• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

It’s an inconvenient truth, a media-fact that no one feels comfortable acknowledging.

As central as it’s been to the transmission of knowledge and the establishment and maintenance of societies around the world and throughout the most recent period of homo sapiens' history, the conventional book suffers from crippling liabilities built into its very format. It spatializes and abstracts and indexes with unmatched ease and economy, but it also distorts reality in order to communicate. 

Of course, we can’t culturally afford to recognize that truth on a daily basis (or else our carefully constructed edifices of learning and identity threaten to come crashing down). The page you’re reading right now, for example, would be among the potential casualties of lapsed faith in the ideology of the book. To profit from the many advantages of the tAgora we’re obliged to submerge its liabilities and go about our business. That’s the tariff levied on the importing and exporting of knowledge and identity via books.

The built-in distortion of the textual medium becomes particularly obvious when we try to harness Gutenberg’s invention to portray and learn about the oAgora. In order to “house” oral tradition within the covers of a book, we must begin by subtracting its sounds and sights, its immediate presence, its performer(s), its audience interactivity, its multiple instances and variations from one instance to the next, and many other essential aspects of its core reality as a communicative medium.

The most the book has been able to muster in place of these features is but a pale reflection of what’s been lost: a written-out musical score, freeze-frame photo-shards, text-sketches of the people and societies involved, alternate (always textual) versions of the performance in an appendix at the end of the volume, and so forth. These facsimile gestures are a poor compromise at best, outright malfeasance at worst. In a nutshell, the book dilutes the rich experience of oral tradition, reducing its organic process to a static, fossilized product and converting a living, present performance into a lifeless, distanced thing. 

Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind and the larger Pathways Project wiki seek ways to move beyond the reductionism of the stand-alone book. We’ll be exploiting the natural affinities between OT and IT (Internet Technology) to orchestrate a many-layered experience in the form of a media suite. Instead of limiting the discussion to any single media-channel, we’ll be using all available conduits for representing and studying OT.

Just as eEditions operate by resynchronizing the event, so the book and the wiki aim to enlarge and deepen the discussion of the OT-IT homology well beyond what can be accomplished within the conventional arena of the printed page.