Oard 2008: Re-entering an age of orality?

I’m in the middle of end-of-term panic, including two simultaneous job searches in my department and a harried effort to get my book manuscript off to the publisher, but I thought I’d pop my head up to mention a fascinating post by Mark at The Ideophone about a brief and ridiculous little note in Science from a couple of months ago that I should have seen at the time, but apparently didn’t. In it, Douglas Oard (2008) re-invents the well-worn argument that modern humans began as an oral species, made a great leap to literacy, and now with new media are returning to orality. This claim is related to the assertions of theorists in ‘media ecology’ such as Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Edmund Carpenter, Harold Innis, Jack Goody, David Olson, Jacques Derrida, Robert Logan, Julian Jaynes … oh, I could go on, but Oard’s doesn’t cite any of this expansive literature, which limits its utility as a study of changing ways of information storage – a very important subject in literacy studies. But all of this also reminds me of another post that I have been long overdue in making, and which I desperately hope to get to this weekend.

Works cited

Oard, Douglas W. 2008. Unlocking the Potential of the Spoken Word. Science 321, no. 5897 (September 26): 1787-1788.

Author: schrisomalis

Anthropologist, Wayne State University. Professional numbers guy. Rare Words: http://phrontistery.info. Blog: http://glossographia.com.

3 thoughts on “Oard 2008: Re-entering an age of orality?”

  1. Good luck with your book publication… and other work! Thanks for popping your head up in this definitely ‘fascinating’ report about Douglas W. Oard’s ‘science’ results …

  2. McLuhan’s view of the return to orality was tempered by the thought that the new age was electro-acoustic and very different from the pre-alphabet eras. In his laws of media the flip (return) is never to the original state. One may just as well say it’s a new state. McLuhan was using terms willy nilly to create his own effect.

    btw, McLuhan considered Jaynes views as sci-fi.

    1. Yes, quite true, and it’s not exactly clear from Oard’s article whether he is talking about a return to the original state, or a return to orality in a new configuration. Either way, the complete lack of reference to any of this literature makes me wonder what on earth the editorial staff at Science was thinking.

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