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Cyberdiscursivity is a theory of computer-mediated communication (CMC) that extends Walter J. Ong's concept of orality, literacy and secondary orality to hypertexts. The prefix "cyber" suggests that CMC is computer-based or "virtual", which means unrelated to print. "Discursivity" offers a double meaning: that of "discourse" as in a type of communication, and that of "discursive" meaning random (see "dynamic," "emergent," and "idiosyncratic" below).

A User of a CMC system experiences cyberdiscursivity when experience with reading printed material does not prepare the user for the differences encountered in a hypertext environment, such as failed sites, denied access, or confusing text (ex. text that looks like a link but is not one, called an Escher Effect). The instant changeability (virtuality) of CMC challenges the literate mindset by being dynamic (the source immediately displays new, usually disparate, material), emergent (the structure develops as the pages are accessed), and idiosyncratic (the user determines some of the organization). These elements mimic the reading process to a point, but the process of hypertext violates the expected outcome. The hypertext looks like a print text but does not "act" like one. These challenges create the epistemological state of cyberdiscursivity.

Epistemological approaches[edit]

This table abstracts the basic epistemological differences between orality, literacy, and cyberdiscursivity. It also exhibits the progression of one to the next.

Orality Literacy Cyberdiscursivity
Embodied Disembodied Virtual
Concrete Abstract Dynamic
Aggregative Hierarchical Emergent
Communal  Individual Idiosyncratic

Thus, hypertexts are cyberdiscursive for the following reasons.

  • Cyberdiscursivity is virtual, characterized by remotely centered interactivity (i.e. sources(s) the user does not control) and instantaneousness.
  • Cyberdiscursivity is dynamic because of CMC's continuous, productive nature created by virtuality and user choice.
  • Cyberdiscursivity is emergent, pieced together by a user who does not recognize a structure until it develops before her through a random choice of fragments which seldom remain cohesive and may be impossible to trace.
  • Cyberdiscursivity is idiosyncratic; user choice transforms the textual experience into a game that does not conform to rules basic to print texts.

Cyberdiscursivity, then, involves the most basic thought processes and trained expectations. As a result, the theory crosses disciplines, relating to most social sciences, textual theories, education, CMC theories (such as digitality and computer-supported collaboration), and to the concepts of Future Shock and Culture shock.


Martin M. Jacobsen, Ph.D. Transformations of Literacy in Computer-Mediated Communication: Orality, Literacy, Cyberdiscursivity The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.

Other references[edit]