Saturday, February 27, 2010

Orality and Literacy

I was directed to this book by Laura Lantz, I think because I was going on about Amusing Ourselves to Death. I have to admit, I had a hard time getting through it -- I found it somewhat dry and academic, and incredibly textual, which is kind of ironic, because part of the point of the book is that something valuable in human communication is lost when we move from oral culture to written culture.

It is very interesting to think about this change -- the change from words being events to words being objects. We take it for granted, now, of course. More interesting to me is the experience of reading compared to the experience of listening. Personally, I enjoy listening far more. I am in the car about 45-60 minutes most days, and listen to audiobooks there every chance I get. I find that I am more connected with a text through an audiobook than I am by reading. It is more real. For me, text on a page is like a picture of something happening, but hearing it out loud is like the thing itself. With the kindle, I sometimes like to set it on text-to-speech mode, and read along with the voice. I know many people don't care for audiobooks. I read somewhere once that there are two kinds of readers -- visual, who turn text into pictures in their minds, and audio, who turn text into speech in their minds. Audio readers are supposed to be slower, and are distracted by other voices in the room. Video readers read faster, and voices do not distract them. I wish I could remember where I read about this.

When I wrote The Art of Game Design, I would read each chapter out loud as I completed it. I often found that sentences that looked okay on the page often sounded awkward out loud, and I would change them. I think this is part of the reason that people say the book is so "readable" and "flows so smoothly."

Hm. I wish I had more to say about this book. I like that it got me thinking about the relationship between speech and text -- but if it gave me insights, they are hidden, and I don't know what they are.


  1. The distinction between audio readers and visual readers is very interesting, also reminding of McLuhan.

    I definitely prefer absorbing written text. However, I also love to listen to podcasts, but I find it is much harder for me to listen to a lecturer when having to sit through a lecture. It is much easier to concentrate on what he is saying while I am doing something else such as driving or making a salad.

  2. Yes, I do 95% of my audiobook listening in the car. The other 5% is doing yardwork. It's funny, how we have to keep our eyes and ears, or ears and hands full, or we get restless... but eyes and hands? When does that happen?