Print Made Us More Individualistic

A quote from The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture:

In a predominantly oral culture, one in which communication is based on face-to-face oral speech, there is no means for storing information or knowledge outside of the mind. As a result, once knowledge is obtained, the culture depends upon the community to both retain and repeat that knowledge. With the introduction of writing, people are affordedthe  luxury to learn and think in isolation without the threat of losing those thoughts. As writing becomes the dominant communication system, people no longer need the community to retain teachings, traditions, or identity. As a result, they spend greater amounts of time reflecting in private. This increased isolation creates a newempahsis on individualism. Prior to the written word, a person’s identity was completely bound to the tribe; the notion of the individual didn’t exist. Because writing introduced the notion of the autonomous self, printing obliterated tribal bonds and profoundly amplified individualism. -p.53

First of all I think that brief paragraph is brilliant insight into our culture as a whole. I don’t know all the implications it has for us but it does, at the least, make us aware of some of the steps that have created the individualism that exist within our society.

Now that we know where we are, and we are aware of how print has brought us there, I’m curious about how we can return to building tribal and communal bonds. Do they exist in any capacity in our current society? Is technology further separating us?

5 thoughts on “Print Made Us More Individualistic”

  1. You write… “I’m curious about how we can return to building tribal and communal bonds. Do they exist in any capacity in our current society? Is technology further separating us?”

    YES to both questions – how do we return to tribal and communal bonds? – use technology wisely (to build more communication not less) and spend time without electronic communication or print –
    BUT GET face to face – unscheduled – back yard beer with brothers and sisters… walking with your baby or dog and live in the existential reality of the community

    in Mexican spanish there is a word PLACTICAR – doesn’t exist in “formal spanish” kind of means to talk – or converse – but from context and usage it really means “KICK IT” – we need to PACTICAR more

  2. I think that it is crucial to approach this subject with the recognition that we will not “return” to tribal community bonds in the same way that they existed in oral cultures. We cannot escape the reality of the world that the printing press has created. We have to find new and engaging ways to develop communities within our current reality. We are tribes of individuals, at best, and we have to be aware of that when building communities. The success of our community projects depends on it. We are almost post-print in a lot of ways, and that will continue to change and shape the way that we relate.
    I guess if we want to truly gauge the impact of what we consume, then we should try and do without it for a while. A fast, if you will. Then we can truly see our technologies at work – separating us or not. I think that what we would find at the end of our fast is that we have a broader communal connection, but not really a deeper one.

    Man, I miss our kitchen counter conversations while I cooked and you ate the carrots. We should do that again soon.

  3. Ariah,

    wow what a great quote. I believe it to be very important that we once again understand that truth/ knowledge/ understanding does not just happen in my little head and when i write something on paper or on my computer. Wisdom is found in community when we have face to face interactions with each other. Wisdom is communal so no amoung of individual thought will lead you there.

    what are you doing in the morning? i was thinking of taking the kids to north commons. do you want to join us?


  4. Ariah,

    I’m glad you found this one. Shane’s thoughts and insights into media and culture are so valuable and crucial to understanding how media has shaped culture and the church. The references he draws upon are equally fascinating.

    Shane does stress in his book (and I whole heartedly agree with him) that we first must seek understanding before we can make judgments or come to unyielding conclusions. For instance, understanding the differences in thinking and decision making between oral cultures and literate cultures is a good place to start. I also believe that many things can be dangerous when pushed to extreme levels.

    In hopes of seeking dialogue and understanding, I wanted to comment on some negative aspects of oral culture that can occur when observed in the extreme.

    The advent of printing and written phonetic language in general, has led to a way of thinking and discerning that is highly linear, sequential, abstract and rational. It also allows the literate person to look objectively at their emotions and to essentially “act without reacting” (again when pushed to extremes this can be bad thing). Oral cultures, on the other hand, tend to be highly tribal and become emotionally enmeshed with one another, this can often be a wonderful thing but can often times leading to barbaric violence. There is no knowledge of the self in Oral cultures, no existence outside the tribe, which can often times lead to tumultuous subjective experiences.

    As I stated, I am trying to understand. I have to say I agree with marque, we need to PLACTICAR more!! I also believe there is a better and a third way, Jesus’ way.

  5. Wow, I really enjoyed everyone’s thoughts on that!

    Thanks for all your input. I’m definitely going to put a few more quotes up.

    great conversation

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