What is the character of internet technologies? I think the answer is: extremes of time-binding and legibility (both typical attribues of ‘literate’ rather than ‘oral’ media). Internet technologies approach hyper-literature & are oral only insomuch as they expose to literature those elements of orality not previously accessible to it — off the cuff remarks automatically and losslessly stored (bound to time) without extra effort on the part of a speaker or ethnographer. As a result, extreme forms of tendencies made possible by literacy (like ‘living out of time’ by consuming mostly the results of a time-binding process) can be mixed with situations previously only accessible to an oral context (unfiltered, uncensored, and uncurated remarks by people not in positions of power).

I think as we grow to take more advantage of this, we’ll see some new tendencies.

Tendencies I expect to be very common in hyper-literacy:

  • people being not just ‘out of step’ but exploring in ways orthogonal to trends-over-time (ex., getting into a genre of music based on exposure to one musician and then consuming examples of that genre across a wide swath of time based on random sampling rather than expert curation)
  • expert generalists & niche experts outside academic contexts

I want to distinguish this kind of hyper-literacy (which is really a literacy that encompasses knowledge of pseudo-orality / secondary-literacy) from the hypermedia literacy I talked about here six months ago. Hypermedia literacy would exacerbate these trends but also have other knock-on effects on cognition. Hypermedia isn’t necessary for the trends mentioned above — the web is enough.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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