John Miles Foley
Oral tradition (or OT) is humankind’s oldest and most pervasive thought-technology, long predating the invention of writing and still today the most widely employed communications technology in the world, per capita. Perhaps surprisingly, however, it also shares an operational dynamics with our newest medium, internet-based technology (IT). In short, both OT and IT consist most fundamentally not of items to exchange but of pathways to navigate. Both media operate by providing a web of interactive and networked potentials to create and convey knowledge, art, and ideas.
The present contribution to Academic Intersections explains this basic functional correspondence in three ways. First, it describes several projects underway at the University of Missouri’s Center for Studies in Oral Tradition and Center for eResearch. Second, it examines the core similarities and differences among three kinds of word-markets: the oral, the textual, and the electronic. Third, it then goes on to introduce the Pathways Project, which studies the OT-IT linkage through an online wiki and a non-conventional, “morphing” book. The overall goal of the Pathways Project is to enlist the reader/user as a partner in the analysis and representation of OT technology through web-based strategies. Several animations, online facilities, and linked sites help to support and illustrate the OT-IT comparison and to exemplify its implications for multiple areas and disciplines.