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.