Friday, 23 January 2015

Some humble thoughts on the progress of humanity

Words written 9454
Stories completed 1
Rejections 5
Acceptances 0

One pifflingly small piece of drama from the tail end of last year was a minor battle with the ten year-old over data allowance and limits and how everything that he sees on the interweb - mainly other people playing Minecraft on YouTube - eats away at the amount of ones and zeros that we can suck from the ether each month.

There were a couple of conceptual problems for him in there.  You can tell because his eyes flick elsewhere and he tries to change the subject; no, hold on, that happens hourly.  Firstly, that data is being downloaded even when he isn’t saving it to his hard-drive.  I think he’s clear on that one now.

Secondly, that he should favour pages with text and not so much video if he wants to spend longer on his laptop.  This has generally led to the Xbox being interactive screen of choice with the laptop left untouched and unloved.

My initial middle-aged reactionary reaction was to put it down to the youth of toady, appalling attention spans, inability to concentrate or think or even read, and all this despite exemplary parenting.  But maybe he’s right.

It’s hard to spot the flow of history when you’re moving at tectonic pace, possibly even slower, but humanity is just a work in progress.  Perhaps words, text, what I’m producing right now, are a blind alley?

Think about it.  In the beginning was - no, not the Word - cave paintings.  There was no written language.  There were images.  And what came first?  The written account of the hunt, or the hunters acting it out?

Sure, written language has major advantages.  Those hunters won’t be around forever to act out the killing of the biggest, hairiest mastodon they’d ever seen.  But it seems to me that the human race and my ten year-old have a predilection towards the visual.  And that's directing the flow of history.

Some examples.  Newspapers have become websites where, increasingly, the items are videos not text.  Another, unrepresentative, youth culture example.  About ten years ago I bought a copy of the New Musical Express because it had a free 7” single on it (which I have since regularly tried on eBay without success).  In my day you had to turn the page to finish an article; in the 21st century that's no longer true even though the pages are smaller, and it’s now mainly pictures.  Extrapolating back, children of the 60s were probably faced with something like The Lancet or Nature when they picked up the NME.  Some would say it shows in the quality of what they produced.

Even warnings on packages have moved from ‘Do Not Swallow’ to pictures of people, hands held out signally 'stop', screaming.

So, will words become redundant?  Are they, like the steam engine or the hat or good manners, a meander in humanity’s progress?  I don’t think so, not completely.  But I do think generations to come will look back at us with our shelves of books and magazines as we do on the Georgians in their periwigs and think, 'why?'.

But, I don’t even think information conveyed by streamed video, even straight into your eyeballs as will surely happen soon, will be the end.  Either technology or evolution will inevitably deliver: thought transference.

And then, perhaps in the 23rd or 24th century, all forms of communication outside the skull - words on a page, moving images on a screen, or 3d football matches projected onto your coffee table - will seem quaint.

Perhaps there's not such a pressing need for me to progress with those bookshelves...

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