, as the spoken word leaves little room for misinterpretation. Therefore, as compared to handwriting, in addition to more technologically advanced forms of communication, the oral tradition proves itself as the most pure, personal, and unmediated form of communication. The oral tradition sustains itself as a much stronger and much more effective means of communication, establishing strong human connections.
Chapter 5: The Evolution of Communicative Technology, 1436 CE – Present
While the spoken word and handwriting are less mediated and more personal and pure means of communication, recent communicative technologies are more mediated, and less personal, and less pure. The invention of the printing press, the typewriter, and the computer and its present-day use of the Internet have become much more mediated technological instruments of communication, yet these technologies have established a fast-paced global community and exchange of ideas. These inventions, particularly beginning with the printing press, are revolutionary technologies in the evolution of writing and communication.
The invention of the printing press in 1436 was a pivotal turning point in this progression of technological means of communication, as it increased global interactions and increased literacy rates across the globe as a primary way of communicating across geographical boundaries. This increase of technological mediation fosters global communicating communities and this advantage, which spreads cultural awareness and understanding, cannot be ignored. But with these technological inventions, humans disconnected from themselves and with others, communicating on less personal and less pure levels. Also, as various cultures have their scripts Romanized, changed from their native scripts to Latin-based alphabets, there is a fear of losing many native tongues and losing the notion of the self and one’s culture. As these scripts are morphed into a global-based and easily understood typed script, this global community potential fosters the homogenization of these cultures and but still promotes awareness and understanding of their cultures on a global scale. The advantages and the histories of these less personal, less pure, and more mediated technological forms of communication are explored in greater depth during this chapter.
Most significantly, the printing press made copying text and the spread of writers’ ideas easier with disadvantages and advantages along with global development and spread of print culture in other parts of the world. The new technology served as the technology in Ihde’s view of technology upon the world and its users. I [TECH-WORLD] or I [PRINTING PRESS-WORLD] illustrates the printing press’s effects on humankind (Ihde 78). The new technology, as Fischer notes, disconnected “the letters of the printing press [and] freed [them] at last from human hand and pen” (Fischer 269). Nonetheless, this disconnection from one’s self and from others connected many more people with a wealth of knowledge and capital due to printing’s faster and cheaper process. Various printing techniques such as movable type, block printing, and the use and invention of paper further epitomized the rush of the printing press. Movable type, invented by Minoan Greeks, used smaller, interchangeable units like logography, letters, and syllables (Fischer 265). Block printing, invented by the Chinese, used an entire face of text, since movable type was deemed impractical for the Chinese because it used too many characters. And in the 1st millennium BCE, the use of stamps in printing was advanced to moulds. With the invention of paper in 100 CE, [wood] block printing began when negative characters were cut into wood, and with ink, black, positive characters first appeared on white paper. There was a demand for block printing for Buddhist texts in East Asia during this time (Fischer 266) in the same way that market forces advanced European printing, as the demand for printing that occurred in Western Europe also occurred in the Eastern world. Book collecting became exceptionally popular around 1400. Publishers let go of scribing and, as a result, they deprived humankind of a useful trade, yet the use of printing provided a wealth of knowledge and capital since printing was a much faster and cheaper means of spreading ideas across the geographical borders of technologically excelling nations (Fischer 269). The thriving Gutenberg printing press in Mainz, Germany produced replicas that were produced by means of casting and ink. Significantly, the Gutenberg printing press promoted “cultural, linguistic, and commercial homogenization” (Fischer 270). Due to the invention of the printing press, there was a growth and spread of Romanization and therefore a growth and spread of ideas in the East and in the West.
