Oral history and social computing

February 18, 2008

One of the really interesting things when you start to deal with fragmented narrative (of which blogs are a subset) is the realisation that you are returning to an older oral tradition in which stories evolved in their retelling. In the western tradition by allowing Andersen and the Brothers Grim to formalise our stories we froze them at a point in time and terminated their evolution. They are of course strong stories so the remerge all the time in novels and films, but the oral tradition faded.

In part that was because we no longer lived in environments where telling stories was the only form of entertainment and knowledge transfer. I grew up with radio and conversation before the television arrived at the age of 11 (I am not so old, but my parents resisted getting one for years). That increased social isolation and one to many communication. With the growth of the blogosphere we return to many-to-many interactions, and as those interactions increase in a virtual world patterns emerge and stabilise. Our community is no longer the extended family around the camp fire, it is anyone with access to a computer.

Its no surprise that the forms of the oral tradition tend to re-emerge in this space. I am looking forward to returning to South Africa in a few weeks time to run an accreditation programme and do some other work. Africa has never forgotten the oral tradition, and the growth of scalable computing allows a new way of working, which is not constrained by the codification and process strategies of anglo-saxon thinking.

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