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Writing and Reading as Technology (5): Literacy as Infrastructure for Thought

The development of spoken language was humankind’s first great networking technology.*

Speech allows us to communicate thought and to think far better than we could without it, but the spoken word is fleeting. The ability to read and write enables us to extend our thoughts beyond our bodies in a more durable form.

Artificial Intelligence: Augmentation, Telepathy, Necromancy, (Virtual) Reality

The written word…

  • Is an upgrade to our working memory, enabling us to manipulate far more data than we can hold in our minds;
  • Allows higher-level ‘meta-thought’ than ever before. Ideas can be visualised in detail, prototyped, critiqued and iterated upon in new ways – we can design;
  • Upgrades our long-term memory in terms of storage capacity, reliability and durability;
  • Changed the structure of our minds and established new ideas of authority, objective fact and ‘literal’ truth, while weakening other skills like facial recognition;
  • Enables transmission of thought to others across distance, and to multiple places at once;
  • Allows the dead to speak, extending “grandparenting” across multiple generations;
  • Enables far wider and longer-lasting networks of culture than are possible without it. The low-latency-but-gradually-accelerating historical internet of written texts started in ancient times, based on skills that remain the fundamental protocol or “platform” for learning and communication today.

The Floating World

Our world exists beyond the page, and the roots of culture and relationship run deeper than the written word, but even so it seems hard to overstate the extent to which pretty much every aspect of modern culture – the arts, religion, law, history, science, economics, politics, healthcare, education of all kinds, food, music, entertainment, and everything that involves instructions or runs on a computer – floats on the literacy layer.

*Let me know if you have a better candidate.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...