The Civilization of Illiteracy - LightNovelsOnl.com
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The unnatural, nonlinguistic use of language is studied by psychologists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers in order to understand the relation between language and intelligence. This need to touch upon the biological aspects of the practical experiences of speaking, writing, or reading results from the premise pursued. Self-const.i.tution of the human being takes place while the biological endowment is projected into the experience. Important work on what are called split- brain patients-persons who, in order to suppress epileptic attack, have had the connection between the two brain hemispheres severed-shows that even the neat distinction left-right (the left part of the brain is in charge of language) is problematic. Researchers learned that in each practical experience, our biological endowment is at work and at the same time subject to self-reflection. Projecting a word like laugh in the right field of vision results in the patients' laughing, although in principle they could not have processed the word.
When asked, such patients explain their laughter through unrelated causes. If a text says "Scratch yourself," they actually scratch themselves, stating that it is because something itches. Virtual reality practical experiences take full advantage of these and other clinical observations. The absent in a virtual reality environment is very often as important as the present. On the back channels of virtual reality interactions, not only words but also data describing human reactions (turning one's head, closing the eyes, gesturing with the hand) can be transmitted. Once fed back, such data becomes part of the virtual world, adapted to the condition of the person experiencing it. This is why interest in cognitive characteristics of oral communication-of the primitive stages or of the present-remains important.
Background information is more readily available in oral communication. In orality, things people refer to are closer to the words they use. Human co-presence in conversation results in the possibility to read and translate the word under the guise of a willingness by others to show what a particular word stands for. In orality, the experience pertinent to the word is shared in its entirety. This is possible because the appropriate world of experience (corresponding to the circular scale of human praxis) is so limited that the language is in a one-to-one relation with what it describes. In some ways, the parent-child relation is representative of this stage in the childhood of humankind.
In the new orality of the civilization of illiteracy the same one-to-one relation is established through strategies of segmentation. The speaker and listener(s) share s.p.a.ce and time-and hence past, present, and, to a certain degree, future.
And even if the subject is not related to that particular s.p.a.ce and moment, it already sets a reference mechanism in place by virtue of the fact that people in dialogue are people sharing a similar experience of self-const.i.tution. Far is far from where they speak; a long time ago is a long time ago from the moment of the verbal exchange. The acquisition of far, long (or short) time ago is in itself the result of practical circ.u.mstances leading to a more evolved being. We now take these distinctions for granted, surprised when children ask for tighter qualifiers, or when computer programs fail because we input information with insufficient levels of distinction.
The realization of the frame of time and s.p.a.ce occurred quite late in the development of the species, within the scale of linear relations.h.i.+ps, and only as a result of repeated practical experiences, of sequences const.i.tuting patterns. Once the reference mechanism for both time and s.p.a.ce was acknowledged and integrated in new experiences, it became so powerful that it allowed people to simplify their language and to a.s.sume much more than what was actually said. In today's world, s.p.a.ce and time are const.i.tuted in experiences affected by the experience of relativity. Accordingly, the orality of the civilization of illiteracy is not a return to primitive orality, but to a referential structure that helps us better cope with dynamism.
The s.p.a.ce and time of virtual experiences are an example of effective freedom from language, but not from the experiences through which we acquired our understanding of time and s.p.a.ce.
Computers able to perform in the s.p.a.ce of human a.s.sumptions are not yet on the horizon of current technological possibilities.
a.s.sumptions are a component of the functioning of sign systems. A mark left can make sense if it is noticed. The a.s.sumption of perception is the minimum at which expression is acknowledged.
a.s.sumptions of writing are different from those of orality. They entail the structural characteristics of the practical experiences in which the people writing const.i.tute their ident.i.ty. Literate a.s.sumptions, unlike any other a.s.sumptions in language, are extensions of linear, sequential experience in all its const.i.tutive parts. They are evinced in vocabulary, but even more strongly in grammar. In many ways, the final test of any sign system is that of its built-in a.s.sumptions. Illiteracy is an experience outside the realm defined by the means and methods of literacy. The civilization of illiteracy challenges the need and justification of literate a.s.sumptions, especially in view of the way these affect human effectiveness.
