Throughout the 20th century, many considered the relationships between our use of language and our behaviors and attitudes.  New languages were invented -- such as Esperanto and Basic English -- in the hopes that they would become "universal" and, as a result, bring about a more harmonious world.  Others, such as Alfred Korzybski with his General Semantics, proposed that by changing our use of language, we could become "sane" -- individually and collectively.  Still others, including the celebrated Noam Chomsky, searched (in vain) for a Universal Grammar, with which a far more active intervention into "controlling" human behaviors might be mounted.  Some even devised schemes for "self-brainwashing," such as the celebrated Neuro-Linquistic Programming.

However, with the crucial exception of Marshall McLuhan and his colleagues at University of Toronto, these efforts were uniformly ignorant about the effects of technological environments -- typically presuming that "language" is simply a matter of written/spoken symbols.  At the Center, we believe that this entire field of inquiry needs to be fundamentally re-examined in the light of digital technology and its effects on humanity.

Walter Ong, at one time a graduate student of McLuhan's, proposed that electronic media produced a state of "secondary orality" in those habituated to it use -- effectively recalling the mental state of humanity before the invention of writing/literacy (circa 500BC) in what some have called the Axial Age.  We are convinced that digital technology does something different and suspect that this might be understood as "secondary literacy" -- recalling the sensibility which developed in the "middle ages" as learning shifted from oral to become literate under manuscript conditions.

These considerations open a vast array of research opportunities with fundamental consequences.  The Center intends to vigorously explore these areas of research.


Mark Stahlman

The Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL) is a not-for-profit strategic research group dedicated to understanding the effects of digital technologies on civilizations -- both East and West.

-Mark Stahlman