IAT 811 – Week 11, Writing

I just realized that I’ve been calling each of the essays in the book Critical Terms for Media Studies by W.J.T. Mitchell and Mark B.N.Hansen, chapters. Anyways, the essay entitle Writing, the written word is explored, its evolution over the millennia, and the varying times in human history where the written word (including glyphs) created sudden spikes in civilization progress – including China’s Emperor Qin Shi who, during 221 – 206 BCE, advanced civilization by introducing (enforcing really) a standardized script, formalized procedures and measurements (e.g., road width sizes), and units of measure.

Monarchies became strengthened with the written word as decrees, laws, rules, and order could be maintained and dictated. It becomes easy to take for granted the written word and yet, without it there is so much that is lost from our society and civilization in general.

Another interesting point (at least to me) was pointing out the distinction between “alphabet” (AKA “script”) and “writing system” where alphabet becomes the low-level syntax and writing systems are the semantics of the language. The book uses the example of the Devanagari script which is used in languages such as Hindi, Nepali, and Marathi. However, closer to home, for us North Americans whose native language is English, the Latin character set has a base set of characters and derivatives that are used in English, Spanish, and French to name a few.

A look at the history of writing technology also points (once again) to Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”. Take any one of the momentous times, moving from “instruments of inscription”: rocks, bones, clay, bronzes, plant leaves (for storage persistence), cloth, wood, brushes, ink and nibs, printing presses, photo copiers, and computing technologies and you will see that the technology advancement becomes such a huge overpowering moment of awe, that whatever is written is not as important as the technology that was used to create it.

Not an installation that I came across whilst scouring the Interwebs but an article about a outreach that was quite close to home from the Royal B.C. Museum. The article, entitled Help preserve history by writing letters says Royal BC Museum, from Global News. The Royal B.C. Museum inspires and encourages anyone and everyone to “re-engage with the art of writing letters” by writing them hand-written letters. This has been an act that the museum has done at least a couple of times over the past few years.

The message is simple: let’s not forget our past, let’s not forget the path that got us here. After all, we might take it for granted.

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