How to we culturally learn? ABC's and text. It hasn't always been that way. Our way of working with knowledge is changing because our medium is shifting from printed text to digital text. This has profound implications. Signs and signification are *read* differently. Twin towers = terror. It doesn't need spelling out in full grammatical form to give meaning. One picture will do it.
The ways in which we think have changed.
This work of installation art, at left, says what? It is a decorated entry with one word, MOTHERS, across the top to a door into an enclosed space, one among many doors of entry. Hanging around the enlarged door frame in front of the door are massed naked Barbies, overlapping one another side-by-side, rows on top of each other. You have to pass them, be surrounded by them, in order to pass through the space, to enter through the door to another place.
Is this our cultural path prior to becoming MOTHERS? Are we, as women, idealized objects prior to taking on a lifelong role? What do the symbols mean? What is the signage, what is the reference, what does this signify? Cochiti Pueblo Artist Diego Romero is merging symbols dualistically in his medium of communication.
This is an Indian piece at the Poeh Center north of Santa Fe, a place built on the Pojoaque lands for Pueblo Indian cultural preservation. What interests me is that the Indian culture has come much later into text than the Anglo culture, and still remains anchored, especially in the 19 New Mexico Indian Pueblos, in signs and orality and tight tribal traditions shared in community. Women are backbones of cultural transmission as the givers of life.
Our culture, on the other hand, took the printed and mass distributed knowledge that came with the evolution of the printing press and learned to function textually, which allows for individual access and interpretation. Indians here are taught the meaning of signs as we are taught the alphabet. Signs stand for ideas, just as words strung together create an idea. Therefore, an Indian artist took our one Anglo word as an isolated symbol and juxtaposed it with our plastic models of female ideal beauty that are transmitted, mother to daughter, as dolls.
How has our commonality of language changed with the medium we use for expression? Thinking via computers and with technology - have the ways we think changed, and what we think about, which is the content of our thinking. These are questions that a Budapest theorist J.C. Nyiri wrote in Thinking with a Word Processor but his questions were in terms of the change from handwriting and orality through to the typewriter and word processor. I learned to think and write with the typewriter as a tool in sixth grade, only six or seven years after I had learned to think and write with pen and paper. Now, with new media, we're learning to think via digital technology and blips of text - txting and tweets, chirps and snippets.
What we create, what is created for us, digitally, is open to change, editing and revision. It is not stable like a book or printed manuscript. The ease of publishing shifted when we could compose text on a word processor. Text then could be "revised, edited, formatted and re-formatted, printed, and even published, with very little effort. Writing on a word processor is easy both in the sense of permitting for the provisory, the draft, the experiment, and in the sense of allowing for ready use of bits of texts already there - of one's own texts, or of texts written by others, the latter effortlessly amalgamated with the former," Nyiri wrote. "Huge masses of writings, contemporary and classical, become available either on tape, CD-ROM, and disk - like dictionaries and encyclopaedias....When paper is not needed to mediate between the writer and his reader, it will be less and less used to mediate between the writer and himself. ...will give rise to patterns of linguistic behaviour, and indeed to patterns of thinking, that are significantly different from the patterns created by typing and book printing. Thoughts become fluid, not fixed. Text can be altered; the original is more difficult to trace. The authority becomes malleable."
As our digital media makes signs ephemeral and endless and perhaps less meaningful, the significance of one-of-a-kind ownership of works and production, folk art and signs, may increase the relevance of community and orality for interpretation and transmission of culture as a balancing force for the revolutionary change in relationship to knowledge in digital form.
How do we absorb our culture? As consumers, by being the audience (see my post on Cultural Participation: Politics as Spectacle, the Oz of it All). We are sold our meanings and we become vacuous by the mass process.
Looking and reading, non-textually, and moving away from mass shared experience may make the tribal community more important than the individual in the process.