Tyranny of the Eye? The Resurgence of the Proto-Alphabetic Sensibility in Contemporary Electronic Modes of Media (PC/Mobile Telephony); and its Significance for the Status of Knowledge

Tyranny of the Eye? The Resurgence of the Proto-Alphabetic Sensibility in Contemporary Electronic Modes of Media (PC/Mobile Telephony); and its Significance for the Status of Knowledge

Stephen Sheard (Bradford University, UK)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch009
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In this chapter the author offers an argument towards the resurgence of a proto-alphabetic imagination in electronic and mobile communications. It is suggested that contemporary trends in mobile telephony which encapsulate the earlier advances in PC development are shifting electronic media – not towards a mythic culture of the aural (McLuhan) but towards an admixture of the aural and visual, aslant the controlling trope of the alphabetical. It is argued that this separation of technologies resembles the predecessors of writing technologies of a “proto”-alphabetic nature. This infuses the literature of management with a metaphysical animism, which is redolent of the faded animism, which marked the initial confluence of the pre-alphabetical sensibilities of Eye and Voice in the pre-alphabetic emergence of mankind. This is suggested as a fresh Symbolic form towards which mankind is advancing. The confluence of ideological tensions preceding these developments is traced; including debates as to conflicts of Word and Sacred (Ricoeur); or Postmodern aversion towards contemporary ocular dominance. This debate leads towards an evaluation of the role and significance of kinds of knowledge which underpin our knowledge society and the knowledge which we take to constitute “knowledge management”.
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In this chapter I examine a range of theories related to the adjustment of technologies and their effects on sensibilities – both ancient and new. The chapter therefore has a historiographic aspect. I especially look at the confluence of mobile telephony and the Internet. I consider the emergence of an alphabetical culture and the deviation from that suggested by both cyberspace and the new technological forms – specifically mobile telephony and the PC. I examine the role of confluences that are pre-alphabetic in nature and how they lead towards a proto-alphabetical sensibility (as I define it), which (I argue) is able to recrudesce in contemporary forms of media (especially cyberspace and internet related prosthetic devices related to mobile telephony)

My aim is to examine the inter-relationship of sensibilities which show a bias towards aural or visual emphasis, and aspects of technology especially that are established by the use of the internet. This leads to a further evaluation of contemporary arguments related to the role of knowledge (alphabetic) primarily and the elements of visual and oral which are composed thereby. I address features of argument which dispose themselves towards particular views towards the pre-alphabetic and its revival (McLuhan and Shlain); theorists who argue for an element of vitality in what I define as proto-alphabetical animism (Davis and Jaynes); I also obtain an evaluation of the postmodern “fix” on the Eye or scopic; evaluating this critically relative to a historiographic sense of development of the conflicting traditions of Eye and Voice.

It has been suggested that a bias exists towards the visual as opposed to the aural, in modern sensibility and that the visual bias can be identified with features such as positivism, objectivism, and modern technologies associated with rationalism; that the post-enlightenment legacy was “to decarnalize the eye and foreground the perspectival scopic regime” (Burrell, 1998; following Jay, 1994). I aim to refine this thesis and show a more sophisticated narration of the inter-relationship of visual and aural modes of sensibility. Thereby, relative to organizational theories, this chapter moves to challenge the notion that a complete tyranny of the eye obtains in modern management research and that this underpins positivistic and empirical approaches towards management science. Knowledge management might be seen as an exemplar of management science in that respect, in that it adopts an approach which emphasizes the significance of control over the management of knowledge and the adoption of forms of knowledge which are amenable to storage and manipulation. By inference, my view is that knowledge management itself follows the shifts in sensibility which I describe in this chapter, and that those perceptual shifts underpin our treatment and conception of information which causally must be defined as originating in the mind, and hence a feature of the human psyche.

European Electronic commerce and, specifically commerce related towards the use of mobile telephony (in commercial terms: E and M Commerce) is marked by the confluence of visual and auditory technologies; this has resulted in massive investment into areas of telecommunications as phone company’s shift towards the inclusion of the Internet within the context of their services. Mobile telephony itself seems to present a variety of technological features: email; games; enhanced visual downloads such as colour photographs. These features have become realized to a significant extent with 3rd generation mobile telephony. By 2003, 2 or 2.5 Generation technologies were main sellers (Budden, FT, January 6, 2003). At that point multimedia made a significant inroad into the personal user market of mobile phones (Hunt, FT, May 15, 2003). A striking feature therefore as between the earliest mobile phones and the newer varieties is the increased sophistication of the service; incorporation of features such as the camera; and integration of Internet activity.

