ARTS1090: from Egyptian pyramids to the Internet – the road of public writing. March 27, 2009

Filed under: arts1090,T15A — Winnie Ho @ 1:26 pm
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Hartley, J. (2004). “The Frequencies of Public Writing: Tomb, Tome and Time as Technologies of the Public” In Jenkins, H. and Thorburn, D. (Eds) Democracy and New Media. MIT Press, USA, pp 247-269.


Immediately after reading the title of this chapter, Hartley brings me questions: How on earth can a ‘tomb’ be related to media, public writing or ‘technologies of the public’? And what is a ‘tome’? I tried solving the second mystery first by consulting my Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary that I’ve been using since Year 7:

tome noun (formal) a large heavy book, especially one dealing with a serious topic


So now the picture becomes clearer. Hartley does not merely play with the three words ‘tomb’, ‘tome’ and ‘time’, but through this chapter, explains frequency as a key role in public writing, how the time-space axis is evolving from physical to virtual communication, the changes of technologies to increase communication speed and frequency, as well as how democracy responses to technological changes.


‘Tomb’ refers to the classical carvings, paintings or monuments that seem to have a frequency of a century, millennium or even eternity. It is completely out of the blue to me in regarding such architecture or historical symbols to be a form of public writing, in spite the fact that they do convey messages to the public. The example of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs carved on temples and pyramids really caught my eye as I am fascinated by ancient Egyptian history. They took the individualistic element out of communication and were (and still are) presented as imperial of ancient Egypt, communicating their history, religion and culture to the contemporary public.


Hartler divides the frequencies of public writing into three main types: high frequency including instantaneous, hourly, daily and weekly; mid-frequency including monthly, quarterly and annual; and low frequency including of decade, century, millennium and eternity. The  phenomenon of public writing nowadays is going more into the direction of highest high frequency for hard news, lowest high frequency or higher mid-frequency for soft news, gossip or lifestyle-related writing, while academic/scholarly writing and canonical literature remains to be mid to low frequency. People in the past simply would not have imagined that news would be updated by minute or second before the invention of radios and the Internet. Not quite as related to public writing but rather a form of semi-private writing, Facebook status updates or Twitter are solid examples of instantaneous communication within our personal networks.


With the increase in speed/frequency and technologies of public writing, information and news are overflown everywhere, archived virtually forever and can be dug up conveniently. Will we still remember big news or important events of our time as vividly five or ten years from now? Or will we move to care more about ‘news’ of private networks, such as Facebook friends’ relationship statuses or changes in online groups/forums that we associate with, then become uninterested in world/national affairs? The world seems to be more uncertain to the future of media than it was ever before.


Winnie Ho (z3292568)



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