Ong, Plato, Writing, and Computers

I decided to blog as I went along while reading this piece this week to change it up a little. Or more so because it’s actually annoying me and I don’t really want to read the whole thing.


The first few pages already state so many things that I disagree with, don’t like reading, or make no sense to me.

The piece started out with something I thought was important for us to always remember, and that is, “Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing, buut normally even when composing it’s thoughts in oral form.”  That is a true and very important thing for us to remember- that’ we’re always writing, even if it is just within our minds to make sense of the world.

Then Ong takes a direction in which I despise.  He next few paragraphs are filled with words that make the sentences not flow together, and it seems that he is trying to create long phrases to impress us.

Then he dives into the part about Plato, Writing, and Computers. This is the part that I really hate. The comparison of “inhuman, pretending to establish outside the mind what in reality can be only in the mind. It is a thing, manufactured product. The same of course is said of computers.” What is that? Really? Yes, a computer in an inhuman machine, a manufactured product that acts outside of our mind. But it does what we tell it to do, it only acts as to how we use it.    Then he talks about Plato and Socrates saying that “writing destroys memory” and that those who write will become forgetful and rely on an external source. This point Ong/Plato/Socrates is/are making is very strange to me, mainly because I write TO remember, so I won’t completely forget one day.

Next comes the part where a text is unresponsive in Plato’s eyes… which yes, this can partially be considered true. But not all texts are this way. Many academic texts, especially articles in  books and journals, can be dry, and are only trying to make one thing apparent: you need to learn this material.  But any kind of narrative, novels, poetry, short stories, etc- that all comes alive by itself. While you cannot talk directly to it, you can reread it, see more angles, empathize for characters, feel the passion… in fact, sometimes I feel more alive reading a book than hearing a story from a friend.

I realize in some way Ong is trying to get across that relying on a computer and modern technology can take away from what we write, but I do not agree, or wish to understand more what he is saying. This piece makes no sense to me.

I will continue reading this Ong article and if I feel differently I will update this blog post. However, for now…

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