The Emergence of Written Language

Long before the electronic age emerged, was a time where even the earliest form of communication, written language, did not exist. It is hard to think of what it would be like to live in this time. Imagine navigating through life without road signs, instructions, or letters from grandma. My generation grew up in the digital age, so not only are we used to written language, but we have the luxury of constant immediate access to this form of communication from anywhere in the world right at our fingertips.

Though it’s hard to picture life without writing, there was a time this was the way humans lived. Oral communication was the only method of delivering messages. As writing emerged, there was quite a bit of backlash. Notable people such as Plato argued that, “This invention will produce forgetfulness in the mind of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory” (Gleick, 30). Further arguments mention that writing separates the speaker from the writer. While this holds true, I believe that this can be viewed as a pro of writing rather than a con. The ability to communicate from a distance, whether that be in miles or in time, is an advancement that enables us to reach an incredibly large number of people to share ideas and learn from one another.

The early dependence on oral language, which transitioned into written and now digital computing, is notably prevalent in the humanities, and in my opinion makes the study of humanities possible. The evolution of written language itself is a topic that can be studied within the humanities. But taking it a step further, the transition from written language to digital written language was a major turning point in the timeline of human evolution. It is hard to see, as we are living in it currently and making history. However, the connections that we are able to make due to the creation of written language turned digital has opened the humanities up to endless resources and possibilities. Literature can be accessed within seconds, educators can communicate from opposite sides of the world. Collaborations can be made between people in different time zones in a fraction of the amount of time it would take prior to the evolution of technology.

“The larger the number of senses involved, the better the chance of transmitting a reliable copy of the sender’s mental state,” said Jonathan Miller (Gleick, 48). Miller argues that the emerging forms of technological communication, in this case being the telegraph, telephone, radio and e-mail, rely only on one sense to relay a message from one person to another. While this is technically true, how so does this make these forms of communication inferior to face to face oral communication? Is it so that having an educated conversation over the phone with someone from Europe on a topic that this person would have insider information on, is not worth having simply because you are only hearing their voice rather than speaking face to face? I would argue that this is a very limiting point of view to have, and keeps one from taking advantage of the endless opportunities to learn when technology is put to use.

Though written language, and digital language specifically, is frequently considered to be detrimental to classic communication, the evolution of written language is an integral part of the studies of humanities as a whole. Studying this topic is almost like the brain studying itself, because humanists study how people document the human experience, which is exactly what this post is. I am a humanist. Without the transition from oral to written language, humanist studies would hardly be possible.

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