Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My 1000th Visitor

If you look to the left you'll notice that my sitemeter has just registered my 1000th visitor. Whoever you are, if you contact me offline, I will congratulate you personally.

And to mark my 1000th visitor, what could be more fitting than to continue my revue of my past posts to this blog. So, here is My Blogging Milesone (Part 3)

A recurring theme of this blog is the impact of media and technology in our everyday lives. While we are aware of new technologies like cell phones and iPods, we tend to take for granted established technologies like the phonetic alphabet, the printed word and much of broadcast media.

One thing I've always wondered about (and this builds on Paul Levinson's anthropotropic theory) is why editing in cinema works. Anyone who has recorded their child's birthday party and then tried to watch it from start to finish appreciates how film editing techniques compress time while delivering the essence of the experience.

I can see how the transition from silent films to sound, from black and white to color and possibly from two dimensions to three reflect the evolution of the film medium towards the normal human way of experiencing reality. How does the montage, the various types of edits, the use of close-ups, long shots, etc reflect our natural way of experiencing reality?

There is obviously an influence of literary narrative in film editing. We don't experience reality as it is portrayed in books either. However, except when we sleep, or are under the influence of any of a number of chemical stimulants or depressants, we mostly experience reality continuously. No cuts, no edits, no montages.

Maybe film editing represents not how we experience reality, but how we remember that experience. The technique of film editing is so much a part of our experience that we often are not aware of how conventional it is. But is it a language we've learned in the same way we learned our mother tongue, or a second language? Is "language" the proper metaphor for the experience? Do we say "the language of radio" or "the language of literature" in discussing the nature of these media? Obviously both have their particular ways of portraying reality, sometimes superceding reality and common sense, as Orson Well's "War of the Worlds" and almost any book by a neocon pundit demonstrate. But is describing film as a "language" a helpful or harmful metaphor?

Another recurring theme is the transition from a print culture to one of secondary orality. An interesting article in the Spring 2003 Hudson Review, "Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture" by Dana Gioia treats rap as the beginning of oral poetry of our culture:

"The most significant fact about the new popular poetry is that it is predominantly oral. The poet and audience usually communicate without the mediation of a text. Rap is performed aloud to an elaborate, sampled rhythm track. Cowboy poetry is traditionally recited from memory. Poetry slams consist of live performance—sometimes from a text, more often from memory. To literary people whose notion of poetry has been shaped by print culture, this oral mode of transmission probably seems both strikingly primitive and alarmingly contemporary. It hearkens back to poetry’s origins as an oral art form in preliterate cultures, and it suggests how television, telephones, recordings, and radio have brought most Americans—consciously or unconsciously—into a new form of oral culture."


"As readers turn into viewers and listeners, they naturally approach the new poetry in ways conditioned by television and radio. This epistemological change, to quote Neil Postman again, affects the “meaning, texture, and values” of literary discourse. Not least important, it transforms the identity of the author from writer to entertainer, from an invisible creator of typographic language to a physical presence performing aloud. Performance poetry and the poetry slam, for instance, owe at least as much to the tradition of stand-up comedy and improvisatory theater as they do to literary poetry. Roland Barthes, a creature of print culture, saw the world as a text and announced “the death of the author.” Anyone attentive to the new popular poetry sees the antithesis—the death of the text. American culture conditioned by electronic media and a celebrity culture based on personalities has given birth to a new kind of author, the amplified bard."
Our literate assumptions about what poetry is blinds us to the importance of rap and other oral forms as the new way to "make" poetry and the fact that these new forms have more in common with the original sources of poetry than with the traditional literary poetry. Imagine Homer rapping the Iliad or the Odyssey!

A third recurring theme is an explanation of the field of Media Ecology. Among some of the propositions I have considered in explaining my view of Media Ecology are the following:

  • Media Ecology is a meta discipline.
  • Media Ecology is itself a medium which contains all other disciplines as its content.
  • The purpose of Media Ecology is to make manifest the unconscious assumptions of a culture, assumptions which may have largely been determined by the tools the culture uses to express itself.
  • The goal of Media Ecology is to free humans from that unconscious bondage and allow them to make choices concerning their tools, to use their tools rather than letting their tools use them.
  • As such, Media Ecology would appear to contain a literate bias in that it seeks, through a logical analysis, to bring to the foreground what was hidden in the background.
  • Media Ecology seeks to replace ritual with logic and impulse with discernment.

Neil Postman would have freely admitted this, have promoted the practice of Media Ecology as a methodology, in our electronic age, to return to the literate values of the Enlightenment. However, as Marshall McLuhan demonstrated, the path to Media Ecological enlightenment can be pursued through the use of probes and aphorisms as readily as through logical discourse. In fact, McLuhan's methods may illustrate ways to find shortcuts to the true impact of technology on our culture.

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