In this article, Ong discusses the impact of print and electronic technology on human consciousness.  Ong begins by mentioning the current (1978) fascination with technology by cultures across the world and then quickly defines technology itself.  Technology is more than mere tool-making; it must be a reflective skill too.  Ong defines technology as such:  "the body of knowledge available to a culture for making use of materials to serve human life and comfort."  At first glance, technology may be seen as something that exists outside of us, but it is closer to human consciousness than we think.  For Ong, it is within consciousness that technology has its greatest effects.

Ong next explains the relationship between one's interior (consciousness) and one's exterior (world) and how the two influence each other.  It takes reflective thought to change the world through technology and, at the same time, technology influences consciousness.  Ong reasons that a highly technologized culture will behave more on a conscious level because it has more control over its world, whereas a culture with less technology has less control over its environment and acts less consciously.

Specifically, Ong deals with the technologies of writing, print, and electronics and how these technologies have changed the way the mind works and deals with knowledge.  To explain this, Ong examines consciousness before writing and how the non-literate individual contrasted to how a literate individual would recall information.  In simplest terms, before writing the oral culture worked on an auditory plane, and after writing, the literate culture worked on a visual plane.  This contrast is followed by a brief discussion of how the electronic technologies allow human beings to deal with knowledge of even greater complexity on a conscious level.

Next, Ong turns to a discussion of what technology can do for us.  First, Ong claims that technology has the ability to dehumanize the individual, but he also claims that even non-technological cultures have that ability.  Ong puts more emphasis on the positive influences of technology, mainly the potential for human beings to achieve greater freedom and to make more informed decisions.  This is due to the fact that technology has made information more readily available.

Ong's final thoughts relate technology to theology.  The Bible is the result of technology, most notably print.  Theology itself has been influenced by technology.  However, when relating technology to theology, Ong puts more emphasis on and makes a strong plea for us to be ethical with our technologies.

Mark E. Johnson
Communication
University of Dayton
 

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