The very fine qualifiers of time and s.p.a.ce that we take for granted today were acknowledged only slowly, and initially at a rather coa.r.s.e level of distinction. Despite the tremendous progress made, even today our experience with time and s.p.a.ce requires some of the repertory of the primitive human.
Movements of hands, head, other body parts (body language), changes in facial expression and skin color (e.g., blus.h.i.+ng), breathing rhythm, and voice variations (e.g., intonation, pause, lilt)-all account for the resurrection in dialogue of an experience much richer than language alone can convey. Such para-linguistic elements are no less meaningful in new practical experiences, such as interaction with and inside virtual environments.
Para-linguistic elements consciously used in primitive communities, or unconsciously present, still escape our scrutiny. Their presence in communication among members of communities sharing a certain genetic endowment takes different forms. They are not reducible to language, although they are connected to its experience. Examples of this are the strong sense of rhythm among Blacks in America and Africa, the sense of holistic perception among Chinese and j.a.panese. We can only conjecture, from words reconst.i.tuted in the main language strand (proto-languages), or in the mother tongue of humankind (proto-world), that words were used in conjunction with non-linguistic ent.i.ties. Whether a mother-tongue or a pre-Babel language existed is a different issue. The hypothesis mimics the notion of a common ancestor of the species and obviously looks for the language of this possible ancestor. More important, however, is the observation that the practical experience of language const.i.tution does not eliminate everything that is not linguistic in nature. Moreover, the para-linguistic, even when language becomes as dominant as it does under the reign of literacy, remains significant for the effectiveness of human activity. The civilization of illiteracy does not necessarily dig for para-linguistic remnants of previous practical endeavors.
It rather const.i.tutes a framework for their partic.i.p.ation in a more effective pragmatics, in the process involving technological means capable of processing all kinds of cues.
In a given frame of time and s.p.a.ce, para-linguistic signs acquire a strong conventional nature. The way the word for I evolved (quite differently than equivalents in different languages of the world: ich, je, yo, eu, n, ani, etc.), and the way words relating to two evolved (hands, legs, eyes, ears, parents), and so forth, gives useful leads. It seems, for instance, that the pair entered language as a modifier (i.e., a grammatical category), marked by non-linguistic signs (clasp, repet.i.tion, pointing). Some of the signs are still in use. The grammatical category and the distinction between one and two are related.
The Aranda population (in Australia) combine the words for one and two in order to handle their arithmetic. Also, the distinction singular- plural begins with two. We take this for granted, but in some languages (e.g., j.a.panese), there is no distinction between singular and plural. In addition, it should be pointed out here that the same signs (e.g., use of a finger to point, hand signals) can be understood in different ways in different cultures. Bulgarians shake their head up and down to signal no, and side to side to signal yes.
Within a given culture, each sign eventually becomes a very strong background component because it embodies the shared experience through which it was const.i.tuted. In direct speech, we either know each other, or shall know each other to a certain extent, represented by the c.u.mulative degrees of "I know that you know that I know that you know," defining a vague notion of knowledge within a multivalued logic. This makes speaking and listening an experience in reciprocal understanding, if indeed the conversation takes place in a non-linear, vague context impossible to emulate in writing. Dialogues in the wired world, as well as in transactional situations of extreme speed (stock market transactions, s.p.a.ce research, military actions), belong to such experiences, impossible to pursue within the limitations of literacy.
Orality can be a.s.sertive (declarative), interrogative, and imperative (a great deal more so than writing). In the course of time, and due to very extended experience with language and its a.s.sumptions in oral form, humans acquired an intrinsic interactive quality. This resulted from a change in their condition: on the natural level there was the limited interactivity of action-reaction. In the human realm, the nucleus action-reaction led to subsequent sequences through which areas of common interest were defined. The progressive cognitive realization that speaking to someone involves their understanding of what we say, as well as the acknowledged responsibility to explain, whenever this understanding is incomplete or partial, is also a source of our interactive bent.
