The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The Future of Analphabetic Writing

A link, and then a long digression (or several).

Andrew Robinson at the Oxford University Press blog writes about attempts at universal languages:

In the mid-1970s, with increasing international travel, the American Institute of Graphic Arts cooperated with the United States Department of Transportation to design a set of symbols for airports and other travel facilities that would be clear both to travellers in a hurry and those without a command of English. They invented 34 iconic symbols. The design committee made a significant observation:


Great post! Wow.

It’s amazing how we find ways to ‘humanize’ and include analphabetic info in all sorts of alphabets. Think of telegraph operators having a specific ‘hand’ (I think that’s what they called it) — a subtle personal rhythm, eccentric emphases or whatever, that made them instantly recognizable to other operators.

Or think of handwriting — it’s almost like the alphabet component is the carrier wave and the swooshy, swoopy, stroke-y component is the REAL signal. Ha!

So it’s a shame when alphabets don’t allow this — the super-mechanical ones, like a synthesize voice or a barcode.

Although, is that really true? Maybe *any* alphabet can be abused, modified, stylized — if only you’re clever enough.

What’s a television doing in the physical world without people to read it, right? I’ll hold off on the Heidegger, but there is all sorts of good lit theory type stuff for this discussion:

I’m all about the Heidegger, and even the Althusser, but at the moment I confess I’m more interested in cognitive/brain stuff when it comes to interpreting language, simply because I don’t know it as well. Like what parts of the brain, what evolutionary adaptations, have we hotwired to put to work to understanding written text? Speech, certainly — but maybe also facial recognition? A certain kind of iconic imagination associated with religion? Our sense of cultural markers that work to patrol group boundaries?

It’s funny that you mention rhythm, Robin – one of the things Oliver Sacks says about music is that rhythm is something both deep in the brain – people who suffer musical loss because of a brain injury NEVER lose a sense of rhythm – and deeply human, such that other species don’t seem to understand it. So rhythm is, somehow, the first language – neither visual nor strictly auditory but somehow tactile.

Think about soothing a baby to sleep in the dark; the regular rhythm, the universal tonalities, the first music, the original poetry (b/c it’s the poetry of origin). That’s where humanity begins.

Matt Penniman says…

Maybe the important distinction isn

As writing becomes more tied to a particular moment, more real-time, it becomes more like speech. The chat message or the mute’s note make fullest sense only at the moment they are conceived; this is what Ebert finds so frustrating.

This is pretty much exactly what I (and Walter Ong) mean by secondary literacy — writing and reading transformed by electronic media. Just as speech is transformed by phonograph, radio, TV, telephone, etc. – becoming a time- and space-shiftable recording.

The other thing that’s happening is that “real-time” and “timeless” are giving way to a kind of relative (a)synchrony; the time of the blog post, text message, digital chat, twitter reply, Tivo recording are a lot fuzzier than the time of the conversation or the book. Which is not to say that the time of the newspaper, letter, or telegraph weren’t screwing around with this opposition, ’cause they totally were. (Did I just use “time” as a plural dative noun? Yes, I did.)

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