The double-edged ramifications of the printing press, an early example of the dehumanizing effect of writing as well as of the spread of knowledge and unity, were even more prevalent with the inventions of the typewriter and the computer. The invention of the typewriter “underlies today’s PC revolution” (Fischer 282). An American by the name of Scholes sold the first typewriters to Remington in 1873. The first typewriters had 44 keys, which produced capital letters only, numbers and some punctuation. The typewriter developed and later included a shift key and all 88-92 characters; this was the typewriter on which Mark Twain wrote the first submitted novel that was not handwritten. In the beginning there was no typeface per machine. Other typewriters that followed were Linotype, VariTyper, and the Hammond, which could type an unlimited number of typefaces. By 1970, the electronic photo typesetting and photocopiers were in use; and by 1980, the personal computer was fostering more writing in the comfort of its users’ homes. Today, “home and office desks have become the printer’s shop” (Fischer 282). As communicative technologies progress and spread, they disconnect people on a personal level and yet connect them on a global scale.
As these disconnections and connections occur through the use of progressing communicative technologies, the printing press has narrowed and specified the number of dialects all over the world for centuries with the increasing use of Romanization. Caxton printing used the London house style. A Roman printer by the name of Trissino changed Carlington’s Latin, as the / v / became / u / and the / i / became / j /. With this revolution of change in the detail of the already well-established Latin alphabet, the French also added to their script, including accents above their vowels to indicate the different sounds in their speech (Fischer 283, 284). During this active period in the history of writing, the Latin alphabet began to prove its ability to convey many of the Earth’s languages, another defining moment in the history of Romanization. Today, the Romanized alphabet has a “sheer simplicity [that] lends it a flexibility and strength that appears to ensure survival and further expansion [of different cultures]”. Most non-Western countries correlate the Latin alphabet with technology and future prosperity, and possible unity (Fischer 292, 293). Therefore, cultural identities are both lost and regained throughout the evolution of writing and communication as globalization unites cultural traditions and opinions (Lee).
An example of newer technology’s ability to foster literacy-related clarity and status is seen in the 1800s during a Darwinian time of understanding literacy, writing, and communication. The Darwinian view expressed that the evolution from ‘barbarism’ to ‘civilization’ was enabled by literacy. Today, it is understood that language is the chief tool in humanity’s social development. The following aspects of writing facilitate this social development: logography (word writing), syllabogaphy (syllabic writing), and alphabet (letters that stand for individual consonants or vowels); there are no pros and cons or stages. There are different forms that accommodate different linguistic and social needs as they arise. While economic expansion influenced the very first creations of writing, a script’s development is not influenced by its economy and simplicity. Greater influences on a script include aspects of literary clarity: “precision, greater phonetic salience, resistance to change, unambiguity and veneration,” etc. (Fischer 295). These influences cause writing and language to be a significant tool in the social development of humanity.
In attempting to provide such literary clarity and to avoid misunderstandings and confusion, spelling reform is enforced to inspire unity, understanding, and communicative action across different cultures. Modern societies favor high literacy rates and thus tend to simplify their scripts, which provide clarification of the ideas that they are attempting to convey. Webster’s Dictionary, for example, publishes spelling reforms and added catch phrases annually to keep its readers informed about the development, and often the simplification, of their language. Mass international traveling, a continuing enthusiasm that began in the 1970’s, has inspired international “symbolic writing,” signs with symbols and words. This is not an attempt toward pictographic writing but toward unity and understanding. Leibniz’s universal [visual] writing system, for instance, is understood as an “autonomous language,” a universal language that, like mathematics, uses universally understood symbols, which are free from and not connected to or dependent on any other language on Earth (Fischer 311). This symbolic writing, seen in public areas like airports (Fischer 311), encourages true communicative action and orientation of the world with discussion, as a variety of people across cultures learn one language. This autonomous language encourages communicative action, which can only happen among equals and through a common understanding while “recogniz[ing] one another as autonomous persons” (Habermas 25).
This communicative action and common understanding come through a universal writing system, which is aided by the use of Romanization, particularly in this present day. Due to the colonization of under-developed countries by more technologically advanced countries in the past and present, writing’s future in the computer age is very Latin-based. Four main metropolitan languages of the Earth are likely to survive the next 400 years: Chinese, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. English, Spanish, and Portuguese already use the Latin alphabet. Accordingly, China is actively encouraging Pinyin, Chinese expressed in the Latin alphabet (Fischer 313).
