A Short History of Communication

Brother Dave gave a succinct description of how communication becomes less and less activating with the more technology we have (see comment from The Door Opens).  This got me thinking of a theme I have ruminated on for some time: a short history of communication.  Obviously this is limited to much speculation for the time before writing, but speculation is one of my favorite forms of thought.

Whether we take a young earth (Garden of Eden, etc.) or old earth (evolution, etc) line of reasoning, I would speculate that there was a time before language in which humans (or whatever we were) communicated without formalized words.  Adam and Eve, or Fred and Wilma’s ancestors, just went about their days doing activities.  If anyone thinks that “dumb” animals do not communicate, even though we do not believe they use “words”, just come to the farm about 6:15 a.m.  Our cats will be out in the driveway, saying “Where’s our chow? But rub me first.”  our goats will be saying “You haven’t given us grain for DAYS!!!” (in spite of being feed just 24 hours before),  and Bella and Tippy will be saying “Get out of our yard, you cats!”

At some time these grunt, growels, and coos turned into words that formed into concepts.  The separation for speaking and doing had already begun.  I suspect in the Garden of Eden, language is the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Good and evil are concepts that judge action rather than doing.  “Now boys, stop fighting or someone’s going to get killed…”. Or, “Fred, I saw that you were looking down Betty’s leopard skin…” “What was I to do.  She bent down right in front of me…”  You can see how history has gone downhill since the advent of language.

To this time history could not be “written” as language existed prior to text (another speculation).  However, stories could be developed, told, and retold, creating oral history.  With each recounting, these stories gain value to the group.  Accuracy of details may have been less important than the “truths” that sustained the stories.  After generations of retelling, these oral histories became legends and mythology.

Then about 5 or 6 thousand years ago the first written texts began to appear, often in clay tablets with hatch marks, hieroglyphics, pictographs, etc.  Over the following milenium, written text transferred to various forms of paper and hides.  Oral histories could now be transferred to these medium for further transcription and storage. By the era of Alexander the Great, libraries held thousands of volumes of scrolls and books.  Everything from the Greek myths to the Torah and Talmud could be preserved.  However, reading these written text was limited to an elite class of scholars and religious leaders.  Oral traditions, in story telling, theatre, and the reading and debating of passages of religious rituals and philosophical continued.  The process of hand copying text went on slowly.

Illuminated manuscripts and lots of scribes became obsolete with the printing press.  Now, relatively quick and plentiful copies of books were made.  Yet, most of these texts were in Latin and Greek, which a limited number of people could read.  Martin Luther began a revolution and Reformation with his attempts to rid the Catholic Church of its corruption.  His translation of the Christian Bible into German brought printing to the growing middle class.  Stained glass windows and frescos would no longer be the primary way of  retelling the Christian stories to the masses.

The 19th century brought is the novel.  Increased educational levels allowed more people to read great and not so great stories.  Oral histories appeared to be fading out, as writers rehashed the stories lines stolen from Shakespeare, who stole them from the Romans and Greeks, who stole them from the Persians, who stole them from the Hebrews, who stole them from Moses and Abraham, who stole them from Adam and Eve, or Fred and Wilma, depending on your premise of origins.

But a short 100 years of novels’ and newspapers’ dominance would begin to wane with the revolution of radio, movies, and television.  The telling of the daily stories reverted to oral styles, rather than written text.  Television steals it’s stories from movies which steals them from radio programs, which steals them from the 19th centuries novels, et al.

The digital age now threatens to crush the print industry.  Yes, digital text is text, but so much more ephemeral.  Border’s books missed out on the e-reader jump, such that it has declared bankruptcy.  Amazaon.com and Barns & Noble sell more e-books than hard copies.  Newspapers are consolidating their printed editions and “enhancing” their stories with on-line articles.  E-mails are not printed, in fact are becoming archaic.  Texting spreads written in-time dialogue among people who are not geographically close (often to the disruption of those conversations of people sitting next to each other).  But for all of this disappears into some digital storage house which will not exist without the technology to access it. Unless you are compulsive as I am to print out the stuff and save it in folders which my nephews will inherit some day to their bewilderment… Or maybe they will make lots of money printing the “lost files of the hermit”.

So, ironically the digital age has brought us back to oral histories.  Forget accuracy and referencing.  We are making new legends and mythology with each retelling.

“In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (I’m doing this from memory, so forgive a misprint).  The “Word”.  Not, the “Text”.  What a powerful statement.  If only I could convey such meaning in so few words.

P.S. The photo is a sign posted by an 4-H member at the 2010 Allegany County Fair Livestock Auction.  In text we are mythology.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to A Short History of Communication

  1. walkingsmall says:

    “Word, Brah,” as the texters would say.

  2. Felicia says:

    No matter what happens I will always be a paper girl. I like the smell of books, the dank smell of a library, and the feeling of a book (not a Kindle) in my hands. Technology can’t rip the book out of my hands. As for story well now that is another matter. I believe the rebirth of oral tradition could lead to the rebirth of actual thought – pondering if you will. I hope it isn’t all self serving conjecture, but true thought turned into what must be shared because it is so thought provoking. Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts.

  3. The Vicar says:

    Well done hermit. Of course there was language in the beginning. How else would Adam have named all the animals as God instructed?

    It is interesting that television has brought us back to the telling of stories. I’m just a little too cynical to believe that my definition of “reality” and televisions definition of “reality” actually mean the same thing.

  4. Mother Suzanna says:

    Well, done. Silence, oral, written, visual, text = communicating over the mileniums. I feel old.

  5. hermitsdoor says:

    Thanks all for adding to this oral history. I suspect that Adam had a lot more words for animals than our “science” does today. Of course, he had no use for pharmacology, of which we have way too many words today, mostly with names that no one can pronounce. Genuine thought is a wonderful thing. Let’s encourage it. “Word, Brah”? I’m lost. I believe that texting is transforming how we conceptualize spelling (kind of like vanity license plates), but you will have to educate me on this word. Maybe I’m getting too old too.

  6. Paulette Burdett says:

    I am just trying to keep up with any reading.

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