• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

eWords are the designated means of exchange in the eAgora, the default currency of the IT (Internet Technology) marketplace. More to the point, given the performative power of this special code, eWords are customarily the only currency that IT surfers hold and spend. On the other hand, given the control exerted by textual ideology in most aspects of our daily lives, it can be difficult to imagine any medium other than tWords. Agoraphobia is so powerful that it’s hard even to conceive of a non-textual communicative unit for our verbal transactions. But we need to reset our tAgora default and open ourselves up to other possibilities for words.

How are eWords defined? As in any specialized language, their shape, structure, and combination follow a distinct set of rules. They morph systemically according to these rules, creating a platform that fosters innovation and co-creation. Like oWords, eWords use a code that produces composite units that can’t be subdivided without destroying their ability to do their expressive job. And unlike tWords, eWords are not reducible to typographical, lexical, or linguistic units.

Consider the simple web address, or URL. The most common form of this composite eWord consists of http, the HyperText Transfer Protocol that lets browsers communicate with servers, plus the delimiters ://, plus the domain name (pathwaysproject, oraltradition, etc.), plus a suffix (.org, .com, .net, etc.). While each of these parts is necessary to the overall structure of a URL, none of them is sufficient—or even functional—without the whole that they collectively constitute. The isolated parts are meaningless unless they’re melded together, in idiomatic sequence, with the other crucial parts of the larger whole.

URL syntax prescribes the malleable structure of the entire eWord. It provides the general format for web addresses, with rule-governed variation possible via substitution or addition. For example, the initial protocol may also be https, which enables a secure connection; or rtsp (Real Time Streaming Protocol), which establishes and maintains communications with real time streaming media servers. Domain names show enormous diversity, of course, and suffixes can vary within well-defined limits. Just as oWords are validated by usage and function within oral traditions, so URLs as eWords are validated by registration and activation on the Internet.

Even more generally and more flexibly, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) provides a standard, specialized language that supports all aspects of webpage construction and usage. Through a system of tags and elements, web designers can configure navigable sites with designated structure (page setup) and content (text, objects, scripts, and interactive links to other resources). Because they are using eWords from within the specialized vocabulary of web-speak, and because these eWords can morph according to prescribed rules, the code supporting developers’ websites achieves the desired effects. Architects build fluently in a performative language that works, and users navigate fluently through a network built on functional code.

Within the IT arena, an environment consisting of and depending on ePathways, eWords contribute crucially to surfing the web. You start up the process and enter the marketplace, and then choose the next pathway from among those available to you. That choice generates a new spectrum of options from which you make your next selection, and the process continues until you exit the eAgora. During that time you co-create an experience that emerges as you go, and for that reason will never be wholly predictable or repeatable. Navigating through networks, users process a rule-governed and performative code. They find their way through a constellation of pathways constructed and used not by a single person but by a group. Variation within limits, the stock-in-trade of eWords and oWords but a dynamic inherently foreign to tWords, underlies all transactions in the eAgora.

eWords work for the same reason that the Internet works – because they actively support morphing.