Because of this rapid Romanization of the world due to new technology and communications, there is a prevalent fear of losing one’s native tongue and ethnic identity. However, Romanization also has the ability to preserve a culture through new technology’s enabling of continued reading and further understanding. Still, even with the assistance of spelling reform, misunderstandings occur because of diglossia and cultural differences. If the Kantian philosophical question – What does it mean to be human? – is considered in the pondering of the possibility of losing ethnic identity, then an exploration of self allows for better reasoning of what is more important in a human being’s lifetime or in the wide scheme of humanity (Habermas). Romanization will not ever remove misunderstanding between human beings: words’ inescapable uses and abuses are obstacles humanity has to conquer individually and together, at times without the help of technology (Laungani 197). With such standardization of scripts, humans are adopting a tendency to standardize their communicated words, triggering less personal and pure communicated transactions. Indeed, “with our obvious [technological] gain, we are apparently also losing a good deal of what it presently means to be human” (Fischer 209). This loss of humanness and pure and personal communication causes miscommunication across different cultures, as cultural diversity in the West and in the East are blurred through the typed lines of Internet communication.
Cultural diversity in the West has produced a variety of metaphors, which serve as a significant force in human communication (Laungani 198). Metaphors illustrate cultural values, which represent “what it…means to be human” for each individual culture, as different cultures use different metaphors (Fischer 209). The meaning and experience behind a cultural metaphor may not be conveyed accurately to someone from another culture. While metaphors are oftentimes contextual and cultural, as they vary from culture to culture, they can provide understanding to frame discussion of something with which one is unfamiliar. They can give meaning to something, but only if they are interpreted accurately. If translated accurately, with the possibly beneficial use of Romanization for example, they can foster a universal understanding and a global community. Understanding among different cultures is difficult due to differences in language and expression, and these differences will not be completely erased by Romanization. Nonetheless, multiple meanings and connotations of words continue to haunt humanity, as there is seemingly no common thread between the metaphors of the East and the metaphors of the West (Laungani 199), since “all metaphors have their own historical origins and are culture-specific” (Laungani 198). For instance, during a counseling session between a Western therapist and a Persian client, the client, in attempt to explain his emotions to his therapist, recited a poem by Omar Khayyam, a poet from his culture. He said,
“The Moving Finger writes and having written
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it”
The therapist was “totally at loss as he hears the poem…[and sat] in embarrassed silence, unable to decide what he should say” (Laungani 200). Indeed, “metaphors are a part of everyday speech, a form of shorthand, which strengthen a mutual sharing and understanding of common modes of communication, thus facilitating interaction at a deeper and more meaningful level” only if they are understood accurately (Laungani 199). Thus an understanding of other cultures’ metaphors, an essential explanation and mode of communication, and their use and development lead to greater human connections across the globe. Romanization, which increases the understanding of these metaphors across cultures, is a reality that is spreading and that the Chinese are now confronting – a coercion to reform/Romanize in order spread culture through Romanization’s “social mechanism.” While China and Japan are embracing Romanization, Arabic and Hebrew scripts will probably never Romanize since the Arabic script can transmit many more dialects than Latin script (Fischer 315).
The most important notion in question is the following: Does current Romanization lead to homogenization or multiculturalism? With its movement spreading across the planet, the homogenous possibility of the East no longer being the East and the West no longer being the West has come to the forefront of discussion. Indeed, this uniting possibility is not far-fetched; nonetheless “human beings, like chameleons, have the distinct ability to adapt and incorporate changes within their cultural identity, without wrecking their ancient structure” (Laungani 202). Globalization is a reasonable ramification of romanization, yet both human nature’s cultural misunderstandings and perseverance of identity will prevail.
