Unit Three: Cyberselves

In this unit, we will take a look at the relationship between technology and human life.  We will begin by exploring language as the first major technical achievement of human beings.

Following its use by oral cultures, a second major innovation occurred that changed human life: literacy.  We will note the cognitive and physical differences between brains of oral cultures vs. those of literates, and see how the use of these tools affects the human brain.  After examining the differences between these two ways of thinking, we will shift to a third major change in how humans interact with their world, with the advent of the internet and the digital revolution -- changes still underway. We will examine how this new way of encountering knowledge and social systems changes what it means to be human.

Central Questions:
  • How has literacy changed the world?
  • What are the differences between digital natives and digital immigrants?  
  • How are the tools of the digital age changing human life?​
  • How do different technologies affect our brains?
  • Is the internet making human being less intelligent?
  • What is art, and how has technology changed our definition?

Before we jump into an analysis of Walter Ong’s arguments, as well as how researchers and scientists apply his ideas, we’re going to return to Bradbury’s world of fear and firemen in Farenheit 451.  We’re going to unfold his warning of a world without high-literacy.  Once we determine what he believes would be lost, we’ll take a look at Ong’s comparisons between two different modes of communication: oral and literate.  We will then examine what is both lost and gained in a post-literate world: a world Ong describes as one of “secondary orality.”  We’ll take a look at digital natives and examine how they think differently than digital foreigners (or even digital immigrants, like your English teacher!).  Finally, we’ll return to our year-long examination of how human beings are different than other animals on Earth, and how literacy has enabled symbolic thinking, making human beings art-producing animals: the only creature on the planet capable of symbolic interpretation that can transfigure a “mere real thing” into something much, much more.  We’ll extend this discussion into cyber-space and critically examine how our representations of ourselves (“selfies,” I think they’re called) demonstrate Ong’s arguments, Bradbury’s predictions, the modern aesthetic theory of Arthur Danto, and the limits of our own linguistic thinking. 

The Final Essay Question - Unit 3: Cyberselves

Philosophers who study language in the 20th century have developed new ideas about language, culture, literature, art, and how human beings differ from other animals.  Write an essay on these new ideas.  First, discuss what Ong and Goody conclude about the effects of literacy on the thoughts and development of human beings in Orality and Literacy.  How does the research of A.R. Luria demonstrate their claims?  Next, what does Ray Bradbury say about the value of literacy in Fahrenheit 451, and what are the consequences of failing to practice it?  Finally, how can we expect human life to change in the age of post-literacy?

Ray Bradbury on Fahrenheit 451