While I’ve found most “Great Divide” critiques of orality-literacy studies and media ecology to be based in misunderstanding—see, for instance, the “Complications and Overlappings” section in chapter 2 of Walter Ong’s The Presence of the Word—I’m rather fond of how Lance Strate embraces the “Great Divide” as a means of disarming it in his article “Studying Media as Media: McLuhan and the Media Ecology Approach1 :

Other critics complain that media ecology scholars like McLuhan, Havelock, and Ong put forth a “Great Divide” theory, exaggerating the difference between orality and literacy, for example. And it is true that they see a great divide between orality and literacy. And a great divide between word and image. And a great divide between the alphabet, on the one hand, and pictographic and ideographic writing, on the other. And a great divide between clay tablets as a medium for writing and papyrus. And a great divide between parchment and paper. And a great divide between scribal copying and the printing press. And a great divide between typography and the electronic media. And now a great divide between virtuality and reality. I could continue to add to this list, but the point is that there are many divides, which suggests that no single one of them is all that great after all. The critics miss the point that media ecology scholars often work dialectically, using contrasts to understand media.

His point, of course, is that those who use the “Great Divide” theory as a critique of orality-literacy studies and media ecology do miss the point: that the misunderstanding (error) isn’t within orality-literacy studies and media ecology but with those who get hung up on the idea of contrasting two mediums to better understand their natures.

  1. Media Tropes eJournal 1 (2008): 127-142 []