Romanization as a result of globalization will foster a linguistic imperialism as well as a universal language and common understanding across geographical borders; and, as this linguistic globalization occurs, many cultures may become bi-scriptal in the future, utilizing traditional scripts for local needs and the Latin alphabet for international needs (Fischer 315). The English language’s “imperialism” has dominated the currently existing 4,000 languages, which may dwindle to 1,000 in the next hundred years. The Latin alphabet is predicted to become what Fischer calls the “World Script” in two or three centuries. A book published in 2301 may look a lot like books today. It will most likely have Roman type and “odd” words. “In time, like the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the World Script will become a written monolith” (Fischer 316). Nevertheless, there is hope for preservation of ethnic identity and scripts. Romanization can unite the world as a melting pot or as a tossed salad. No matter what happens, the many scripts of the past and present will not be forgotten in the future, for, if Romanization unites the Earth and fulfills its prophecy, the scripts preceding will have brought the human race’s continuing history of writing to its present, and their cultures will live on through the Latin alphabet. Carl Sagan says that we all strive for a “universally understandable message” and Romanization is a possible vehicle for this goal (Fischer 317). Furthermore, writing’s trend of change will continue to thrive. More scripts will evolve due to social and economic needs, which humans of today’s time cannot predict. The history of human nature, recorded for the present time by means of writing, has proven its constant change and evolution.
As writing developed into a graphic representation of speech, it prevents humans from looking in each other’s eyes, and still it has fostered global communication, which would have never happened prior to the invention of writing, the printing press, the typewriter, and the early computer. Each of these technologies has changed writing’s role, appearance, and technique (Fischer 295). From the standpoint of hermeneutics, the swell of global communication comes with inevitable misunderstanding across cultures, as seen in the epidemics of diglossia and machine translation. Misunderstanding through writing can cause more misunderstandings between people, therefore proving the use of the Internet’s increased mediation as compared to previously invented technologies for communication. Diglossia, when people’s written language differs greatly from their spoken language and two separate tongues transpire, occurs when a spoken language advances faster than a written language. An example of diglossia is the English ‘laugh’ since its spelling and pronunciation are very different and it creates confusion (Fischer 298). With scrutiny toward this example and other related examples, perhaps English is not the most practical language to spread across the globe. Rather the Latin alphabet, which is used in English and in many other languages, is more appealing. Yet machine translation, commonly and with greater ease is accomplished in the Latin alphabet (Fischer 314), also has its flaws with regard to the notion of Artificial Intelligence (AI). “Strong AI has as its goal the production of full human-like intelligence in a computer…. Work on more limited domains, or with the goal of better understanding certain function of the human mind rather than reproducing it is dubbed ‘weak AI’” (Herzfeld 42). Considered weak Artificial Intelligence, machine translation has not overcome double-meanings [IE: “Patrick beat Alex,” a sentence which can mean that Patrick violently hurt Alex or that Patrick won a baseball game against Alex.] or diglossia among different languages (St. Germaine-Madison 40), as much of meaning remains lost in translation.
With further regards to hermeneutics, there are more modern examples of hermeneutical issues with the use of email and instant messaging. There is such a thing as being too succinct and too blunt, and there is such a thing as creating confusion and ambiguity with the use of the mediated forms of modern online technology (Shipley 6, 142). Instant messaging (IM), as compared to email, provides more of a social presence (Kraut 267). “IM is richer than email because it is more interactive. Among the interactive mediation, face-to-face communication is richer than the telephone, which in turn is richer than IM, since both face-to-face and telephone communications offer more effective and [accurate] interpretive cues such as tone of voice” (Kraut 268). Truly, richer media is better equipped to maintain relationships, since less information is communicated with more mediated and less rich means of communication (Kraut 268). Awareness of how people “use, interpret, and encounter online spaces” (Valentine 316) allows for a greater comprehension of the hermeneutics of the possible understandings and misunderstandings related to the use of more modern communicative technologies. Miscommunication may cause bridges to be burned by the writer of the email to the reader of the email.
