|Troll by Nicola Robinson, 2014, seen as a personification of change in midlife,|
Not a lot of obviously objectionable material in today's David Brooks ("When Trolls and Crybullies Rule the Earth"), bringing together the ghost of a pretty interesting idea on the cultural consequences of the shift from privately consumed print media to group-absorbed online media with the observation that there are a lot of unnecessarily mean guys on the Internet, which is true.
The interesting idea is from a theologian called L.M. Sacasas writing at an online journal called The New Atlantis riffing off a famous idea from the late Walter Ong, S.J., in his 1982 book Orality and Literacy, about the Renaissance-era universalizing shift from oral to print culture:
In oral cultures, communication happens almost exclusively in the presence of others. The speaker’s audience is always before the speaker; indeed, it is literally an audience, a gathering of those near enough to hear. This physical presence means, as Ong noted, that oral cultures were more agonistic than literate cultures. Mutual understanding and the search for knowledge are labors of face-to-face interaction, and labors that may arouse the passions. “By keeping knowledge embedded in the human lifeworld, orality situates knowledge within a context of struggle.”
Writing, on the other hand, “fosters abstractions that disengage knowledge from the arena where human beings struggle with one another.” Writing also abstracts the speaker from the audience, which therefore ceases to be literally an audience. The two are no longer present before one another. Communication tends to lose the heat of the moment.The Internet, Sacasas suggests, restores something like the ancient presentness to communication:
When we type out our statuses, link to articles, post memes or images, we do so as if we were members of literate but pre-digital societies, for we are not present before all those who will encounter our messages. Yet, given the immediacy with which the messages arrive, we are in an important way now much closer to one another. We might say that we have an “audience” whose immediate presence is constituted in time rather than space.Brooks, of course, begins by pretending to have gotten the Ong material out of his own reading, in paragraphs 1-3—