2008-05-04

On the Power of the Written Word

Consider someone who has never seen words on paper in any form. The only ways they know to transfer ideas between people is by talking. The only way to recall things is to remember them yourself or to ask someone who does know. How magical would it seem to this person then if they were told that lines on a page could represent ideas and concepts? Think for a moment about just how strange it is that these symbols being displayed in front of your eyes can represent things in the real world.

The whole concept of me being able to record information for later retrieval on paper is astounding. I can learn new informations by interpreting the correct sequence of lines and squiggles. The fact that this information is external of my mind is also pretty astounding. You don't have to memorize everything, you can write it down for later.
Books are one of the most evolved forms of writing. I had an interesting discussion on how writing and books are one of the most efficient and long lasting forms of storing information. The history of books starts with cuneiform and clay tablets. It evolves into scrolls, then codices, the printing press and finally bound books. Many times books have survived when other mediums have perished.
This leads to an interesting story I once read. It takes place in the future and their history includes not one, but two dark ages. The first is the ages before the middle ages. The second occurs right around now, when everything starts to get digitized. Most information about that time period is lost because things are put into new formats, and then the method for retrieving the data is lost... You can see it sort of happening now. Consider how much information is trapped on 5 1/4 " floppies. Who now has a drive to retrieve the information? I've been tempted to construct a computer that has a many ports and drives to read all these old mediums. But the story serves to illustrate the danger of digitizing everything without ensuring that we can always retrieve those things.
Books remain one of the sturdiest forms of storing information though and they depend on the marvellous miracle called reading. That isn't to say that books won't be supplanted by newer digital technology in time. Books have had something like 600 years to perfect themselves. Computers have been mainstream for barely 20 years. Give them time. It's kind of interesting though that digital storage has actually improved books. You publishers utilize digital master copies in the printing process to allow for greater ease. Authors no longer have to deal with only paper copies that need endless rewriting.
I am still in awe over the incredible power of the written word. That we can record ideas on paper instead of speaking them.... Speaking of speaking, isn't it strange how sounds can be associated with ideas, but that's a topic for another time.

1 comment:

Erika said...

Hy, yeah I agree that written word is one of the best inventions ever, along with books. I have these theory, that if someone could be taught to master the full power and extent of words, then that person could rule the world, just look how polititians with the right words can move masses and change opinions, now imagine having the capability to arrange words in such a way that anything is possible, since you could make anyone beleive and do anything.

I say good bye with a phrase of my own "When words can hurt and heal, when they can create and destroy, how do we handle sucha doubled edged sword?"