How the Secondary Orality of the Electronic
[***ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE AUTHOR***]
Can Awaken Us to the Primary Orality of Antiquity
What Hypertext Can Teach Us About the Bible
Reflections on the Ethical and Political Issues
of the Electronic Frontier
In sketching the history of the "technologies of the word,"
Walter Ong hints at remarkable parallels between primary and secondary oral
cultures. Primary oral cultures operate with the spoken word only, because
(for them, at least) writing does not (yet) exist. Secondary oral cultures
are literate cultures, such as our own, that have been rendered significantly
oral/aural once again by the appearance of dominant new electronic communication
media, such as television, telephone, video and audio recording, to say
nothing of the ubiquitous computer. As different as ancient, primary oral
cultures and postmodern, secondary oral cultures are, there are also some
remarkable similarities that are only now emerging into view. In this paper
I shall take hypertext/hypermedia as paradigmatic of the new electronic
information technologies, and explore how coming to grips with hypertext/hypermedia
might, paradoxically, help us to understand better ancient oral and manuscript
cultures, generally, and the Bible, in particular. I shall also point out
some of the most striking ethical and political issues arising out of the
3. From Orality to Literacy to Hypertext:
Back to the Future?
4. Ethical and Political Issues on the
An older and shorter version of this paper was published in the electronic
Computing and Technology: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century
2,3 (July 1994): 12-46.
I am grateful to Baldwin-Wallace College for Gigax and Gund Grants in the
1993-1994 year, which gave me the time and the resources to write this paper.
The grants also allowed me to work with a student research assistant, Holly
White, who has been a valued collaborator. I am also grateful to Christi
Klein, another research assistant, who translated this essay into HTML.