Monday, March 31, 2008

Is the Story Enough?

Meaning, in the end, is always a private construct built from the brick of our experience, and the mortar of our mood. In conversation we have opportunities (taken or not) to clarify the speaker's meaning.

Editing allows the print author precision of expression, but still the reader constructs the meaning. Until we can read each others thoughts, communication both oral and written will be problematic. Oral and literate communicatoin rely on completely different skills and yet they are wed in a remarkable way. It is a paradox.

Moving from a pre-literate to a literate culture changed the way in which humans thought. Now we may be moving in the dirction of post-literacy if some of what I have been reading is correct.

At a workshop I atttended recently, the presenter considered the impact technology has on reading and thought. He described a recent event at nearby Vanderbilt University where a student presented his thesis proposal to his professor on a post-it note.

"Y IPL BFD o +"

For those of us for whom text messaging remains a mystery it translates - "Why the Internet is the biggest F____ deal of our lives."

In his research he asked several professors about the declining use of standard English. One told him that she no longer marks down for spelling, punctuation, and errors in grammar. If the student can cogently argue her point it is enough.

It reminds me of the old Jewish story in which the Rabbi, whenever danger threatens, goes into the forest, lights a fire, and recites a prayer after which the danger passes. He is followed by a succession of Rabbis who take up his mantle. Each one forgets a part of the ritual until the last Rabbi can only tell the story -- but God is gracious and the story is enough...and danger is averted.

So for me this past couple of weeks the question has been -- will technology ultimately improve our thinking and deepen it or will it, as Neil Postman suggests, only broaden exposure as we amuse ourselves ourselves to death?
Will the story be enough?

Footnote: My thinking is formed here by my experience as a storyteller and observing both the lake of density in oral language and the impact of story on a group of listeners as compared to impact of exposition (most sermons fall into this category) on listeners. Here is a link that summarizes a lot of the thought beginning int he 1960s regarding this oral/literate divide and its implications for society.

Informing my thinking were these books - Savage Mind - Claude Levi-Strauss, Orality& Literacy - Walter Ong, Preface to Plato - Eric Havelock

No comments: