• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

What does it mean to enter the oAgora? Why do you go there? Whom will you meet in that marketplace? What kind of verbal exchange can you reasonably expect to happen there? How do you leave and how do you return?

Try conceiving of the experience as entering an arena, a space defined by the activities that transpire there rather than by geography or other physical attributes. It is a space for recurrent rather than repetitive activities, and you can get there only by following oPathways – which means by co-creating your own route and your own destination. Not surprisingly, it is a space that closely resembles the Arena of the web but differs markedly from the Arena of the text. In other words, the Pathways Project homology holds for arenas as well.

Access

Subject to rules imposed by the oAgora group in question, access to the oArena is open to all who wish and are qualified to take part. Some oral traditions do discriminate by ethnicity, age, or gender, but far the greater number involve open-ended, diverse audiences as participating, present partners. In effect, participating means getting online with OT.

Fluency in the specialized language

Successfully negotiating the oArena, and successfully navigating oPathways, requires reasonable fluency in the special language of the oAgora. Whether performer(s) or audience, you must control both the structure and the idiomatic content of that powerful language, and you must recognize the emergent, right-now nature of the communication. If not, you’ll fall prey to agoraphobia and culture shock, and all attempts at arena-based communication, no matter how earnest or intense, will fail.

Partnership

Open access and fluency are important because OTs are responsible for all kinds of crucial cultural work. Far more than entertainment or vaguely defined instruction, they serve as vehicles for history, trade, social criticism, medicine, philosophy, maintenance of personal and group identity, and a vast array of recurring social activities, to name a few important areas. Different cultures handle partnership differently, but they have one aspect in common: in each and every case there is built-in provision for continuity, for transmission of knowledge, art, and ideas to others. OTs are real-time partnerships that prosper by remaining forever under construction by the people who make and remake them.

Becoming part of the event

Once you’ve gained access to the oArena, put your fluency to work, and established an ongoing partnership, you’re ready to enjoy the event. For the Basque community of poets and audiences participating in the improvisational competition called bertsolaritza, this means living inside the matrix of rules and practices that govern the verbal transaction of contest poetry in that oral tradition. To take delight in the improvisers’ clever solutions to the problems posed by topics and competitors, to feel the emotion of nationalistic scenarios playing out as brief narratives, to sing those last few lines of a never-before-composed poem ensemble; these are some of the core experiences awaiting you in this oArena.

Exiting and returning

If you exit the oArena and stop engaging with an oral performance, the experience that you exited won’t be waiting for you on your return. Why not? – simply because there is no freestanding “it” to return to, no object or item to reclaim. Those other oSurfers you left behind, who have continued their co-creation of the event along with the performer(s), will have kept the connection alive, but reality will have morphed in the meantime. And they weren’t having precisely the same experience anyway. For all of these reasons, “it” won’t hold still, despite the ideologically based claims we unthinkingly cling to. Exiting means that your shared, ongoing experience is over.

But all is not lost. The oAgora will offer another performance of the same story, another chance to hear your group’s history, another opportunity to learn a medical procedure or assist in a familiar ritual. At that juncture you can re-enter the living network of options that you navigate, essentially the “same” oArena and the “same” dedicated language – though we must be careful not to impose a brick-and-mortar definition of what “same” means. Every choice you’re offered and every choice you make helps to determine your always-evolving experience. Expressive power in this medium derives from rule-governed flexibility.

The oArena is nothing if not a platform for co-creativity.

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