Sunday, July 28, 2002

I knew I'd be thinking about this topic of the future of words, so I went to the library this week. I used to love libraries as a kid--the sweaty smell of books idling on endless shelves, the hushed tones that made it feel like a church, the promise of new ideas bouncing off the shelves at you. Being back in a library -- and the massive Washington Library in the Loop, no less -- was an anchoring experience for this word hound. All the shelves, all the words, all the wisdom and history; every writer should spend time in such surroundings to be humbled by them.

Here's what I found for the topic of the day: The Psychology of Literacy by Silvia Scribner and Michael Cole, On Literacy by Robert Pattison, Literacy Online by Myron Tuman, Writing Space by Jay David Bolter, and The Electronic Word by Richard Latham. Tidbits of their wisdom, yanked from the page to the screen, to come. As you read, keep in mind the current issue of the transition in medium and what it means for the word (holy cow, I just sounded like a professor or something).

First, from the Psychology of Literacy:

In Plato's day, for the first time in history, a large part of the populace knew how to read and write in an alphabetic script, and the written text was becoming a serious competitor to oral literature as the vehicle for transmitting the cultural store of knowledge. ...

Socrates pointed out that ... letters might weaken memories and lead to forgetfulness, as learners came to rely on external aids for reminiscence. ... Socrates feared that the discovery of the written word would have the show of wisdom (they would know the letters) without the reality (they would not necessarily grasp the true ideas).

Resonant words in a new rhetorical age.

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