Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
The Rev. Walter Jackson Ong, a Jesuit scholar of language and its evolution as a means of communication, died on Aug. 12 in St. Louis. He was 90.
Father Ong, who taught and wrote at St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution, was the author most notably of "Orality and Literacy." First published in 1982, it was most recently reissued as "Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word 2000" (Routledge, second edition).
A psychologist and onetime student of Marshall McLuhan, he focused, as McLuhan did, on the history of the word. But where McLuhan studied the historical changes from the written to the printed word and from there to the present-day electronic "global village," Father Ong took what has been described as a more primitivist approach.
He studied the appearance of speech in the development of mankind, or orality as a means of communication. And he analyzed the emergence of a secondary orality in the form of computer languages, which, he wrote, "do not grow out of the unconscious but directly out of consciousness.