Thursday, 29 May 2008

A bizarre thought

I've had a thought. (quick, note it down in the diary) Given that I write pretty regularly in all sorts of forms, it's actually quite a weird one. A few hundred, or thousand, years from now, assuming that we haven't all destroyed ourselves, it's entirely possible that the written word won't exist.

It sounds odd, doesn't it? But think. What is the written word? It's a tool for communication, specifically for the preservation of words so that the presence of a speaker is not required. As natural and eternal as it seems, it is, moreover, an invented tool. Given time, it could become obsolete.

The glimmerings of the mechanisms for such a change already sort of exist in the form of advanced telecommunications and cheap digital video. We are in a position where we can record language in it's spoken form without the additional business of a squiggle on a page. We could, potentially, reach the position where every newspaper's online podcast takes over from their print run, where every post it note gives way to a little recorded clip, and where everyone who thinks that 'books are boring' finally gets their way and only the visual media remain.

Ok, I'll admit this is a pointlessly out there bit of crystal ball gazing, but it could happen. Not any time soon of course, but eventually. After all, there were probably people who thought this 'printing' stuff would never replace caligraphy. It hasn't, not completely, but when was the last time you hand wrote something for public consumption? Handwriting has become the stuff of love letters, scribbled notes and shopping lists, where once it was the only available technology. I really hope writing as a whole never goes the same way.


Lisa Damian said...

What an intriguing concept, and not totally unfounded. We've seen particular languages die out completely -- ancient cave writings that no one can decipher today. We've seen sun dials and modern clocks with 'hands' become nearly obsolete. There are some grown adults who can only tell time on digital clocks because it's all they've ever known.

Like you, I would consider it a tragedy, but an interesting premise for a short story perhaps. What I'd find more interesting is if we ever become so globalized that we eventually develop a one-world language.

I love the phrase where you indicate you've had an idea and have to run and grab your diary. I'm the same way. I keep journals everywhere, just in case an idea strikes. I usually write down interesting dreams in the morning before I forget them, and sometimes use the ideas for stories later.

stu said...

Writing things down has more to do with my tendency towards forgetfulness for me, but it's the same basic idea.

It's unlikely that there will be a world language, simply because of the role of languages as a marker of cultural identity. After all, Welsh continues, despite its primary use these days being to tell any English tourists in small Welsh pubs that they aren't welcome.

Heather said...

Wow. I have never given this thought before. Now that you've brought it up I feel a pang of fear!!!