Orality vs. Literacy

In Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy, he noted the differences between literate and illiterate cultures. Ong emphasized speech being the primary and more vital language used as opposed to written texts. Although speech is still prominent over writing, this current “high technology” age gives writing more weight on a scale of importance. This ability to write and record gives us a wider range of accessible knowledge than oral cultures.

            Literate cultures exist in a world where a great amount, if not most, of our knowledge can be stored inside computers. Literacy provides more convenience in accessing all this information, yet it is also encouraging a more hushed way of living. While using our physical voices will never fully fade, it is an oddity if someone in our society shies away from technology. Although we can now expand our minds silently, the lack of physical conversation could stagnate other types of learning.

In relation to literature, books and recordings aid us in a way in which we can teach ourselves independently. We do not have to rely on mentors to teach us certain skills or practices. Literates could also have the closest replica to the sound and writings of significant works that could have been falsely remembered by those of oral cultures. Our anatomical memories are, at times, not the most reliable. This increase in independent learning could also be seen as a negative in a society where people need to learn from each other, which can turn into a preference of social detachment over time.

        Being able to capture art, literature, and music in a tangible form helps it become more diverse. Writers, musicians, and artists can be influenced or inspired by each other without having to meet in-person. Even with artists who have passed away, we can still have access to their work. Oral societies may have a more difficult time diversifying their literature and art because of a lack listening ears or a gradual changing of the original stories over time.

Ong emphasized throughout his book that oral and literate cultures use different types of learning and storing information, which is not to say that one culture is superior over the other. It is more a separation of the types of learning, like auditory and visual, which are all present in our society today. Throughout his book, it became apparent that literates and illiterates hold valuable information that they can teach each other.

Alexandria Sanders
Alexandria Sanders

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