Questions take over part of the role played by the more direct para-linguistic signs and add to the interactive quality of dialogue, so long as there is a common ground. This common ground is a.s.sumed by everyone who maintains the idea of literacy-how else to establish it?-as a necessity, but understood in many different ways: the common ground as embodied in vocabulary and grammar, in logic, spelling, phonetics, cultural heritage. Granted that a common language is a necessary condition for communication, such a common language is not simultaneously a sufficient condition, or at least not one of most efficient, for communication. Interactivity, as it evolved beyond the literate model, is based on the probability, and indeed necessity, to transcend the common language expectation and replace it with variable common codes, such as those we establish in the experience of multimedia or in networked interactions. Even the ability to interact with our own representation as an avatar in the Internet world becomes plausible beyond the constraining borders of literate ident.i.ty.
Taking literacy for granted
In preceding paragraphs, we examined what is required, in addition to a common language, for a conversation to make sense.
Scale is another factor. The scale that defines a dialogue is very different from the scale at which human self-const.i.tution, language acquisition and use included, take place. Scale by itself is not enough to define either dialogue or the more encompa.s.sing language-oriented, or language- based, practical activity through which people ascertain their biological endowment and their human characteristics. There is sufficient proof that at the early stage of humankind, individuals could be involved only in h.o.m.ogeneous tasks. Within such a framework of quasi-h.o.m.ogeneous activity, dialogues were instances of cooperation and confirmation, or of conflict. Diversification made them progressively gain a heuristic dimension-choosing the useful from among many possibilities, sometimes against the logical odds of maintaining consistency or achieving completeness. A generalized language-supported practical activity involved not only heuristics ("If it seems useful, do it"), but also logic ("If it is right/If it makes sense"), through the intermediary of which truth and falsehood take occupancy of language experiences. Thus an integrative influence is exercised. This influence increases when orality is progressively superseded by the limited literacy of writing and reading.
The quasi-generalized literacy of industrial society reflected the need for unified and centralized frameworks of practical experience, within a scale optimally served by the linearity of language. In our days, people const.i.tute themselves and their language through experiences more diverse than ever. These experiences are shorter and relatively partial. They are only an instant in the more encompa.s.sing process they make possible. The result is social fragmentation, even within the a.s.sumed boundaries of a common language, which nations are supposed to be, and paradoxically survive their own predicted end. In reality, this common language ceases to exist, or at least to function as it used to. What exists are provisional commitments making up a framework for activities impossible to carry out as a practical experience defined by literacy. Within each of these fast-changing commitments, partial languages, of limited duration and scope, come into existence. Sub-literacies accompany their lives. Experience as such opens avenues to more orality, under post-literate conditions-in particular, conditions of increased efficiency made possible by technology that negates the pragmatics of literacy. The most favorable case for the functioning of language-direct verbal communication-becomes a test case for what it really means to speak the same language, and not what we a.s.sume a common language accomplishes when written or read by everyone.
Instances of direct verbal communication today (in the family and community, when visiting foreign countries, at work, shopping, at church, at a football stadium, answering opinion polls or marketing inquiries, in social life) are also instances of taking for granted that others speak our own language. Many researchers have attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of communication in these contexts. Their observations are nevertheless not independent of the a.s.sumed premise of literacy as a necessity and as a shared pragmatic framework. Some recent research on the cognitive dimension of understanding language does not realize how deep the understanding goes. One example given is the terse instruction on a bottle of shampoo: "Lather. Rinse. Repeat." It is not a matter of an individual's ability to read the instructions in order to know how to proceed. One does not need to be literate, moreover, one does not even need to create language in order to use shampoo, if one is familiar with the purpose and use of shampoo (i.e., with the act). Indeed, for most individuals, the word shampoo on a bottle suffices for them to use it correctly with no written instructions at all. Icons or hieroglyphics can convey the instructions just as well, even better, than literacy can. These, by the way, are coming more into use in our global economy. It is even doubtful that most individuals read the instructions because they are familiar not just with the conventions that go into using shampoo, but, deeper still, the conventions behind the words of the instructions. Should an adult, even a literate adult, who was totally unfamiliar with the concept of was.h.i.+ng his or her hair be presented with a bottle of shampoo, the entire experience of was.h.i.+ng the hair with shampoo would have to be demonstrated and inculcated until it became part of that adult's self-const.i.tutive repertory. Such a.n.a.lyses of language only sc.r.a.pe the surface of how humans const.i.tute themselves in language.
