Prior to 1920, virtually all public discourse was debated with printed material. Without electronic media, print had no competition. Even lecturers spoke as though they were reading with long flowing sentences, usually because they had written and often memorized them.
Jonathan Edwards, the most brilliant writer and thinker in early America lectured and preached widely before founding Princeton University. He read all his speeches and sermons. His writings are prized evidence of the literate culture which bred him.
There is more print available today than ever before. But it has enormous competition from other media. Until about 1920, print and literary lectures were once the channel and measure of all public discourse. Alex de Tocqueville wrote that “Americans speak to you as though they were addressing a meeting, and if they warm to their discussion, they will say Gentlemen to the person with whom they are speaking as though addressing a crowd.”
In 1854 in Peoria, Illinois, Douglas delivered a three-hour address, to which Lincoln by agreement was to respond. When his turn came, he stated that he would need at least as much time as Douglas had, and proposed that everyone go home, have dinner, and return for four more hours of lecture on political issues. They came back to hear it all. Lincoln and Douglas were not presidential candidates at that time.
Early American newspapers had no pictures because of the scarcity of paper and the cost of artists to create block-cut pictures. Advertisements were written with text only using long literary sentences. With the invention of photographs, ads began to include pictures, then slogans. With the advent of radio and TV, economy of time introduced slogans, clipped sentences, and telegraph styles in advertising and subsequently into most popular literature and political debate.
People who cannot read rely on radio and TV to provide pictures and icons as a new and radically different means of obtaining information.
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