• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

What does it mean to enter the tAgora? 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 repetitive rather than recurrent activities, and you can’t get there by following pathways – since the tAgora is pathwayless. Although you will interpret the journey individually, you will follow the unique route and reach the unique destination prescribed by the artifact that serves as your guide and predetermined source. Not surprisingly, it is a space that differs markedly from the Arena of oral tradition and the Arena of the web. In other words, the Pathways Project homology holds for arenas as well.

Access

Access to the tArena is limited and selective. Eligibility depends on the availability of textual objects and the affordability of using them. Many prospective users will not qualify simply because they cannot lay hands on the requisite materials or because those materials are out of reach financially or because distribution channels are closed to them. Discrimination can inhibit or prevent access on any number of grounds, and in many cases there’s unfortunately no way for a certain segment of the population to participate.

Language fixed in amber

Although specialized languages do exist in the tArena (for example, official languages such as those employed for law codes), the structure and idiomatic content of most communication is less densely coded than is typical of communication in the oAgora and eAgora. Moreover, tAgora languages support a non-emergent, asynchronous kind of exchange that is accomplished by transferring knowledge, art, and ideas to the cognitive prosthesis of texts. Not recognizing the freestanding, unenmeshed quality of this kind of communication will lead to agoraphobia and culture shock, and all attempts at outside-the-arena communication, no matter how earnest or intense, will fail.

Proprietorship and consumership

The tArena restricts access according to a proprietor-consumer relationship that governs the legalized use of things rather than provides gateways to systems. Although this arena is responsible for hosting verbal traffic of all sorts, disparities in access lead inevitably to imbalances stemming from eligibility requirements. Can you afford a book or a subscription? Can the item be bought with your currency or reach you through presently available distribution channels? Brick-and-mortar texts may seem to insure continuity and permanence, but as disembodied containers they are subject to loss, wear, and other kinds of failure. TT is an asynchronous medium that supports only secondhand partnerships and prospers by resisting change and affirming the illusions of object and stasis.

Standing aloof from the event

Once you’ve gained access to the tArena, either by buying or by selling under the rules of ownership, the textual object is ready for use. For a reader of physical books, this means opening to page 1 and following the well-blazed trail (the only trail through the text). For the reader of eBooks, which amount to static eFiles, this means turning on your Kindle, Nook, or iPad, downloading a virtual object, and proceeding without detours along the same kind of one-way, never-branching trail. The reading experience happens as the text-user reacts to a fixed, invariable item, and for that reason seems both highly economical and highly repeatable. Uniformity and stability in the item – which is created in advance of rather than during its use – encourages the impression of uniformity and stability in experience. Or at least that’s how we conventionally understand the transmission of knowledge, art, and ideas in the tAgora.

Exiting and returning

If you exit the tArena and stop engaging with a text, have no fear: it will be waiting for you on your return. Why? – simply because there is a finite, freestanding “it” to return to, an object or item to reclaim. Maybe you signaled where you left off by placing a physical or virtual bookmark between pages, or paused or stopped the mp3 music file or the DVD film (aren’t those “continue from last session” options handy?). Meanwhile, you go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, or resume your reading or listening or watching tomorrow night after work. “It” will in fact hold still, subject of course to technological problems of various sorts. “It” won’t have morphed in the meantime. Exiting does not mean that your tArena experience is over. You most certainly can go home again.

All this is possible because you are not navigating through a system or network, but trekking through a text. And according to the operative ideology you can stop and start the process as you wish, without disturbing or foreshortening or distorting the experience. Expressive power in this medium derives from inflexibility.

The tArena is nothing if not a platform for scripted communication on your own terms.