Literacy forces certain a.s.sumptions upon us: Literate parents educate literate children. A sense of community requires that its members share in the functionality of literacy. Literate people communicate better beyond the borders of their respective languages. Literacy maintains religious faith. People can partic.i.p.ate in social life only if they are literate.
Considering such a.s.sumptions, we should realize that the abstract concept of literacy, resulting from the a.s.sumption that a common language automatically means a common experience, only maintains false hope. Children of literate parents are not necessarily literate. Chances are that they are already integrated in the illiterate structures of work and life to the same degree children of illiterate parents are. This is not a matter of individual choice, or of parental authority. On the digital highway, on which a growing number of people define their coordinates, with the prevalent sign @ taking over any other identification, communities emerge independent of location.
Partic.i.p.ation in such communities is different in nature from literate congregations maintained by a set of reciprocal dependencies that involved spelling as much as it involved accepting authority or working according to industrial production cycles.
In all of today's communication, not only is the literate component no longer dominant, it is undergoing the steepest percentile fall in comparison to any other form of communication. In this framework, states and bureaucracies are putting up a good fight for their own survival. But the methods and means of literacy on which their entire activity-regulation, control, self-preservation-is based have many times over proven inefficient. These statements do not remove the need to deal with how people understand writing, to which literacy is more closely connected than it is to speech. To discover what makes the task of understanding language more difficult as language frees itself from the constraints of literacy within the new pragmatic framework is yet another goal we pursue.
To understand understanding
Incipient writing was pictorial. This was an advantage in that it regarded the world directly, immediately perceived and shared, and a disadvantage in that it did not support more than a potential generality of expression. It maintained notation very close to things, not to speech. Image-dominated language came along with a simplified frame of s.p.a.ce and time reference.
Things were presented as close or far apart, as successive events or as distant, interrupted events. Anyone with a minimal visual culture can read Chinese or j.a.panese ideograms, i.e., see mountain, sky, or bird in the writing. But this is not reading the language; it is reading the natural world from which the notation was extracted, reconst.i.tuting the reference based on the iconic convention.
Alphabetic writing annihilates this frame of experience based on resemblance. Unless time is specifically given, or coordinates in s.p.a.ce intentionally expressed, time and s.p.a.ce tend to be a.s.similated in the text, and more deeply in the grammar. It is a different communication, mediated by abstract ent.i.ties whose relation to experience is, in turn, the result of numerous subst.i.tutions, the record of which is not at the disposal of the reader. Between tell in English and the root tal (or dal) in proto-language (with the literal meaning of tongue), there is a whole experiential sequence available only implicitly in the language. In the nostratic phylum (root of many languages, the Indo- European among them), luba stands for thirst; the English love and the German Liebe seem to derive from it, although when we think of love we do not a.s.sociate it with the physical experience of thirst.
Clues in written language are clues to language first of all, and only afterwards clues to human experience. Accordingly, reading a text requires an elaborate cognitive reconstruction of the experience expressed, and probably a never-ending questioning of the appropriateness of its understanding. When a text is read, there is n.o.body to be questioned, n.o.body to actively understand the understanding, to challenge it. The author exists in the text, as a projection, to the extent that the author exists in the manufactured objects we buy in order to use (gla.s.ses to drink water, chairs to sit on), or in whose production we partic.i.p.ate in some way. After all, each text is a reality on paper, or on other means of storage and display. Clues can be derived from names of writers and from historic knowledge. What cannot be derived is the reciprocal exchange which goes on during conversation, the cooperative effort under circ.u.mstances of co- presence.