While modern, particularly online, technologies, cause disadvantages such as the weakening of the true authentic self, Sagan’s “universally understandable message” is achieved through the advantage of the creation of the global community through online communication. Email knows no time zones – it’s an efficient and economical way to communicate with people around the world (Shipley 141). “With the click of a mouse, you can ask anybody to do just about anything” (Shipley 141). Indeed, emails bridge geographical distance and keep us close to those far away (Kraut 51). The Internet is thus informal. Behaviors and authority and rules-probing questioning are possible through emails since cyberspace is not as culturally sensitive (Tarsiero 23). As a result, online communication creates “a borderless world” (Lee 45) in the “complexity of today’s global culture” (Lee 45). Nonetheless, successful global online communication is virtually impossible due to differences in the opinions and ways of life across different cultures and on an individual level (Lee 46). There is a “multifaceted nature of individual cultural orientations” (Lee 51), since, at the individual level of analysis, people’s cultural values may no longer coincide with the culture in which they belong (Lee 51). With online communication and its subsequent global community, people are exposed to various cultures, and “it would be too simplistic to assume that everyone in the same culture displays the same pattern of thinking behavior. In fact, individuals’ cultural orientations within the same culture could vary [very] widely” (Lee 46). As the Web quickly becomes a significant part of people’s daily lives – from information gathering to entertainment, from shopping to personal communication – the Web is omnipresent in its created global community. As it reaches the general population across the globe, its users become diverse on the individual level. Web users in the various parts of the world are increasingly similar to each other in terms of their demographic characteristics and general Web use patterns (Lee 51).
“As the penetration of the Web increases and technology-mediated communication proliferates, cultural gaps between countries and regions are often said to become narrower,” producing a homogenization of cultures. In today’s media technology, similar views and preferences across cultures are just a click away (Lee 58). “Perhaps cultural convergence takes place between like-minded people across nations, whereas divergence of cultural values might be witnessed among people within a [same] country” (Lee 58). Indeed, geographical borders are blurred and people are exposed to many different cultures through various means in today’s global environment (Lee 59); and “the traditional national or cultural borders are no longer an issue of concern” (Lee 60). Accordingly, there is an increasing degree of global trends and of growing communication between cultures, using technologically-mediated communication around the globe in today’s highly interconnected world (Lee 59-60). “The role of culture in a world of borderless communication” provides an easily accessible means of uniting people around the world (Valentine 313).
This easily accessible means of uniting people across geographical borders and across cultural boundaries is, for example, instrumental in education. One way in which this days that is through E-learning, the creation of “the nation” (Bullen 2) and “a national culture” (Bullen 3) are possible through standardization of language, like the printing press and Romanization, and through the transcending of the boundaries of a national identity (Bullen 7). E-learning, as opposed to face-to-face learning, appeals to those who are interested in creating a global community to contribute to social change (Bullen 2). As this transition in education takes place, it has the potential to appeal to those learners and their instructors who are interested in creating a global social community at the cost of having less personal relationships with one’s teacher and with fellow students.
As the use of paper, the printing press, and the typewriter fade with time, the use of the Internet proves itself an increasingly less personal and less pure and a more mediated technology of communication. Youth of the Computer/Information Age, who have never known anything different than the popular chat room on the computer screen, enjoy the sensation of escaping the confines of the physical body. Their hiding from the face-to-face awkwardness of human interaction is skewing natural social interaction and giving rise to a distinction between online and offline personalities (Valentine 309). They are comfortable and content with and excited about hiding behind the computer screen. Clive, a teenager who was interviewed, said, “You can just disconnect and sulk away without anyone seeing you. It makes it a bit easier and less embarrassing… [I/you can talk] to people and no one who knows what they look like. No judging or judgment” (Valentine 309). Today’s youth is using the Internet for self-exploratory and communicative purposes. Clive said, “You can…be…your ideal person” (Valentine 309). The Internet makes it possible for communication across the globe, and, with Romanization, it provides an understanding that a culture is not defined by their native script, but rather by their choice of conversation topic or the use of language in itself (Valentine 311). Still, topics of conversation are skewed by unreal “embodied identities” (Valentine 311). Despite these negative qualities, particularly young people can use this technology to transcend cultural differences in a way that they never could before.
