A new era of oratorial splendour and hyper-literacy

We have entered an age, towards the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, of what I refer to as hyper-literacy.

Technology-enabled, we are able to do things at blindingly fast speed that would once have taken hours, if not days, of work to assemble and collate.

This morning I awakened to an email announcing the launch of the new 2020science site, with this celebratory post by Andrew Maynard, announcing Obama’s inauguration as a red-letter day for science and technology.

I turned on the television and with, my usual uncanny luck, was just in time to catch Obama being sworn in as 44th president of the United States. I also logged on to Twitter so I could participate in the reaction of 237 people and media outlets I follow.

It was a singular experience, and one I found quite moving. This was no attempt to capture the event in any sort of a factual way: it was, rather, a real-time response to the words that were being proffered to us by now-President Obama. People tweeted the words and phrases that most resonated with them. Here are the ones that caught my attention:

  • We will restore science to its rightful place.
  • The world has changed, and we must change with it.

And this passage:

  • [H]ard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world…

Within moments of the speech ending, I read Tim Harper’s reaction to Obama’s speech – science as saviour: “Without the technological foundations upon which to base ideas all we have is, well, dot.coms and whatever we just lost in the current crisis.”

The algorithmic analyses of Obama’s speech began. Here’s Lewis Shepherd’s wordle of the speech. And here’s a fascinating comparison of George Washington’s inaugural speech with Obama’s – very apt since Obama quoted at length from GW. Get your minds out of the gutter – the real GW.

Then there’s David Meerman Scott’s thoughtful inclusive language ratio comparison of Obama’s first speech as president with the other GW’s last as 43rd president of the US.

There were ribald comments from @Slate (including some less-than-complimentary cracks about Aretha Franklin’s milliner), some instantaneous assessment of the speech, its delivery, and Obama’s overall performance, and there was a tweet about a Gwynne Dyer editorial from @GeorgiaStraight that I found truly tasteless on the subject of terrorism. I’m not going to link to the editorial because what I found tasteless about it was the timing of the tweet: at a moment when it was so clear that people around the English-speaking world were rejoicing at the fact that “…a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take …” the oath of office as president of the USA.

@raincoaster was the first of my tweeps to post the entire text of the speech. Someone else posted a link to the ‘baby-faced wunderkind’ who’d written it.

The irony for me is that the last time I specifically tuned in to see an event as it was happening was Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981 – got up at 5:30AM to watch it. But watching the inauguration live (even though I consider television before 5PM to be an abomination, sorry Breakfast Television and Canada AM) brought back so many memories of events of my childhood, when catching something on television was an eagerly awaited event and sometimes involved the suspension of the school day or even – gasp – getting to go home early to watch: Neil Armstrong taking his one giant step for mankind, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the 1972 Canadian hockey victory over the Soviets, as they used so quaintly to be called, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the breathless updates on the kidnapping of Patti Hearst and the antics of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

It’s wonderful that we have preserved our sense of event and can share these moments in new ways. But if you feel you need the antidote to Twitter about now, here are some tips from the Conversation Agent blog.

I heard via CBC Radio that some folks got together in a local Vancouver theatre to watch the inauguration live on the big screen. Why, might I ask, was I not invited to that party? Not that I would have gone….

And this just in from @alexismadrigal via @dsearls: a Word Tree of the speech. Fascinating stuff. And need I say, proof that our utterances matter?

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About ruthseeley

Ottawa born, Toronto educated, lived in the Lower Mainland and southern AB for more than a decade. Geographically, I get around a bit (at least within Canada). Passionate about community, democracy, and good books. Fond of the Oxford comma.
This entry was posted in speechwriting, Twitter. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A new era of oratorial splendour and hyper-literacy

  1. coffee says:

    i can honestly say i’m looking forward to the next eight years…

  2. ruthseeley says:

    Yes, me too. You must try Level Ground coffee sometime – I love their Tanzanian Cafe Mbeya: http://www.levelground.com/.

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