Regardless of the degree of complexity, the interactive component of orality cannot be maintained in writing. This points to an intrinsic limitation relevant to our attempt to find out why literacy does not satisfy expectations characteristic of practical experiences requiring interactivity. The metaphoric use of interactivity, as it is practiced to express an animistic att.i.tude according to which, for instance, the text is alive, and we interact with it in reading, interpreting, and understanding it, addresses a different issue. Difficulties in language understanding can be overcome, but not in the mechanical effort of improving language skills by learning 50 more words or studying a chapter in grammar. Rather, one has to build background knowledge through extending the experience (practical, emotional, theoretical, etc.) on which the knowledge to be shared relies.
But once we proceed in this direction, we step out from the unifying framework of literacy, within which the diversity of experiences is reduced to the experience of writing, reading, and speaking. When this reduction is no longer possible-as we experience more and more under the new conditions of existence-understanding language becomes more and more difficult. At the same time, the result of understanding becomes less and less significant for our self-const.i.tution in human experiences. If no other example comes to mind, the reader should reflect upon the many volumes that accompany the software you've bought in recent years. Their language is kept simple, but they are still difficult to comprehend. Once comprehended, the pay-off is slim. This is why the illiterate strategy of integrating on-line the instructions one needs to work with software is replacing literate doc.u.mentation. These instructions can be reduced to graphic representations or simple animations.
The framework is specialization, for instance, in providing instructions in a form adequate to the task. Within specialized experience, even writing and reading are subject to specialization. Literacy turns into yet another distinct form of human praxis instead of remaining its common denominator.
Writing, in this context, makes it clear that language is not enough for understanding a text. Under our own scrutiny, writing becomes a form of praxis in itself, contributing to the general fragmentation of society, not to its unification. This happens insofar as specialized writing becomes part of the general trend towards specialization and generates specialized reading. Some explanation is necessary.
Even when writers strive to adapt their language to a specific readers.h.i.+p, the result is only partially successful, precisely because the experiences const.i.tuted in writing are disjoint.
Indeed, the practical experience to be shared, and the subsequent practical experience of writing are different, pertinent to domains not reducible to each other. Sometimes the writer falls captive to the language (that very specialized subset of language adapted to a specific field of knowledge) and mimics natural discourse by observing grammar and rhetoric devices.
Other times, the writer translates, or explains, as in popular magazines on physics, genetics, arts, psychology. Within this type of interpretive discourse either details are left out, or more details are added, with the intention of broadening the common base. Expressive devices, from simple comparisons (which should bridge different backgrounds) to metaphors, expose readers to a new level of experiences. Even if readers know what comparisons are and how metaphors work, they still cannot compensate for the unshared part of experience, with whose help a text makes sense. A legal brief, a military text, an investment a.n.a.lysis, the evaluation of a computer program are examples in this sense. The language they are written in looks like English.
But they refer to experiences that a lawyer, or military officer, or broker, or computer programmer is likely to be familiar with.
Writers, speakers, readers, and listeners are aware of the adjustments required to comprehend these and many other types of doc.u.ments. While a direct conversation, for which time spent with others is required, can be a frame for adjustment, a printed page is definitely less so. The reader can, at best, transmit a reaction in writing, or write to request supplementary explanation, that is, to maintain the spirit of conversation. The experience of writing and reading is becoming less a general experience or cultural identifier, and more a specialized activity. Writing can be read by machines. In order to serve the blind, such machines read instructions, newspaper articles, and captions accompanying video images. The synthetic voice, as much as a synthetic eye or nose, a syntactic touch-sensitive device, or taste translator, operates in a realm devoid of the life that went into the text (image, odor, texture, taste) and which was supposed to be contributed by the reader (viewer, smeller, toucher, taster).
Literacy, projected as a universal and permanent medium for expression, communication, and signification, nourished a certain romanticism or democracy of art, politics, and science.
