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Mapping Media Ecology

Introduction to the Field

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Dennis D. Cali

Until now, the academic foundations of media ecology have been passed down primarily in the form of edited volumes, often by students of Neil Postman, or are limited to a focus on Marshall McLuhan and/or Postman or some other individual important to the field. Those volumes are invaluable in pointing to key ideas in the field; they provide an important and informed account of the fundamentals of media ecology as set forth at the field’s inception. Yet there is more to the story.

Offering an accessible introduction, and written from the perspective of a «second generation» scholar, this single-authored work provides a unified, systematic framework for the study of media ecology. It identifies the key themes, processes, and figures in media ecology that have coalesced over the last few decades and presents an elegant schema with which to engage future exploration of the role of media in shaping culture and consciousness.

Dennis D. Cali offers a survey of a field as consequential as it is fascinating. Designed to be used primarily in media and communication courses, the book’s goal is to hone insight into the role of media in society and to extend the understanding of the themes, processes, and interactions of media ecology to an ever-broader intellectual community.

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Chapter 5. Walter J. Ong: Voice of Consciousness in Orality-Literacy

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· 5 ·

WALTER J. ONG: VOICE OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN ORALITY-LITERACY

At certain momentous moments in history, forces of nature converge and give rise to twin towers of genius—Plato and Aristotle, Francis and Clare, Hayden, and Mozart. In the field of media ecology, McLuhan and Ong would have to be added to list of dynamic duos. While completing his licentiate in philosophy at St. Louis University as part of his Jesuit formation, Walter J. Ong (November 30, 1912–August 12, 2003) also completed a master’s degree in English under the tutelage of Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan. There, the intellectual bridge builder in Ong could encounter the aphoristic flamethrower in McLuhan. To have been among the two in the hallowed halls of St. Louis University in the late 1930s and early 1940s would have been to witness the germination of great insights to the field and beyond. Although their styles in writing, expression of their Catholic faith, and systems of thought vary vastly and each has produced extraordinary work independently, imagining the conversations they must have had is fascinating. It was McLuhan, in fact, who called Ong’s attention to the work of the sixteenth Century logician, ← 81 | 82 → philosopher, humanist, and educationalist Peter Ramus that resulted in Ong’s celebrated work Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (1958) and the companion publication of Ramus and Talon Inventory (1958). McLuhan’s influence on Ong is apparent...

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