Monday, March 31, 2003

Blogs and orality
Jill asks her students if blogs are oral media? I grew up close to an oral tradition, a somewhat unique situation. My father's family were all more or less illiterate, not just in the understanding that they didn't like to read, but in the meaning of not being able to read. Their culture was an oral one, their knowledge passed on through stories. To this day, the outrageous, amazing, incredible story lives quite well in my family, along with the art of telling it, the pauses, the quick asides, the use of voice and body, in my family a story isn't just told, it's performed. But my uncles are masters of the form, they can sit down and tell a story full of elegant puns, silly metaphors, entertaining similes and memorable comparisons which stays with you for years after you heard it.

This embroidery is important in an oral tradition in order to make the important points memorable. I still remember, almost 20 years later, a story my uncle told which centered on new fishnet technology. The story was silly, happy and intricate, but the deep truth of how that technology was killing off the cod in the area where he lives, rendering the small-boat fishing close to the coast unprofitable and leaving thousands of fishermen unemployed and in need of government support was something that dawned on the listener slowly, as the elegant points were repeated, cherished and retold.

In an oral tradition knowledge has to be linked differently. Yes, we link in blogs, but the links we make are not so that our minds can recall the information, but so that our fingers recall it. I remember the incongruos image of fish getting glasses to find the way past the nets to shallow water in order to breed, but in a blog I would not need to create such an image to make the link between filaments, captured cod and breeding, I would link to the appropriate research information and that would be that. Point and click, no need to embellish further.

In my opinion blogs are very much a written form, they are the public letter, the open journal, the commentary column of the internet. Once in a while perhaps we find blogs where the art of telling stories has been preserved to the point that it approaches the skill of the sami story-tellers, but those people don't tell stories like that because they are blogging - they would do it in any format, the blog just happens to be useful.

(Sorry, all cod-fact links in Norwegian only.)

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