netkingcol

thinking outside the tank

Writing is obsolescent

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I say obsolescent rather than obsolete because I wrote this and you are reading it.

The invention of writing and the skill of reading were highly significant at the time. The sharing of knowledge through the printed word has undoubtedly advanced civilisation. What I want to say is that other, more natural, forms of communication preceded writing and there’s no reason we couldn’t revert.

Language came first. As a species we evolved the apparatus to make sophisticated sounds and used that apparatus to develop speech. Talking and listening are more natural than writing and reading. At the Althing, the early Icelandic parliament, there was a law-speaker who could and would recite the laws obviating the need to write them down.

Cave painting and the decorative arts preceded reading. It is unnatural to use our superb vision to follow the linear presentation of textual information, and more valuable to look at the proverbial thousand-word-picture.

There was nothing better around at the time. What I propose is that technology does provide us with a way to return to those more natural, more human, ways to communicate and already they are having an impact.  Radio, the audio-book, the podcast, and the music download are just a few examples of replacing written ideas with sound.

I envisage a future in which all information is spoken or conveyed pictorially. Children will not need to learn any alphabet nor the tortuous illogicalities of their native grammar. Notice how even illiterate people can get by reasonably well in a text-dominated society because they learned to speak. 

I will allow that there are some special cases in which viewing symbols offers a very concise way of expressing something. Mathematics and chemistry are two fields where a few squiggles can convey information more powerfully than the spoken word.

Also, there is clearly an urge to use text. Why else would someone have invented the extremely crude Teletext to ride on the back of the widescreen, full-colour, television signal? And why, oh why, do people want to use their mobile phones for txtng when they could have a perfectly good conversation using their voices and ears? (I think I know the answer to that – which is that an SMS conversation is disconnected and you can reply at leisure or while doing something else.) I believe that urge would soon subside if we could hear J.K.Rowling speaking Harry Potter or Michael Ondaatje speaking The English Patient – though of course Count Laszlo de Almásy would need to have Herodotus’ Histories on an mp3 player.

Copyright © C.Hazlehurst 2009

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Written by netkingcol

December 31, 2008 at 2:35 pm

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