Monday, December 5, 2016

Are we entering a post-literate age?

Scientists tell us that the human brain evolved for speech but not for writing.  To read and write, we had to borrow from other parts of the brain designed for the recognition of faces and objects.  And it was something we had to work at and learn.  In the old oral world, which lasted 10's of thousands of years, knowledge existed only in the present tense between just a few people.  Nothing could ever be confirmed or checked; once information was conveyed, it had to be repeated to be remembered; once forgotten, it disappeared forever.  And, you couldn't really review or study oral communications. Spoken nuanced, complex thoughts were hard to follow or remember.  So, you had to keep it simple and brief, and you repeated things often. 

Are we returning to the pre-literate world?  What are Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms but the means of expressing ideas that are pithy, clear, memorable and repeatable, like our pre-literate ancestors. 

The great works of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey began as oral tradition.  They were only written down later.  Consequently, the language was formulaic so that it could be remembered.  Thus, for Homer it's never just Achilles, but the swift-footed Achilles. It's always Hector, breaker of horses; bright-eyed Athena; Agamemnon, lord of men; the wily Odysseus.  Dawn doesn’t appear, it’s always "rosy-fingered" Dawn that appears.

As evidence of our return to a pre-literate age we have president-elect Trump.  For Trump, like Homer, it was never Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton or others, but “Lyin’ Ted," “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary, ” “Crazy Bernie Sanders” and “Goofy Elizabeth Warren.”

No doubt Homer would feel right at home.

For further reading:  Donald Trump, the First President of Our Post-Literate Age

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