My Mobility Shifts Talk


You are a tree.
You are a bird.
You are a fish.
You are a flower.
You are a cloud.
You are a baby.

Every atom that comprises you, each of you, all of us, has at one time been a tree, a bird, a fish, a flower, a cloud, a baby.

Baby we are all related. We are all one.

Any education that does not begin with the interrelatedness of all things ends with the disintegration of all things. And that is the education that is taught in schools today. The dis-integration of all things.


This conference is about the future of learning in the digital age. I suggest to you that to discover our future we must dig deep into our past. That to understand the future of learning in the post-literate age we must examine and understand the history of learning in the pre-literate age.


For most of our history as a species, for a million years and more, we were dialogical beings. Our only language technology was embodied speech, and talking is a two-way street. For 99% of our history as a species, not to behave dialogically, was both asocial and suicidal.

But in the 5,000 years since the dawn of writing we have become monological beings. Our primary language technology has become disembodied text, and text is a one-way street. Texts do not listen. They only talk.

Today, at the dawn of the datazoic era, we are becoming dialogical again. Our emergent language technology is networked, and networks do listen. They do talk back. Instantly. Constantly. Endlessly.

The networked future shares this in common with our oral past: all knowledge, all meaning, all experience, is dialogical.


Yet the present is not dialogical. On the contrary, today we are experiencing the apotheosis of literate culture, the temporarily total triumph of the monological written word. Did you know, for example, that during our very own lifetime, half of humanity’s 6,000 languages will die out? Every last one an ancient oral language. Each extinction taking with it not just a unique vocabulary but unique knowledge, meanings, songs, stories and histories. And that collectively, the vanishing of all these oral languages and cultures and people is extinguishing ways of knowing whose reach extends far beyond the bookish world, an ancient dialogical consciousness we may never regain? As literate citizens we are so complacent – so unresponsive to non-literate existence – that we don’t even notice it happening.

But it is happening. And what this means is that we are living today at the epic conjunction of the three killer apps of human history. We are experiencing the unique and temporary intersection of the three ages of our human being. A conjunction no humans before us have experienced, nor will any ever again. We are in touch with both the last of our oldest oral ancestors and the first children of the distant digital future, even as some of us enjoy the fruits of our profoundly literate present. In other words: our lifetime is a turning point in the evolution of our species.

Yet the hegemony of literate culture extends far beyond even this great extermination of orality. Paper defines every speck of land on this planet, deeded and owned, bought and sold, mapped and inventoried. Paper defines our systems of exchange, with contracts and ledgers and of course money in all its derivative variations. It defines time, which is no longer circadian and seasonal but numerical, mathematical, essentially divisible. Literate time is fragmented. And so are we.

Paper defines our architectures. Notice that you are sitting in rows, like nothing so much as lines on a page, in a space designed for monologues. Whereas in an oral culture, circles rule. People sit in talking circles in all oral cultures, circles in which everyone is equal, everyone can see one another, and everyone is part of a greater whole, of a circular community that can easily and instantly expand to add new arrivals or close ranks when members leave. Oralists sit together in the shape of the human mouth. Here we sit in the shape of the book. But life is not rectangular. Books are.

In dialogical circles you always meet your neighbour. Here in these literate rows, have you met yours?

Go ahead. Meet yours.

What, some of you don’t have neighbours? You mean that here in this literate setting we are so atomized that although we share the same space and moment and interests and experience we remain alone? An oralists observing this would feel the greatest sorrow for our predicament. Or more than sorrow perhaps. Horror. Returning home an elder would describe our behaviour to his or her community with graphic intensity: “And, gulp, some of them did not even have neighbours.”

And so how do we sit to talk together in the digital world?

However we want. Wherever we want. We sit in the shape of a network. At home. In a park. On a bus. Everywhere all at once. The emergent digital future is interconnected. Just like our oral past, in which the essential interrelatedness of all things informs every thought and action. Whereas the monological literate present is disconnected, which is why our world is literally dis-integrating before our very eyes. Though once again, trained as we are to think and act like unfeeling unresponsive books, we remain blind to the scale and scope of the crisis. With great effort we push from our consciousnesses this simple truth:

Our earth is dying and we are killing it.

If we want to save ourselves we must first save the earth and to save the earth we must stop teaching each other that ‘it’ is something other than ‘us’. We must stop teaching literate values that imposes dis-integrative thinking and systems, that imposes blindness and deafness to the earth’s cries and caresses, and that imposes extinctions on cultures, on species, on ecoystems. Our only hope is to teach each other how to connect, how to re-connect with the earth, and with each other.

And fortunately we are in a position to do so. Because our digital future is all about connecting, like our oral past. For our new language technology, the Internet, is again essentially dialogical. But as our hyper-efficient digital culture begins dismantling and overturning less efficient literate culture, we require guidance, for we are entering new territory, not just technologically but socially. And as literate people we do not really know how to behave. We don’t even know we are neighbours, or that its our duty to save the earth. We don’t know enough to save our mother. We don’t even hear her calling to us. And so the most important thing we can do is to connect to our dialogical past so that our remaining elders, whose earth-wisdom is deeply rooted and deeply needed, can guide us towards a sustainable future. One that values relationships over artifacts, experiences over profits, becoming over being.

So that with their participation we may overcome the ecocidal dis-integrative tendencies of monological literate culture.

If we do not reach back, when we reach forward into our future we will grasp only air. And that air will be our dying breath. But while we yet live and breathe, and strive with human passion to create ourselves anew, there is hope. And there is still time. Occupying Wall Street is a start. But we must occupy the earth. Occupy it with love and wisdom, and with bridges between our dialogical future and our dialogical past. So that our children will thank us for saving this beautiful earth, instead of hating us for destroying it.

You are a tree.
You are a bird.
You are a fish.
You are a flower.
You are a cloud.
You are a baby.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