Monday, September 8, 2008

Reading and Writing Evolution -- Sept. 08, '08

We read books, newspapers, magazines, web pages, those little comic bits wrapped around bubble gum and oatmeal packages. Why do we do this? It's for information, for increasing our chances of doing something better tomorrow, and for entertainment.

Early humans looked to the skies for changes in the weather, they watched migration patterns and the prints of animals. If you didn't 'read' your surroundings the right way, you could die.

Likely the first marks for communication were simple ||| like that to record things like exchanges of skins for flint knives.

Permanent marks were needed for conveying ideas over time. The Rosetta stone in 3 dialects is over 2200 years old and still is readable.

Wax tablets were easier to carry and reusable, so too parchment made from goat or sheep skin, scraped thin as it was reused. Papyrus has been used for 5000 years. While not nearly as durable unless sealed in a moisture/temperature proof place, papyrus was the peak of mobility being lightweight and easy to roll up or fold.

While for eons, only the wealthy and powerful could read and write--or have someone to do it for them. All work was laboriously transcribed by hand. A personal library of a dozen manuscripts was considered unusual.

The dissemination of knowledge for the common folks came by word of mouth. Bards, messengers, and visitors were the news carriers of the day.

In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg used a machine with movable type to print 200 copies of the Bible. He made words available for everyone to read. Written ideas were no longer the province of the rich and the influential.

We can read Chaucer, not easily, but those are the words he wrote, printed in his time, brought by mechanical means to ours. We can watch the changes in how ideas were conveyed from monarchs to philosophers, from Ovid's Metamorphoses explaining how the world was made to Oscar and Hammerstein's musicals. What went before is still here, we can see the world in books, so read.