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The Incredible Technology of Writing

Language may or may not be a technology. I’d fall on the side of arguing that language is a construct designed by humans as a tool to communicate, but we can disagree on that one. However, regardless of the way we answer that question, language is a profoundly useful way to capture ideas and transfer those ideas directly into the minds of other human beings. Language is vastly greater than the sum of a mere instinctual communally shared grunt. Something much deeper is happening.

Think of a word… I’ll run with the contentious CUNT (and defer to Germaine Greer’s discussion of cunt Part 1 and Part 2). If only because cunt is a memorable example.

When we say cunt as a monosyllabic phonetic statement there are shared and specific ideas being passed through the standard communication model from the sender encoding a message, the transmission of that message along a channel and the message being decoded by the receiver. Language offers us an elegant tool to wrap that message into a single block. The word. Cunt.

Now let’s look deeper. The word ‘cunt’ isn’t a simple representation at all. No. Inside that word is an etymology, an evolution of ideas and changing meanings that spark the brain into biological action. We have strong associations with the word cunt that include our personal history and landmark experiences. Through this word, or message, the sender’s brain and the receiver’s brain fire an orchestra of synapses for much more than the single phonetic word passed along the communication channel… and this response is due to the word having encapsulated meaning.

That’s pretty incredible when you think about it. The encapsulation of ideas inside words and the accumulation of a repertoire of words into a personal vocabulary. Think of a bold word like REVOLUTION and all the associations (good and bad) that the word revolution brings into your mind – histories, context and defined meaning.

In approximately 3200 BC in what is now Southern Iraq and in 600 BC South America language was taken a step further with the technological invention of writing. It also appeared in 3200 BC Egypt and 1200 BC China. Ideas captured within the limited symbols of written language allow for ideas to pass way beyond the sphere of an individual communicating to a nearby person or people… the ideas could be asynchronously disseminated through writing to strangers at great distance and at the readers’ convenience (if they understood the code of reading and writing in symbols).

Look again at the word CUNT in the English language. We have 26 letters, a bunch of symbols and some numbers that we can alter in variant length and order to capture complex ideas and disseminate them across our cultural landscape. Words, when encoded into writing, become thermonuclear idea bombs. Consider the power that came with the relatively recent invention of the dictionary. With dictionaries we capture the flux of word usage over time as a powerful communication tool for disambiguation. Suddenly, in history, words are set almost in codified stone so any two people in speech or writing know they have the same meaning. Cunt suddenly means cunt. The same cunt as was said in all places to be cunty.

So it’s pretty incredible when we sit down to consider the power of words, especially the written word and our experience of reading books. And this is why I’d argue that reading, all by itself, is an important function for the human brain. As we read these encoded thermonuclear idea bombs, even if they appear to be mundane and ordinary words at the time of reading, the inside of our brain is exploding with the ideas behind the words and the combination of those words on the page. Words allow us to imagine landscapes that never existed, or find ourselves drawn into stories of lives that were invented by strangers. Or inspire us to change the World.

A good example of a thermonuclear idea is ENGLAND. Many have stood and fallen for the idea of England, a simple word of seven letters.

I’ve always found language and the ability to codify complex thoughts and concepts into written words as one of the most incredible human designed technologies at the base of everything we’ve achieved. My appreciation for words transcends a mere appreciation of books, poetry and available information. Just for a minute, think of how absolutely elegant the solution of writing has been for our species. There. Mind popped. Idea encapsulation process complete. I feel inspired to open a book.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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