I’m blogging this mostly to as something to return to in the future, as I’m trying to remember to do when I come across published misapplications of secondary orality. This piece, “Web 2.0, Secondary Orality, and the Gutenberg Parenthesis,” which was written by Trent Baston and published in Campus Technology, begins

In the large picture of human history, the brief few centuries when print reigned unchallenged as the most revered form of knowledge will be seen as a mere parenthesis. Before Gutenberg, knowledge was formed orally and, now, in this post-Gutenberg era, knowledge is formed — increasingly — through “secondary orality” on the Internet (Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New Accents. Ed. Terence Hawkes. (New York: Methuen, 1988).).

The sequence is: orality –> literacy –> secondary orality as the primary locus of knowledge authority over the last 500-plus years. Over the thousands of years of human history, those 500 years are a parenthesis.

A link to the piece, along with the question as whether or not Ong’s metahistory of orality-literacy-secondary orality might be a myth that obfuscates as much as it illuminates, came across the Media Ecology Association listserv. My response, which I include below, is far too grumpy, but the fact that stuff like this gets published makes me, well, grumpy.

I should note that I’m not dismissing the idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, which I don’t know enough about to have a judgment one way or another, or Baston’s claim that the “Sampling & remixing; borrowing & reshaping; appropriating & recontextualizing” of the web doesn’t have precursors in oral culture, which it does. It would be more accurate, however, if Baston noted that sampling et. al. had precursors in scribal/manuscript culture (one need go no farther than Shakespeare to see this), or to note that we can find these compositional strategies in print culture as well.

Any way, here’s what I posted to the list:

The problem here is that people read Orality and Literacy and start applying Ong’s terms without understanding the theoretical apparatus or methodology upon which Ong developed these terms. Setting aside that Trent Baston’s representation of Ong’s thought as “orality –> literacy –> secondary orality,” which misses out on the crucial concepts of primary orality, textuality, and residual orality and fails to acknowledge Ong’s repeated discussions that there are overlappings and complications, we could add to Baston’s oversimplification Ong’s terms “secondary visualism” and “secondary literacy.”

Baston, like too many scholars who try to apply secondary orality to all online content, attempts to classify the visual as oral and treats Ong’s theories as a static, closed theory that transcends time, while anyone who has read enough Ong knows that Ong’s rooted orality-literacy studies *in* time and, moreover, that one of his fundamental theological beliefs is that because Creation is an ongoing evolutionary process, all knowledge, which is our understanding of Creation, is always provisional and undergoing revision as our understanding of the ever evolving Creation changes.

This isn’t to say that Ong’s metahistory isn’t a myth that obfuscates as much as it illuminates, only that far too much obfuscation occurs because people don’t get it right to begin with.