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Information Overload

As the role of information grows beyond anyone’s reckoning, it grows to be too much. “TMI,” people now say. We have information fatigue, anxiety, and glut. We have met the Devil of Information Overload and his impish underlings, the computer virus, the busy signal, the dead link, and the PowerPoint presentation.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Ong declared the electronic age to be a new age of orality—but of “secondary orality,” the spoken word amplified and extended as never before, but always in the context of literacy: voices heard against a background of ubiquitous print. The first age of orality had lasted quite a bit longer. It covered almost the entire lifetime of the species, writing being a late development, general literacy being almost an afterthought. 

Whether Ong would have seen cyberspace as fundamentally oral or literary, he would surely have recognized it as transformative: not just a revitalization of older forms, not just an amplification, but something wholly new.