It embodied an axiomatic system: since everybody should speak, write, and read, everybody can and should speak, write, and read; everybody can and should appreciate poetry, partic.i.p.ate in political life, understand science. This was indeed relatively true when poetry, politics, and science were, to a certain degree, direct forms of human praxis with levels of efficiency appropriate to the scale of human activity const.i.tuted in linear, h.o.m.ogeneous practical experiences. Now that the scale changed, dynamics accelerated, mediation increased, and non-linearity is accepted, we face a new situation.
Paradoxically, the poet, the speech-writer, and the science-writer not only fail to address everybody, but they, as part and result of the mechanism of labor division, also contribute to the generation of partially literate human beings.
In other words, they contribute to the fragmentation of society, although they are all devoted (some pa.s.sionately) to the cause of its unity. In reaction to claims that literacy carried through time, a general deconstructionist att.i.tude challenges the permanency of philosophical tractate, of scientific systems, of mathematics, political discourse and, probably more than anything else, of literature. The method applied is coherent: make evident the mechanisms used to create the illusion of permanence and truth. Texts thus appear as means to an end that does not directly count. What results is an account of the technology of expression, embraced by all who grew skeptical of the universality of science, politics and literature. When each sign (independent of the subject) becomes its own reference, and the experience it embodies is, strictly speaking, that of its making, the deconstructionist project reaches the climax. Nike's advertis.e.m.e.nt is not about sneakers, even less about the celebrities who wear them. It is a rather hermetic self-referential experience. Its understanding, however, is based on the fast-changing experience of revealing one's illiterate ident.i.ty.
Words about images
The written, as we know, almost constantly appeared together with other referential systems, especially images. In this respect, a question regarding what we understand when we understand language is whether images can be used as an aid to understanding texts. Doubtless, pictures (at least some of them) are, by their cognitive attributes, better bearers of interpretation clues than are some words or writing devices.
Images, more so than texts, can stand in for the absent writer.
To the extent that they follow conventions of reality, pictures can help the individual reconst.i.tute, at least partially, the frame of time and s.p.a.ce, or one of the two. However, this represents only one side of the issue. The other side reveals that images are not always the best conveyors of information, and that what we gain by using them comes at a cost in understanding, clarity, or context dependence.
First of all, what is gained through the abstraction of the words is almost entirely lost through the concreteness of the image.
The very dense medium of writing stands in sharp contrast to the diluted medium of images. To download text on the network is quite different from displaying images. If this were the only reason, we would be alert to the differences between images and texts. When the complexity of the image reaches high levels, decoding the image becomes as tedious as decoding texts, and the result less precise. All this explains why people try to use a combination of images and words. It also helps in understanding strategies for their combination. As a strategy of relating text and image, redundancy helps in focusing interpretation. The strategy of complementing helps in broadening the interpretation. Other strategies, ranging from contrasting texts and images to paraphrasing texts through images, or subst.i.tuting texts for images, or images for text, result in forceful ways of influencing interpretation by introducing explanatory contexts.
A very large portion of today's culture-from the comic strip to picture novels and advertis.e.m.e.nts, to soap operas on the Internet-is embodied in works using such and similar strategies.
What interests us here is whether images can replace the experience required to understand a text. If the answer is affirmative, such images would be almost like the partner in conversation. As products of human experience, images, just like language, embody that particular experience. This automatically makes the problem of understanding images more involved than just seeing them. But we knew this from written language. Seeing words or sentences or texts on paper (in script or in print) is only preliminary to understanding. The naturalness of images (especially those resembling the physical universe of our existence) makes access to them sometimes easier than access to written language. But this access is never automatic, and should never be taken for granted. In addition, while the written word does not invite to imitation, images play a more active role, triggering reactions different from those triggered by words.
The code of language and visual codes are not reducible to each other; neither is their pragmatic function the same.
Research reports are quasi-unanimous in emphasizing that the usefulness of pictures in increasing text comprehension seems not to depend on the mere presence of the image, but on the specific characteristics of the reader. These make clear the role played by what was defined as background knowledge, without which texts, images, and other forms of expression stabilized as languages make little sense, if any, to their readers, viewers, or listeners. In order to arrive at such conclusions, researchers went through real-time measurements of the so-called processing of texts, in comparison to picture-text processing. The paradigm employed uses eye movement recordings and comprehension measures to study picture-text interactions. Pictures helped what the researchers defined as poor readers. For skilled readers, pictures were neutral when the information was important. The presence of pictures interfered with reading when the information in the text was less important. Researchers also established that the type of text-expository or narrative-is not a factor and that pictures can help in recall of text details.
