Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Not a communication you understand, but communication in general.  Which is a case in point.  A written exchange of information can be very literal, expert writers are able to craft their prose to gently convey a subtext or to imply a broader and often less direct meaning.  However, in the main we are pretty poor at this, especially if you compare our ability with the spoken word.  Here we have a replete armoury of weapons to aid the communication, conscious or subconscious.  Paralanguage has evolved over aeons to provide us with tools to inform and be informed by each member of our social group - a vital skill in survival.  It is thought that modern humans developed language around 200,000 years ago.  By contrast, the written language has arguably only been in existence since 3300BC.

This is a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from circa 5000 years ago and is one of the earliest known records of the written word.  It contains a schedule of payments to workers made in beer.  This is one of the podcast episodes in A History of the World.  It has triggered some of the thoughts I am currently sharing.

It is not surprising then that in our rapidly accelerating evolutionary environment as we approach the singularity; we are experiencing some difficulty in the transition from traditional methods of engaging in social discourse.  In my last blog I provoked an engaging discourse that suffered a little from not being face to face and also was diminished as it clearly wasn't a peer reviewed journal.  Its really worth reading the dialogue in the comments between Eric and myself if you get time.  I can't help thinking though that as we blunder and err our way through this proto-social-communication tool we are in some way chipping the cool wet Tigris and Euphrates clay.

1 comment:

  1. ErictheHalfaBee11 March 2010 at 15:50

    Interestingly, two recent articles in the New Scientist refer to symbological communications from 30,000 and even 60,000 years ago:
    Obviously it rather depends on your definition of "writing" - it's doubtful anything as sophisticated as a schedule of payments is involved in these, but interesting nonetheless. Doesn't detract from your main point that we've had time to evolve abilities with regard to spoken language such as reading body language and facial expression, but that we haven't (and indeed do not have much extra information to assess) when it comes to written language.


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