McLuhan suggested we pay a price for literacy. There’s a difference between illiteracy and non-literacy. An illiterate person can neither read nor write written texts in his native language, while a non-literate person’s language has no written text, no alphabet.
It’s moving from non-literacy to literacy where a price is paid: “The visual makes for the explicit,” McLuhan said, “the uniform, and the sequential in painting, in poetry, in logic, history. The non-literate modes are implicit, simultaneous, and discontinuous, whether in the primitive past or the electronic present, which Joyce called ‘eins within a space'” (GG, 73).
Thus the “World Wide Web” may be promoting a kind of non-literacy, where the mosaic form of presentation dominates the chronological, the linear, the literate, where the literate means a fixed point of view: “This visualizing of chronological sequences is unknown to oral societies, as it is now irrelevant in the electric age of information movement” (GG, 72).
Yet, McLuhan reminds us that “only a fraction of the history of literacy has been typographic” (GG, 93).
So, what’s the price? For one thing, McLuhan said, “the divorce of poetry and music was first reflected by the printed page” (GG, 240).
And all the effort we’ve put into learning to read left to right, up to down, front to back – when presented with a mosaic, we don’t know where to begin reading. We may not know how to read mosaic writing. The Internet is a mosaic. And as we learn to read on the Internet, we may be losing our preference for, and the skills required to read, sequential writing.
Some excellent examples of Mosaic Writing include:
“Silence” and “A Year from Monday,” by John Cage
“Finnegans Wake,” by James Joyce
“Love’s Body,” by Norman O. Brown
“The Guttenberg Galaxy,” by Marshall McLuhan