This has been known for at least 300 years, if not longer.
Actors in Shakespeare's time were prompted to recall their lines through visual cues embodied in the architecture of the theater.
After all was measured and a.n.a.lyzed, the only dependable conclusion was that the effects of images on comprehension of written language are not easy to explain. Again, this should not come as a surprise as long as we use literacy-based quantifiers to understand the limits of literacy. Whether images are accidental or forced upon the reader, whether the text is quasi-linear or very sophisticated (i.e., results from practical experiences of high complexity), the relation does not seem to follow any pattern. Such experiments, along with many others based on a literacy premise, proved unsuitable for discovering the sources and nature of reading difficulties.
Eye movement and comprehension measures used to study picture-text interactions only confirmed that today there are fewer commonalties, even among young students (not to mention among adults already absorbed in life and work) than at the time of the emergence of writing and reading. The diversification of forms of human experience, seen against the background of a relatively stable language adopted as a standard of culture, hints at the need to look at this relation as one of the possible explanations for the data, even for the questions that prompted the experiments in the first place. These questions have bearing on the general issue of literacy. Why reading, comprehension, and recall of written language have become more uncertain in recent years, despite efforts made by schools, parents, employers, and governments to improve instruction, remains unanswered. Regardless of how much we are willing to help the understanding of a text through the use of images, the necessity of the text, as an expression of a literate practical experience, is not enhanced. Conclusions like these are not easy to draw because we are still conditioned by literacy. Experiences outside the frame of literacy come much more naturally together because their necessity is beyond the conditioning of our rational discourse. This is how I can explain why on the Internet, the tenor of social and political dialogue is infinitely more free of prejudice than the information provided through books, newspapers, or TV. These observations should not be misconstrued as yet another form of technological determinism. The emphasis here, as elsewhere in the book, is on new pragmatic circ.u.mstances themselves, not on the means involved.
The research reported above, as any research we hear about in our days, was carried out on a sample. A sample, as representative as it can be, is after all a scaled- down model of society. The issue critical to literacy being the scale of human practical existence, scaled-down models are simply not suited for our attempt to understand language changes when the complexity of our pragmatic self-const.i.tution increases. We need to consider language, images, sounds, textures, odors, taste, motion, not to mention sub-verbal levels, where survival strategies are encoded, and beliefs and emotions are internalized, as they pertain to the pragmatic context of our existence. Literacy is not adequate for satisfactorily encoding the complexity and dynamics of practical experiences corresponding to the new scale that humankind has reached. The corresponding expectations of efficiency are also beyond the potential of literacy-based productivity. Ill-suited to address the mediated nature of human experience at this scale, literacy has to be integrated with other literacies. Its privileged status in our civilization can no longer be maintained.
Korzybski was probably right in stating that language is a "map for charting what is happening both inside and outside of our skins." At the new stage that civilization has reached, it turns out that none of the maps previously drawn is accurate. If we really want details essential to the current and future development of our species, we have to recognize the change in metrics, i.e., in the scale of the charted ent.i.ty, as well as in dynamics. The world is changing because we change, and as a result we introduce new dimensions in this world.
Even when we notice similarities to some past moment-let us take orality as an example-they are only apparent and meaningless if not put in proper context. Technology made talking to each other at long distances (tele-communication) quite easy, because we found ways to overcome the constraints resulting from the limited speed of sound. The most people could do when living on two close hills was to visit, or to yell, or to signal with fire or lights. Now we can talk to somebody flying on an airplane, to people driving or walking, or climbing Mount Everest. Cellular telephony places us on the map of the world as precisely as the global positioning system (GPS) deployed on satellites. The telephone, in its generalized reality as a medium for orality, defies co- presence and can be accessed virtually from anywhere.