The Transition from Talk to Text

In chapter 2, the focus shifted from the methods of book historians to a brief history on how the modern book came to be. Initially, thoughts were translated orally– the writings we see today that came pre-Gutenberg were (most likely) communicated orally. While the presence of papyrus and scrolls aided the learning and memorization process, they were unreliable and flimsy means to contain knowledge. However, the problem remained as did the question of how many books and writings were lost because of this method of “book keeping.” Socrates believed that “nothing worse serious attention has ever been written in prose or verse,” (34) one of the greatest minds of all time was a firm disbeliever in the need for written text as a means of transporting knowledge. This certainly carried on far past his time; the unspoken belief was that if you make more books readily available for the lower classes, the power structure would rapidly change.
As the mass production of books became an industry in the 1600s, the entire sphere of knowledge developed. As Walter Ong stated–

more than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness

This holds true today; the most common format of reading in America, and most likely the world, is digital. The majority of human thought is presently shaped by what we read on a screen. This is most common through the Internet, as no invention has so greatly changed human thought and ideas since the Gutenberg press (though I personally believe the Internet is the most important intellectual creation to date). The ideas that are most commonly shared by human beings were published via text, the limitless internet has only magnified the permanence of these texts, and consequently these ideas, far more so that the printing press. Regardless, the idea that text is becoming less and less important with regards to society can’t be true, we would be looking at a far less informed society than the one we are currently living in.
I personally found the writing on the Nambikwara tribe the most interesting thing covered yet. It presents language and writing as a very abstract concept that we rarely think about. We assign symbols meanings that are universally accepted, however in a tribe with no alphabet or concept of written language, this idea is lost. This presents the idea of a common language; English was a difficult language to document as writing became popular– as dialect was so diverse, it was difficult to establish the correct way to spell things. As the country became “smaller,” differences in spelling became far fewer. Despite language just “happening,” writing was planned. There was a need for a system in which words could be recorded via text. So while the internet certainly is a solid number 2, the greatest invention ever with regards to knowledge and thought is the alphabet.

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3 thoughts on “The Transition from Talk to Text

  1. This post got me thinking about the presence of oral reading in a modern world. If there are any viable oral outlets (I personally was having a hard time thinking of them), they seem far and few in between. The only one that came quickly to my mind is poetry–poetry is still often spoken aloud (ie. poetry slams, readings, ect.). However, in consideration of how many types of reading exist in our modern world, my ability to find just one oral outlet does not speak well to the presence of oral reading in a silence-dominated world. But I can’t help but wonder if the technological advances of the screen will one day lead to a resurgence of the oral reading process. I’m not suggesting that one day students will all be reading aloud from their computer while studying in the library, but I do think that the interface capabilities of the ‘screen’ provide a good amount of potential for oral reading. We already use our phones to FaceTime and our computers to watch movies–maybe, soon we will use these forms of technology to read to the masses. It would be a highly impersonal experience (which I think I would dislike because it is the intimacy of an oral read that I find charming), but technology would allow for one person to read to many.

  2. I also agree with the statement that the internet was one of the greatest inventions that shaped culture and communication. I would personally dig even deeper to cultural literary communication and discuss the role of texting. Texting is one of the main uses of communications we have to date, and the younger generations show a pattern of this trend changing to normalcy. Texting has shown itself to not be a fad, but rather continuing to involve itself in everyday tasks. Things from voting, to class polls, to group messaging, texting has expanded from one on one conversation and has even made its way into the classroom. I am most intrigued to see the role of texting as time passes and also to see if there are any new ways of communicating and exchanging knowledge, such as speaking telepathically, in the future.

  3. I wonder about the assertion that text isn’t becoming less important. Certainly, we’re still awash in text, yet images seem to become more important. For instance, consider the shift over the past decade (say) from web sites that were text heavy to those that feature images.

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