These unreal identities create a distinction between “real” identities in “authentic” worlds and “virtual” identities in “inauthentic” worlds (Valentine 302). The relationship between the online self and the true self is blurred as people can hide behind their computer screens, behind an inauthentic online identity (Kraut 283-84). These identities free their people “from material and social constraints of their bodies, identities, communities, and geographies, mean[ing] that these technologies are regarded as potentially liberating for those who are socially, materially, or physically disadvantaged” (Valentine 302). Their sense of anonymity causes a sense of freedom from the constraints and expectations placed on a person by those who truly know him or her (Kraut 283).
As a result, many teenagers experiment with identity online. Contrary to popular belief, identity expression and experimentation occurs with family and friends more than it does with strangers (Kraut 198). Nonetheless, teens who use the Internet on a more regular basis interact less with family and friends in their real, authentic worlds (Kraut 154). Internet use as a means of communication affects family and close friend relationships, since it can easily displace valuable time that people spend with family and friends in their “real” worlds (Kraut 252). “The fear is that computer-obsessed [youth] will socially withdraw from the off-line world of family and friends, thereby missing out on the imaginative opportunities for play that the outdoors is perceived to offer, and that they will become addicted to the screen, putting off not only their social but their physical being at risk” (Valentine 303). The users and abusers of these online identities are thus withdrawing from their offline worlds and immersing themselves in inauthentic lives in front of their computer screens.
Accordingly, the Internet creates social spaces, or cyberspaces, which provide freedom, fluidity, and exciting experimentation – zones in which it is possible to suspend the “real” self (Valentine 304). As a result, teenagers use the disembodied faceless nature that often characterizes Internet communication to experiment with the notion of the self, with identity (Kraut 185). They also take advantage of the faceless nature of online communication to share and discuss very personal issues while hiding behind the computer screen (Kraut 185). For instance, in these virtual and less personal cyberspaces, 40% of teens post and share their creative work (McQuade 16). They share their most personal thoughts and most polished creative works while hiding behind a computer screen. There is an extremely easy and public access to the Internet, which fosters more exposure of the self with a less real, less authentic identity through lesser degrees of personal vulnerability. These examples of online communication inaccurately enhance offline identities to compensate for perceived “offline identities’” (Valentine 307) and offline personalities’ inadequacies, which nonetheless encompass an aspect of purity but also one of, more importantly, inauthenticity (Valentine 313).
The concepts of friendliness and friendship are thus defined and redefined. In “friendship groups” (Valentine 307), “there is certainly greater ambiguity surrounding the interactions that take place online [and] a lot is left unsaid and unspecified” (Kraut 292). These vague and inauthentic “new social relationships” (Valentine 308) are less personal and less pure as their technological mediation is increased. There is a global connection but a personal disconnection through the use of online identities, as a “utopian view” fosters connection and the “dystopian view” causes disconnection (Kraut 51). The suspension of the real self, a lack of connection with oneself and with others, gives life to a new, fake, and “inauthentic” self (Valentine 304). This inauthentic self, which is expressed in an online virtual world, is “in contrast to the more communal nature of social relationships in the off-line world” (Valentine 304). The Internet’s globalized effective communication therefore diminishes the role of the individual persona and weakens one’s strong notion of the self (Holtz and Heidegger).
This understanding of the gain and loss of oneself in cyberspace can be understood from a phenomenological standpoint. Through online communication “it is easier to disconnect” from one’s self and also from others’ true selves (Valentine 308). Communication by e-mail and Instant Messaging is less personal and pure than communication in person and on the telephone. This pattern of social interactions and psychological closeness therefore occurs by use of richer, much less mediated, technology (Kraut 276). Email and other online communicative technologies facilitate the expression of emotions in their users’ consciousness that they would find difficult to express in person and with the spoken word. Online communication, thus, can cause an authenticated trust between its communicators, yet nothing overcomes the authentic and real communicative power that the spoken word and other less mediated communicative technologies offer (Valentine 314). The creation of online social relationships, for one participant in Valentine’s experiment, is “more particular (some are also very transient), and such as they are more discrete than her off-line relationships because the information she shares with people on-line she socially and spatially distanced from her offline everyday life. [It provides] a space of separation or escape” from the confines of her true self and her authentic ability to form relationships in the offline world (Valentine 308).
