From Alphabetical to Digital Literacy? Some Reflections on Orality, Writing, Cultural Techniques, and Digitality

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Sybille Krämer

March 3, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

6206C Phelps
Phelps Hall, UC Santa Barbara

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Sybille Krämer

Are we witnessing the transition from alphabetic to digital literacy? But what does “literacy” mean? Going back to the discovery of the difference between orality and literacy in the 1960s and 1970s, we find a real discovery – the difference between oral and written language – combined with a problematic narrative: The supremacy of literal to oral cultures. To avoid this ideology we should consider orality and literacy as the two ends of a continuum. Whatever historically exists is in between. With this in mind, we turn to the question about the transition from alphabetic to digital literacy and problematize its clear demarcation between the alphanumeric and the digital. But what does “digital” mean? It is our hypothesis that there is an “embryonic digitality” already within alphabetical literacy. Digitality can be detached from computer technology. But electronic networking and Big Data are at the same time producing phenomena that are unprecedentedly new: The idea of the world interpreted as readable text changes into the “machine operability of the data universe.” Is contemporary digitality thus the “new alphabet”?

Currently Max Kade Visiting Professor for Winter 2022 in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at UC Santa Barbara, Sybille Krämer was Full Professor for Philosophy at the Free University in Berlin. Since her retirement, she has been a guest professor at the Institute for Cultures and Aesthetics of Digital Media, Leuphana University Lüneburg. Previously, she has been a member of the German Scientific Council (2000-2006), of the European Research Council (2007-2014)), member of the “Senat” of the German Research Foundation (2009-2015), and Permanent Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin/ Institute for Advanced Study (2005-2008). She has held several International Visiting Professorships and Fellowships and has a 2016 Honorary Doctorate from Linköping University/Sweden. Her research areas include: Mathematics and philosophy in 17th century; Social Epistemology; Philosophy of Language and Writing; Performative Studies, Media and Cultural Techniques; Digitality and History of Computation; Testimony and Witnessing. Her publications in English include: Media, Messenger, Transmission. An Approach to Media Philosophy, Amsterdam: University Press 2015. With Ch. Ljungberg (eds): Thinking with Diagrams – The Semiotic Basis of Human Cognition, Boston/ Berlin 2016. With Sigrid Weigel: Testimony/Bearing Witness. Epistemology, Ethics, History, Culture, London 2017. See also:

Cosponsors include the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, Transcriptions, Graduate Center for Literary Research (GCLR), and Comparative Literature Program. Sybille Krämer’s Max Kade Visiting Professorship in Winter 2022 has been generously supported by the Max Kade Foundation and Humanities and Fine Arts at UC Santa Barbara.

This is an in person event. Virtual participation via Zoom is also possible:


March 3, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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6206C Phelps
Phelps Hall, UC Santa Barbara + Google Map

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