Monday, May 22, 2006
Communicating : a Good Morning it's Monday item ::

I had to write a "bit" for our college newsletter, since the writing took a good while at a time when I have too much grading/marking, I thought I'd give it a larger audience by posting it here too!

At first all communication was face to face. Later rich merchants, priests and kings developed systems of writing that allowed the transmission of words across time and space. In Egypt pictures represented the words to transmit,[see note] in Mesopotamia and elsewhere arbitrary symbols represented syllables of speech.

What do you mean, my lecture notes are hard to read?

In the Late Bronze Age that world was ready for change, the old structures and centres of power were in decay. Then (notice the sublime historical accident) a short while before the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt, a simpler system, that almost anyone could learn, was invented in Canaan (we call it Alphabet from the first two letters of the Hebrew system). God provided Moses, and the rest is Bible…

The invention of printing in the Late Middle Ages provided providence with another opportunity. At first printing seemed just a faster, cheaper way to produce books. Yet it's real impact was far greater.

Once again, the old order was breaking down. In the church, systems and institutional structures had largely succeeded in obscuring the simple revolutionary truths of the gospel. In politics the abuses of power of the aristocracy, and the beginnings of a "middle class", had begun change "the way things were". The earthquakes presaged by these tremors where felt in the following centuries.

An angry monk learned to use the new medium in creative ways to bypass the traditional structures of power and privilege. With his "tracts" and crude cartoons he ran rings round the pope and the emperor, and appealed direct to the people.
In the Late Modern Age too, structures of church and state have begun to creak. Again providence supplies (beyond the church) a new and revolutionary communication medium. Digital technology not only makes it easier for you to rip and burn your favourite tracks and videos, it also changes the relationship of human and "word".

In the age of the hieroglyph only the elite could master the word. In the age of the alphabet reading was democratised. In the print age distribution and possession of "words" became easier. In the networked digital age, publication of the "word", as well as its consumption, is open to almost everyone. The cost of placing your immortal words in a blog (like Paul's on the Carey website) is almost only the effort of composing them. The cost of recording your own "radio", or Bible reading, programme, (like and offering it to all the Googled-world is also just a few hours of your time.

God called Moses – and made him a writer.

God called Luther – and made him a print propagandist.

What does God have in store for you?


Of course the Hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt soon developed into a much more complex and useful system, including a consonantal "alphabet-like" component. My point here (and this piece was written to a deadline and with a strict word limit) was just that complex systems restrict literacy to those with time to learn "complex systems". [RETURN]

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