While contemplating orality and indigenous cultures and how they used their own memories, conversation, and dialectic as a means of communicating and storing their knowledge, I thought about Marshall McLuhann’s idea “the medium is the message.” In this framing, indigenous cultures certainly got things right: Humanity is the medium. Humanity is the message.
Life imitates art. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.
— John M. Culkin, “A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan” (The Saturday Review, March 1967)
Culkin’s framing also makes humanity its own self-contained tool (hopefully for the greater good). We shape our brains and thereafter our brains shape us. While we may use technology and tools, props, and crutches to help us do more or do faster, we shouldn’t loose sight of our humanity. It may be our greatest technology. Perhaps we need to remember to pull it out of our toolbox more often as it’s better evolved and often better fit for more jobs than the tools we’re apt to turn to.
The first session of my Art of Memory course went well this morning.
My favorite part: a student suggested doing a project to memorize knowledge related to (urban) foraging (what’s available, safe, identification, etc.)! Its a fantastic example because this is exactly the sort of practical knowledge many indigenous (primarily oral) peoples have used these techniques for over time.
If you’re late to the game, I think you can still register (and I’m happy to catch people up) before our next session in two weeks on July 24th.
In 1965 Ted Nelson imagined a system of interactive, extendable text where words would be freed from the constraints of paper documents. This hypertext would make documents linkable.
Twenty years later, Tim Berners Lee took inspiration from Nelson's vision, as well as other narratives like Vannevar Bush's Memex, to create the World Wide Web. Hypertext came to life.
I love the layout and the fantastic live UI examples on this page.
There are a few missing pieces for the primacy of some of these ideas. The broader concept of the commonplace book predated Nelson and Bush by centuries and surely informed much (if not all) of their thinking about these ideas. It’s assuredly the case that people already had the ideas either in their heads or written down and the links between them existed only in their minds or to some extent in indices as can be found in the literature—John Locke had a particularly popular index method that was widely circulated.
The other piece I find missing is a more historical and anthropological one which Western culture has wholly discounted until recently. There’s a pattern around the world of indigenous peoples in primarily oral cultures using mnemonic techniques going back at least 40,000 years. Many of these techniques were built into daily life in ways heretofore unimagined in modern Western Culture, but which are a more deeply layered version of transclusion imagined here. In some sense they transcluded almost all of their most important knowledge into their daily lives. The primary difference is that all the information was stored visually and associatively in the minds of people rather than on paper (through literacy) or via computers. The best work I’ve seen on the subject is Lynne Kelly’s Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture which has its own profound thesis and is underpinned by a great deal of archaeologic and anthropologic primary research. Given its density I recommend her short lecture Modern Memory, Ancient Methods which does a reasonable job of scratching the surface of these ideas.
Another fantastic historical precursor of these ideas can be found in ancient Jewish writings like the Mishnah which is often presented as an original, more ancient text surrounded by annotated interpretations which are surrounded by other re-interpretations on the same page. Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia have a good discussion of this in their book Annotation (MIT Press, 2019).
It would create a more layered and nuanced form of hypertext – something we’re exploring in the Digital Gardening movement. We could build accumulative, conversational exchanges with people on the level of the word, sentence, and paragraph, not the entire document. Authors could fix typos, write revisions, and push version updates that propogate across the web the same way we do with software. ❧
The Webmention spec allows for resending notifications and thus subsequent re-parsing and updating of content. This could be a signal sent to any links to the content that it had been updated and allow any translcuded pages to update if they wished.
Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 02:38PM
In this idealised utopia we obviously want to place value on sharing and curation as well as original creation, which means giving a small fraction of the payment to the re-publisher as well.We should note monetisation of all this content is optional. Some websites would allow their content to be transcluded for free, while others might charge hefty fees for a few sentences. If all goes well, we’d expect the majority of content on the web to be either free or priced at reasonable micro-amounts. ❧
This also dramatically misses the idea of how copyright and intellectual property work in many countries with regard to fair use doctrine. For short quotes and excerpts almost anyone anywhere can do this for free already. It’s definitely nice and proper to credit the original, but as a society we already have norms for how to do this.
Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 02:46PM
Transclusion would make this whole scenario quite different. Let’s imagine this again… ❧
Many in the IndieWeb have already prototyped this using some open web standards. It’s embodied in the idea of media fragments and fragmentions, a portmanteau of the words fragment and Webmention.
I love these Ladybird Books, the illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe are charming. But if his illustrations were true to life, flicking through their pages in 2020 is a stark reminder of what we have lost from our landscape in just 60 years. (THREAD) pic.twitter.com/wzG8tciHWO
If people are depressed by this minimal loss since the 60’s, they’re going to explode when they read research like that of Lynne Kelly on what we’ve actually lost from indigenous cultures. Here’s a good place to start: Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture though her TED talk gives a bit of the flavor without the heavier, but worthwhile, reading–in part, because it will give us some ideas about how to turn back the clock and recover some of what we’ve lost.
Chapter 1: Primary orality in the archaeological context
10% done; Finished Chapter 1
I appreciate the additional detail and references here. To an uninitiated audience it feels like she should have spent some time exploring the idea of mnemonic earlier, but I’m fine without it.
Walter J. Ong’s classic work provides a fascinating insight into the social effects of oral, written, printed and electronic technologies, and their impact on philosophical, theological, scientific and literary thought.
This thirtieth anniversary edition – coinciding with Ong’s centenary year – reproduces his best-known and most influential book in full and brings it up to date with two new exploratory essays by cultural writer and critic John Hartley.
Renaissance logician, philosopher, humanist, and teacher, Peter Ramus (1515-72) is best known for his attack on Aristotelian logic, his radical pedagogical theories, and his new interpretation for the canon of rhetoric. His work, published in Latin and translated into many languages, has influenced the study of Renaissance literature, rhetoric, education, logic, and—more recently—media studies.Considered the most important work of Walter Ong’s career, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue is an elegant review of the history of Ramist scholarship and Ramus’s quarrels with Aristotle. A key influence on Marshall McLuhan, with whom Ong enjoys the status of honorary guru among technophiles, this challenging study remains the most detailed account of Ramus’s method ever published. Out of print for more than a decade, this book—with a new foreword by Adrian Johns—is a canonical text for enthusiasts of media, Renaissance literature, and intellectual history.
Interview with Lynne Kelly primarily covering an overview of her memory-related works and focusing primarily on her academic work including her Ph.D. thesis and subsequent archaological-based texts. This appears to have been done prior to The Memory Code and so doesn’t cover those portions of some the more applied areas like her work in rapscallions or the bestiary.
Originally bookmarked on December 14, 2019 at 08:42AM