How the Secondary Orality of the Electronic Age
Can Awaken Us to the Primary Orality of Antiquity
What Hypertext Can Teach Us About the Bible
Reflections on the Ethical and Political Issues
of the Electronic Frontier

Robert M. Fowler
Baldwin-Wallace College
Berea, Ohio 44017



In sketching the history of the "technologies of the word," Walter Ong hints at remarkable parallels between primary and secondary oral cultures. Primary oral cultures operate with the spoken word only, because (for them, at least) writing does not (yet) exist. Secondary oral cultures are literate cultures, such as our own, that have been rendered significantly oral/aural once again by the appearance of dominant new electronic communication media, such as television, telephone, video and audio recording, to say nothing of the ubiquitous computer. As different as ancient, primary oral cultures and postmodern, secondary oral cultures are, there are also some remarkable similarities that are only now emerging into view. In this paper I shall take hypertext/hypermedia as paradigmatic of the new electronic information technologies, and explore how coming to grips with hypertext/hypermedia might, paradoxically, help us to understand better ancient oral and manuscript cultures, generally, and the Bible, in particular. I shall also point out some of the most striking ethical and political issues arising out of the electronic revolution.


1. Introduction
2. Hypertext
3. From Orality to Literacy to Hypertext: Back to the Future?
4. Ethical and Political Issues on the Electronic Frontier
5. Inconclusion
6. Notes
7. Bibliography


An older and shorter version of this paper was published in the electronic journal Interpersonal Computing and Technology: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century 2,3 (July 1994): 12-46.

I am grateful to Baldwin-Wallace College for Gigax and Gund Grants in the 1993-1994 year, which gave me the time and the resources to write this paper. The grants also allowed me to work with a student research assistant, Holly White, who has been a valued collaborator. I am also grateful to Christi Klein, another research assistant, who translated this essay into HTML.