Approaching the personal and less personal powers of the online world from a phenomenological point of view sheds light on newer technology’s ability to allow one to disconnect from others. These inventions also illustrate the ability to disconnect from one’s self. Such technology, “like drugs,” invades and transforms the body (Valentine 308). “The material body is not simply rendered invisible online: it becomes completely irrelevant” (Valentine 304). There is a detattachment from the “real” self, and “we know that this chance of consciousness is something in the mind and not in the body” (Valentine 305). There is a disconnection from one’s self, as there is a disconnection from others while being able to feel more free with one’s self and with secrets to share, feeling more comfortable and free to communicate with someone you are not sitting next to (Valentine 308). There is a relationship between a loss of the real self and a gain of the inauthentic self (Valentine 302) in the “technomirror” (Hefner in Ihde) or “cyberspace” (Valentine 302). Indeed, there is a thrill in escaping the confines of the body and of one’s true and real self (Valentine 309).
On the other hand, there is a kind of connecting during this escape, in which the private space of cyberspace, or online communication, “allows children to glean knowledge from and about other parts of the world and to meet distant ‘others’” (Valentine 316); as it is understood from an epistemological standpoint, since technology’s revelatory powers reveal what we know yet the people who are communicating are not necessarily the way they seem with respect to the philosophical notion of enframing, which is elaborated on in Chapter 2.
As these Youth of the Information Age gain curiosity about different cultures, an unskewed [clear] global view is aspired to through the increase of multilingual websites and translated, “computer-mediated” communication as a result of the increasing non-English web population, which was a rising 69.4% in 2005 (He 3). Internet multilingualism faces challenges of language barriers, cultural differences, and technological differences (He 4). Nevertheless, glocalization and machine translation are attempting to face such challenges and promote more successful and accurate communication. Glocalization and machine translation are attempts to globalize an online community while maintaining local native scripts (He 8, 9). The exploration of the world that the Internet provides is understood in Microsoft’s metaphors for its programs’ names like “Explorer,” “Windows,” and “Outlook” (Tarsiero 21). This metaphor of exploration expresses the primary current invention and the use of the Internet, to promote global e-commerce, a parallel to the first reason for the creation of writing, economic expansion (He 10). “If the future lies with computer-based societies and economies, then non-Latin alphabetic systems will have to adapt or suffer the economic consequences” (Fischer 314). The computer-based future will therefore embrace Romanized alphabets, and their non-Latin relatives will be used less and less, as the Internet guides the future of human communication.
Online communication is the most mediated and the least personal and pure of the means of communication that sustains themselves today. While it weakens the notion of one’s true self and of one’s authentic world, it creates and strengthens an essential, unique, and modern concept of a global, social community. As understood through a phenomenological lens, online communication digs deep into humans’ consciousness, probing the ideas of the real and unreal selves and the authentic and inauthentic worlds in which we live. Furthermore, as understood from a hermeneutical standpoint, accurate interpretations as well as misinterpretations occur with the use of modern communication and with the use of recent technologies, from the use of the printing press until the use of the Internet during this present time. With the Internet’s adoption and embracing of Romanization, online communication’s creation of a global community is enhanced. Ultimately, while more modern means of communication are less personal, less pure, and more mediated, they create new possibilities for a global community, which transcends cultural and geographical borders.
Chapter 6: The Conclusion
Ultimately, the intersection of language and technology has evolved over time. As levels of personal communication and purity decrease with the use of various communicative technologies, humans lose a special connection with the mythic Garden of Eden (Ihde 11-20) as they develop a “nostalgia for innocence” (Ihde 16) or a craving for “linguistic purity,” (Lynch 457) which stems from a time of linguistic purity before technology mediated human communication and experiences. These theories of innocence posit that before the invention of pen and paper, during a time when people communicated with little or virtually no technological mediation, they looked into each other’s eyes and benefited from cues such as body language, tone, and inflection of the voice, cues which reveal a special, personal, and deep connection that technologically mediated communication cannot replace (Fischer). As the language food chain progressed into communicative technologies such as handwriting, the printing press, and the Internet, the use of these technologies has triggered a fear that technology will diminish our humanness (Heidegger 1993, 405). The fear that humans will lose their humanness, combined with the excitement that the world will grow smaller and smaller with an ease of communicating across geographical and cultural borders, began with the use of handwriting and developed to a greater extent as technology evolved over time.
