Ong, “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought”

Walter J. "Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought."
Cushman, Kintgen, Kroll, and Rose 19-31.

Writing systematically changes thought. Ong supports this premise by revisiting Plato’s Phaedrus, by distinguishing oral, literate and high-literate (technological) cultures, and by listing fourteen points indicative of the effects of writing:
1. Separation of the known from the knower (and the promotion of objectivity) (24)
2. Separation of interpretation from data (25)
3. Distancing of word from sound (25)
4. Time/space distancing of interlocutor and recipient (25)
5. Separates word from the “plenum of existence” (26)
6. Enables the enforcement of verbal precision (26)
7. Separates past from present (26)
8. Separates administration from other social activities (26)
9. Separates logic from rhetoric (27)
10. Separates academic learning from wisdom (27)
11. Divides society by splitting verbal communication into high and low (27)
12. Vocabularizes grapholects versus dialects (28)
13. Permits abstraction (28)
14. Separates being from time (28)

Plato’s Socrates’ complaints against writing: artificiality, permanence of untruths (once published…), and dissolution of memory (21).

“Print and electronics continue with new intensification and radical transformations the diaeretic programme initially set in motion by writing. They separate knower from known more spectacularly than writing does” (29).

“For all states of the word–oral, chirographic, typographic, electronic–impose their own confusions, which cannot be radically eliminated but only controlled by reflection” (30).

“Human knowledge demands both proximity and distance, and these two are related to one another dialectically. Proximity perceptions feed distancing analyses, and vice versa, creating a more manageable intimacy” (31).

“Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word” (23).

“Although we take writing so much for granted as to forget that it is a technology, writing is in a way the most drastic of the three technologies of the word. It initiated what printing and electronics only continued, the physical reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word form the living present, where alone real, spoken words exist” (22).

Terms: high-technology cultures (19), chirographically (19), evenescence (of orality) (20), plenum of existence (26b), homeostatic (26d), diglossia (27c)

Related Sources:
Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy. 1982.
Luria, A. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations. 1976.
Plato’s Phaedrus, particularly Socrates on writing.