One day, while pondering the cultural-effect that the internet has had on the social-importance of books, I suddenly had an insight into what effect book-publishing must have had on the quasi-hereditary oral-tradition of previous times. In the oral-tradition, legends and cultural beliefs were passed down in a manner that easily facilitated new generational interpretation – anyone who’s played the “telephone-game” has a good idea of what I mean.
With the widespread publication of book, however, the interpretability of information passed along, while not eradicated, was somewhat diminished – the communication vehicle was preserved, while in the oral-tradition the teller of the story would have told the story in slightly (if not extremely) different ways as his/her life progressed, and to an evolving audience as well.
For a great many years the written-word grew to an exalted position as a more concisely-permanent means of relating ideas – though readers, of course, would come up with interpretations and supplications of their own. Some of these would come to create subsequent written-works reflecting new understanding in the current stage of an evolving informational-paradigm. Others, reading the works of others from times-gone-by, would influence the cultural receptibility of evolving written-works by way of, (you guessed it), the enduring remnants of oral-tradition – renamed “word-of-mouth.”
After a long time, (though not nearly as long as the time span that oral-tradition enjoyed before subsiding to the emerging written-tradition), the customary nature of written-tradition was challenged by the evolving technology of telecommunications. After the establishment of a postal-system that allowed persons to communicate with one-another through the written-word, people soon embraced the technology of the electric telegraph to send message much more quickly. While the information-relating importance of books was not much disturbed by this development, new technological advancements were on the way…
The telegraph soon gave way to the telephone and to radio – television was soon to follow… The means by which individuals communicated with one another, and the means by which small groups communicated en masse with much larger ones were all rapidly changing as new innovations were being advanced at an ever-quickening pace.
The industrial era gave way to the technological era, and the outward, apparent landscape of human beings communicating and working with one-another seemed to have changed dramatically – but on a fundamental level, nothing had been replaced by anything else.
Though the printed-word dramatically changed the necessity of oral-tradition in preserving information, people still spoke directly to one-another in preference to writing letters.
Though the availability of long-distance telephone calling was well used by persons seeking the direct, person-to-person verbal communication, letters were still being written, and books were still being read.
Though radio and television provided the masses with an easy source for news and entertainment and information about valuable consumer-products that they’d likely find useful, very few TV-zombies were ever produced, and people still sought to make informed purchase-decisions, whatever various advertisers might have to say. Even still, people spoke with one another and wrote to one another and read books in the search for greater understanding of whatever information may be available to them.
Though the internet and its powerful information-sorting algorithms eventually came to provide many with almost every answer or explanation they sought, the power of world-wide electronic communications was still only made so powerful by the participation and communication of individuals among others, people speaking to one another.
The human voice takes the form of the written word, the form of organized collections of words in expression of detailed ideas, the broad-casting of such plenitude of various media, and in the form of a Tweet or a Facebook status-update. As much as has changed since the days when sons and grandsons gathered before an elder to hear what wisdom might be so imparted, we are all still people interacting with other people – the only difference being the very many more ways and means by which we do it.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.