The opening keynote at Defrag will be given by Alex Wright. I’ve been emailing back and forth with Alex a bit about the topic, title, etc — and thought I’d share ;-)

The Deep History of Oral Culture and Social Networks

As the Internet continues to evolve into a global real-time conversation, we are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of “oral” culture online.  Untold millions of people are starting to use the written word in ways that bear less and less resemblance to traditional literate modes of expression, and sound more and more like “talking.”  This new oral culture is about more than just people mimicking speech online, however.  We are starting to see the emergence of subtler – and far more interesting – patterns of interaction rooted in ancient pre-literate modes of cultural engagement.  To understand what’s really happening, we need to broaden our gaze beyond the present moment and consider the deep history of human information consumption.

In the earliest tribal communities, people developed sophisticated taxonomies of the natural world that allowed them to preserve complex bodies of knowledge through the spoken word.  During the Ice Age, people started coalescing into larger groups, using decorative objects to forge social ties through increasingly dispersed social networks; in ancient Sumeria, the new breed of urban settlers started broadening their circles of trust with the technology of writing; and in medieval Europe, the continent’s descent into illiteracy and the subsequent renewal of oral culture set the stage for the profound social conflicts that would emerge with the Gutenberg revolution.

Today, we may be witnessing a similar epochal transition taking place, as we struggle to come to grips with the renewed power of ancient cultural impulses that have been hiding in plain sight for generations.


Pretty interesting, huh? You should probably join us. ;-)