Arnold Kling  

The Medium and The Message

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Financial Turmoil... Defending Market-Value Account...

Not the topic du jour, by any means, but one that has interested me for a long time. Megan McArdle writes,


I'm an enormous fan of John McWhorter's book on the decline of formal language, Doing Our Own Thing. I talked about it with him when we did a Bloggingheads together...One of the most fascinating things I learned from the book is how different oral and written languages are--languages without writing use short, redundant sentences, while written ones support a great deal more complexity in sentence structure.

...I wonder now if the internet isn't marking a transition back to a written culture.

I highlight these excerpts to note the irony: she refers to Bloggingheads, an Internet TV program, and then talks about a transition back to a written culture.

I think that the Internet as a medium is one of my big sources of optimism about political economy going forward. The Industrial Revolution media--movies, radio, TV--are inherently propaganda media. They are one-to-many, emotional, and actively discourage thinking by holding your attention and not giving you a chance to reflect.

The Internet's main advantage is that it is many-to-many. I can talk back to politicians, and anyone reading this can talk back to me. That helps keep propaganda in check.

For a long time, the Internet was mostly text. I thought that was a good thing. While other folks were saying that what the Internet really needed was broadband, I was sort of happy with the constraints of dial-up, which forced you to put information into text. I am a fan of Neal Postman's view that reading promotes logical thinking, while video facilitates emotional manipulation.

I don't think of cell phone text messaging as promoting complex sentence structure. But I do think I would rather have my children texting than watching TV.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (4 to date)
John Fast writes:

I find this topic particularly interesting since I am a graduate student in English (as well as political theory), and one of the standard requirements for a graduate degree in English is a course in History of the English Language -- and one of the first principles we learned is that "oral language drives written language." (So much for the PoMo claim that we "privilege" writing over speech!)

Rimfax writes:

Not far off this topic is Neal Stephenson's long essay In the Beginning was the Command Line.

TGGP writes:
The Internet's main advantage is that it is many-to-many. I can talk back to politicians, and anyone reading this can talk back to me. That helps keep propaganda in check.
Your co-blogger would disagree on the beneficial effect of the masses on politicians.

I took a rhetoric class in grad school that talked about the "new orality" online -- that there was a return to orality in the way the internet structures discussions. It's new precisely because it contains elements of oral language and of written language. The kinds of "shortcuts" we take in speaking, combined with the new shortcuts we invented online.

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