The Common Place MOO: Orality and Literacy in Virtual Reality

from Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 3 / July 1, 1994 / Page 7

The Common Place MOO: Orality and Literacy in Virtual Reality
by Don Langham (

In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates deliver what may be the earliest protest in Western history against the dehumanizing effects of "modern" technology. With the benefit of our literate perspective, it is easy to say that with his condemnation of writing, Plato establishes Socrates as the earliest Luddite. Yet, as modern critics acknowledge, writing is not without its dehumanizing qualities insofar as it encourages the isolation of the individual from community. Today, there is enthusiasm for computer-mediated communication's potential for ameliorating the divisions and isolation of print. For some rhetorical theorists, computer media promise to revitalize rhetoric by reintroducing the forgotten canons of classical rhetoric, memory and delivery. Among composition theorists, computer-mediated communication promises to move the writer out of the isolation of print into a hyptertextual network of readers and writers (Barker and Kemp, 1990). Whether or not CMC will have the democratizing, liberating effects its enthusiasts believe remains to be seen. But from the outset there is reason to believe that CMC may alter the nature of human interaction as fundamentally as writing and print have, perhaps producing a new way of "being" in the world.

In this article, I relate Socrates's critique of writing in the Phaedrus to a relatively new form of CMC known variously as MUD, MOO, and MUSH, which I will refer to as MOO. MOO environments provide an interesting perspective on how communication and transportation media affect human interaction, on how electronic communication can produce a sense of co-presence and interaction quite unlike that associated with other secondary orality media such as the telephone. Indeed, I believe that these virtual realities stand as an answer to Socrates's critique of writing, and to modern condemnations of electronic media.

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