Friday, 30 May 2008

I hope you know what you're doing A few years ago I was in Brasilia and gave a seminar (about community cohesion as I recall) at the Education Ministry. Afterwards I was invited to meet a senior official who proudly told me about a new adult literacy campaign they were about to launch, bringing the alphabet and all its benefits to indian people across Amazonia. I was an honoured guest in the country of Freire, but I didn't feel I should desist from saying hesitantly, I hope you know what you're doing. I made direct reference to Walter Ong's remarkable Orality and literacy which explains how, once you bring literacy to an oral culture, that's it, you can't restore orality, not ever. Ong certainly convinced me, not that I needed convincing, that the most powerful technology humans have ever invented remains the alphabet, but we may not be very good at understanding quite how powerful it is. There's a map and list here of the indigenous languages of Brasil. If you scroll down you can see a selection with the word 'extinct' next to them. Yup, this is available globally using the written english language via the internet. I don't know what happened subsequently to the literacy campaign, but I do appreciate that the reasons for releasing these pics yesterday, taken by Funai, the Brasil National Indian Foundation, of an uncontacted tribe near the border with Peru, may be quite different. Hopefully they will help to spread the message that there is a moral responsibility to leave people alone. (I suppose I could try and tease out some ironies to do with the fact that I had been invited to Brasilia partly to talk about cohesion, and partly to talk about information technologies and inclusion...) And just to put this in even broader context, there's the History Channel's Life after people documentary, which somehow left me celebrating the prospect of the decline of our cultures.

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