Handwriting, from its beginnings until the invention of the printing press in 1436 CE, gained social momentum. While it initially published historical records and was used for more mundane purposes, this technology of writing progressed, spreading cultural ideas including religion, literature, moral beliefs, and in general, analytic and classical thought (Fischer 73). As the technology of writing is examined from a historical and philosophical perspective, writing is seen to transcend geographical borders, asserting itself in the middle of the language food chain, in between the purest form of communication, the spoken word, and the least pure yet most globally utilized methods of communication, from the printing press to the Internet. On the whole, writing establishes itself as a form of communication with strengths and weaknesses, since there is a “permanence of writing,” a long-term reliability that the spoken word cannot achieve; yet its “software” capabilities resemble the beginnings of the global yet impersonal usage of the Internet (McClain Carr 10).
While the technologies of handwriting, the printing press, and the Internet are more reliable, permanent, and widespread, the spoken word, as analyzed from 1436 CE to the present time, provides the purest and most personal form of communication. Indeed, an email cannot replace a phone call, and a handwritten letter cannot replace a face-to-face conversation. This distinctive human connection is understood through the advantage of cultural understandings, with the intention and possibility of connecting and interconnecting the East and the West (Laungani 195). “Linguistic purity” (Lynch 457) triggered by the spoken word has the capability both to unite and to preserve cultural identities, as, from a philosophical hermeneutical standpoint, the spoken word leaves little room for misinterpretation, compared to technologically mediated communication, from handwriting to the Internet (Heidegger 1993). Therefore, as opposed to these technologies, the spoken word proves itself as the most pure, personal, and unmediated form of communication. The oral tradition, used in every culture’s past and present, sustains itself as a much stronger and more authentic means of communication, establishing strong human connections (Fischer 237).
On the other end of the communication spectrum, the uses of the printing press established in 1436 CE, and, most significantly, the present day use of the Internet suggest a double-edged sword, since they have a disadvantage of fostering human disconnection and an advantage of eliciting a global society (Habermas). There has always been (and this seems true today) a desire, even a need, for a “universally understandable message,” a connection across both cultural and geographical borders (Shipley 141). While this possibility of a global society is valid and useful for a rapidly developing world, there is also a danger of the losing of the self, the real authentic self, in the Internet’s virtual, inauthentic world (Valentine 302, 304). This authentic world is like Ihde’s Garden of Eden, a human desire that is unattainable. This concept gives rise to the critical philosophical and social question: Are we losing what it means to be human with the increasing use of communicative, ever-developing technologies? The answer to this question is not simple. Humans, as stated before, are beings who, whether they know it or not, crave a pure and personal dialogue (Ihde). Are we losing what it means to be human? Truly, we are. From the phenomenological standpoint, we not only disconnect from others but we disconnect from ourselves, as the intersection of language and technology grows closer (Heidegger 1993), and as people hide behind their computer screens more and more and avoid face-to-face and speaker-to-speaker communication. Online communication is the most mediated and the least personal and pure means of communication. It, indeed, encompasses a double-edged sword, as its ramifications, such as the Romanization of non-Latin-based alphabets, weaken the notion of the self and of one’s culture and also strengthen the idea of a global community, making the world smaller and smaller everyday.
Ultimately, the levels of communicative purity increase as the level of technology use decreases. The use of the spoken word, as compared to handwriting and more technologically advanced means of communication, is more effective, while it is accompanied by the use of body language and other revealing cues. Nonetheless, there is a trade-off with each means of communication. The use of the more technologically advanced means, such as the Internet, has produced the advantage of a widespread global community, making the world smaller and closer. Yet these means have also produced a disadvantage, as people hide behind their computer screens, therefore hiding from each other and from themselves as they communicate on a less personal level.
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