Key Terms in this Chapter

E and M Commerce: “Electronic” as distinct from “Mobile” Commerce. Electronic Commerce is a generic term for modes of electronic communication; I use in the specific sense of the Internet. M-Commerce is used to describe recent advances in mobile telephony which may also include internet access but in a miniaturized and hand-held form. Both terms may also be detached from the term “commerce” in the sense that they can become features of everyday life (prosthetic extensions of sensibility) but also linking humanity to the capitalist and consumer societies.

Pre/Proto-Alphabetic Technologies: A pre-alphabetic technology expresses the types of writing technologies which existed prior to the amalgam of visual and oral tendencies within early forms of writing, within the early alphabet. This expressed as the Hebraic alphabet which incorporated the deployment of Phoenician/Canaanite/Grecian confluence of the thought in early-recorded history. The replacement of vowels for Phoenician guttural stops (Thomas, 1992/1995); marks a key-point in this development.

Animism: The alphabet maybe viewed as a form of animism; words on a page speak as one reads. This is viewed as originating in a pre-auditory animism which became expressed in media with distinct aural and visual content (cuneiform and hieroglyphics), and thence fed into the evolution of literacy as represented in the alphabet. Animism is viewed as a vital force contained within language; partly sublimated by the forms of rational description but nevertheless containing the embers of an earlier pre-alphabetical mental seizure of the mind by voices perceived in separateness in nature; now harnessed to the “book”.

Alphabetic sensibilities of Eye and Voice: Expressing the twin poles of human sensibility which modes of pre-alphabetic expression were torn between; now reconciled in language of a Hebraic nature (in terms of origin). The “Eye” expresses pro-visual tendencies, whereas the “Voice” pro-aural tendencies. Within the context of their enclosure within the alphabetical media, these sensibilities are to some extent reconciled and unified but nevertheless pull in opposite directions, in consistency with their ancient roots.

Process Metaphysics: A kind of approach to matter and ontology which emphasizes “flow” rather than permanence and can be traced ultimately back to the contrast between the writings of Heraclitus as opposed to those of Democritus, in early Greek Philosophy. The writings of both Bergson and Whitehead are therefore said to express this emphasis on flow and on the transient status of reality, in the case of Bergson linked to the belief that a further state known as “duree” is overlaid by our rational conceptions and that this represents a truer conception of reality, and hence becomes the basis for his ontology. Certain postmodern theorists follow these beliefs (example: Robert Chia).

The Book: Literacy and the written word; the book ensconces the new alphabetical media in a fixed creation. The book embodies the transmogrified animism which was previously separate to the written media and in the sense that the alphabet unifies or reconciles pre-alphabetic modes of literacy with conflicting visual or oral emphasis, the book represents the culmination of the proto-alphabetical in those “technologies” – representing a shift in sensibility.

Bicamerality: Julian Jaynes coined this phrase to express the view that Ancient man was originally possessed of a dual-mind; expressed in modern parlance by the heritage of both compulsive belief (faith) and, schizophrenia. Schizophrenia in that sense is the certainty of faith without the external and verifiable personal locus of societal reinforcement in one’s convictions. Bicameral society broke down when the brain evolved so as to link the separate halves; thereby freeing humanity from the thrall of “external voices” which had the force of auditory compulsion. This compulsion can be associated also with external location of voices within nature or human edifices such as the statues of gods.

Symbolic Form: Ernst Cassirer used this term to express distinct stages of human evolution represented by different modes of belief. They “mythic” stage was accompanied by a lack of human self-consciousness, as we conceive modern man possesses this. I equate the animistic impulse with this mythic state. I conceive that as man advances from the sensibility of the “book” towards the sensibility of the Internet, the current hegemony of post-mythic symbolic form is affected; infused with a re-awakened animism as the forces inchoate in the alphabetical imprisonment of the “book” sleep less deeply.

Knowledge Management: Knowledge underpinning a knowledge society: expressing itself within management science as a methodology of a positivistic nature with empirical forms of evidence highlighted. Related as a practice to the storage, codification and regulation of knowledge and, closely linked to modes of societal regulation, control and governing meta-ideologies, especially rationality. Alphabetic literacy is viewed as a mode of knowledge management at a more fundamental level, than that ensconced in recent management literature; in that respect “knowledge management” is also viewed as a mode of development in human sensibility as well as an ideology.

Word and Sacred: Envisaged as a conflict between conflicting media; the “Word” associated with monotheism and the “book” (alphabetic literacy); the “Sacred” envisaged as pro-visual traditions of worship including that of early mother worship and forms of pagan belief (pro-feminine in nature). Finds expression in the theories of the French theorist – Ricoeur.

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