Bringing Oral History to Life

Are we continuing the shift that started with radio and television to becoming a more oral communication-based society? That may be the case as we increase our use of technology to access intellectual content. Take for example the great speeches of the last century. Until recently, they were largely locked in history books. Today, many of them are available in either audio or visual form on the Internet. And improved accessibility is spawning a new pastime – watching and listening to the most influential speeches and presentations of the recent past.

A good source of recorded presentations is TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together top thinkers in its three areas of focus. Today, TED puts the best of its talks and performances on the Internet, for free. So, events that were once open only to the elite who could afford the price of admission are now available to all. I’m a TED fan, and I have plenty of company – all around the world. I’m sure the spirit of Marshall McLuhan is smiling as the TED-o-philes gather around the communal fire.

I also visit CPAC – the Canadian cable channel that focuses on covering politics and political affairs. My favourite CPAC destination is Podium (great choice of name) where recorded speeches and presentations are archived. Would I subscribe to a service that provided transcripts of these events? Maybe, because I’m a self-avowed ‘speech geek’. But I don’t think reading them would be as much fun as watching them is.

Leafing through the Ottawa Citizen this morning, I stumbled on an interview with Stephen Beckta. The urbane Becta made a splash in the New York restaurant scene and then returned to his hometown to open a successful eatery. What was on his iPod the interviewer asked? Well, the type of music you might expect an under-40 year old to listen to – along with famous political speeches. “I have so many political speeches on there. I just love listening to them,” he explained.

Enough evidence to rest my case that technology is allowing us to shift further away from print towards oral communication? Maybe…maybe not. Observation to continue.