• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

eAgora tools for social networking

Nowhere is the culture = network equation more obvious that in the ever-proliferating electronic tools for social networking. The broad spectrum of cultural support in the eAgora – for example, Facebook and Twitter – enables people to establish and maintain connectedness and to share knowledge, art, and ideas on an entirely unprecedented level. If you friend me, I can participate in whatever part of your life you choose to post. If I follow you, I’ll know what’s on your mind, at least as much as you decide to tweet. When? Now, if I like. Where? Anywhere I can get a connection. I don’t have to wait for a tAgora item to be delivered to my brick-and-mortar location after a suitable delay, and you don’t have to wait for me to write on your wall or tweet back. We’re signed-on members of an interactive community built through eTools.

And of course this is just a start: the web offers so many more avenues for ePathway-driven navigation that foster interaction over myriad times and places among shifting constituencies. We proceed via forging and clicking on links and, even more importantly in the long run, deploying new links and linking practices as yet unenvisioned. eTools, open-ended and ever evolving, will adapt to whatever society-supporting initiative we can imagine. Even so-called text-messaging, a misnomer of sizeable proportions given that the activity really amounts to a long-distance emergent communication enacted virtually, knits people together into interactive groups and keeps them connected and “present” to one another. Each of these IT (Internet Technology) tools performs different individual tasks and serves different social functions, but they all support the making and always-in-progress re-making of culture.

oAgora tools for social networking

And, as the Pathways Project illustrates in so many respects – what transpires in the eAgora transpires in the oAgora as well. In fact, the oAgora supports a remarkable variety of what amount to oTools, that is, social networking strategies in OT.

Think about what OT really comprises. It’s hardly limited to the conventional “literary” functions of entertainment and vaguely defined instruction that we attribute to the plays of William Shakespeare or the novels of Émile Zola. No, OT embraces broad-spectrum cultural operations as basic as law codes, individual and group histories (of whatever group), medicine and healing arts, religious beliefs and practices, philosophy, astronomy, how-to manuals, recipes, and so forth. It’s just far bigger and more comprehensive than literature.

A non-ideological view of history reminds us that for more than 90% of homo sapiens' life as a species, the oAgora was “the only marketplace in town.” No tAgora yet existed, never mind the very recent eAgora, which appeared 16 species-minutes before December 31st. The oAgora provided the sole venue not just for the activities we associate with literature, but for all of the social functions necessary to establish and maintain culture. Even after the invention of writing, and even after the technology of the printed page made possible a mass literacy, OTs have continued to play an important role in all cultures. The oAgora hasn’t yet and won’t ever shut its doors.

A reality check

Time for a reality check, then, on at least two fronts. First, from a non-biased perspective the oAgora and eAgora actually come equipped with highly suitable tools for creating and maintaining culture. oTools and eTools consist of adaptable patterns, which license their users to navigate through networks. The tAgora, on the other hand, remains fundamentally a repository of things, a marketplace with ever-accumulating collections of static, invariable, obsolescent items. Second, and this observation may seem curious and even counter-intuitive, our modeling of OT as the supposed opposite of “literature” has actually proven the most serious and stubborn roadblock in understanding OT and achieving citizenship within the oAgora. Why? Because OT simply does far more for the human constituencies it supports than can literature.

This second point is ironic, to say the least. Because we initially restricted our survey of the oAgora to stories told as entertainment (and because almost always they were much more far-reaching than that), we artificially restricted our appreciation of how networks operate, and of what they can support. It’s not merely that we spotted only the tip of the iceberg; it’s the sad fact that we failed to recognize that tip as an iceberg at all. In the forced contrast to literature, we managed to miss the much more fundamental functions of OTs. We didn’t understand that they do all kinds of crucial cultural work for human societies.

Adaptable tools for adapting cultures

Think about the functional narrowness of literature, a fractional subset of texts, as distinguished from the diverse, all-purpose media and technologies of the oAgora and eAgora. Like eTools, oTools support not just a relatively small and specialized sliver of verbal exchange but the whole range of human social activities. oTools most certainly aren’t confined only to strategies typical of literary works, but serve as full and vital partners in all aspects of culture. They aren’t fixed items amassed in a database, but networked webs of potentials ready for active navigation. They succeed not by their (pretense of) absolute immutability, uniqueness, and completeness, but rather through their powerful capacity for rule-governed variability.

Taken together, eTools and oTools provide homologous strategies for coping with the challenge of culture, which is itself weblike – programmed for sharing, ever-emergent, and always under construction.