Are Video Comments “Oral”?

The tech-focused blog TechCrunch has today added the ability for readers to post comments in video format. The obvious take against is that it’s simply more of our narcissistic culture coming through, that not only do we have to sift through the banality of the blogosphere’s chattering class, but now we have to look at them too! On the other hand, we could easily see this as a step towards making the web more personal, more human.

(The fact that one of the video comments from TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington has a dog incessantly barking in the background seems to be a strong argument against this new feature…just sayin’…)

Video commenting does raise interesting questions, though, regarding previous posts I have written, about Walter Ong’s notion of orality and today’s social media. In particular, I wonder if video comments make the blogosphere a more “oral” space? Walter Ong, from a 1996 interview:

Computerized communication can thus suggest the immediate experience of direct sound. I believe that is why computerized verbalization has been assimilated to secondary ‘orality,’ even when it comes not in oral-aural format but through the eye, and thus is not directly oral at all. Here textualized verbal exchange registers psychologically as having the temporal immediacy of oral exchange.

Ong’s “secondary orality” refers to how electronic media can form people into groups, and create communities. The comments section of a blog can be seen, in this light, as something oral, something suggesting the “immediate experience of direct sound,” something that extends us outward rather than inward.

So the question is, does the addition of video to the comments section of a blog add anything to this idea of orality?

After trying it as a reader, I don’t think so. Running through the comments over at TechCrunch, I find viewing the video comments clumsy — you have to break the “flow” of reading, you need to wait for the video to load, you need to deal with uneven sound levels.

And dogs barking.

Part of the experience of participating in a blog’s community is this flow, a rhythm that develops as you read through the comments: you scroll past some, you read through the one’s from people you know, you find key words that catch your eye. Reading through text comments, frankly, is much quicker and “smoother” than clicking on video comments. The fact that it all happens inside your head has everything to do with why reading isn’t as jarring as the videos; yet, at the same time, it seems counterintuitive to “orality” — reading is an interior practice. This paradox is what Ong is getting at in the above quote.

In any case, perhaps it’s just a practice thing, and one day “reading” video comments will seem just as fluid as reading text-based comments.

But, for now, I’m sticking with text.


3 responses

  1. I wrote a (yet unpublished) paper on blog comments through the lens of rhetorical genre studies (applied linguistics), dealing with the way comments refer to other texts, including other comments.

    Using an oral mode may cause, among the problems you aptly mention, difficulties citing. A *very* useful feature of written text is its ability to be copied and pasted, say inside a blockquote. This allows a quick comparison between a comment on a comment, and the original comment. If I were watching video, I would almost certainly *have* to watch the original.

    That’s…about as much fun as a barking dog.

  2. Carlo Scannella | Reply

    That’s a great point. So much of the interaction that happens in the comments section is this back and forth, and text allows us to quickly re-read and refer back to previous ideas.

    That would be especially clumsy with video.

    In that sense, I see video comments possibly *taking away* from the discourse and interaction that happens inside a blog.

  3. Carlo Scannella | Reply

    I need to upload a picture…one of these days… :-)

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