The Short History of the Invention of Writing

Writing was invented, but by whom?

Who invented writing? - Matthew Winkler

If writing had never been invented, this world would be a wholly different place.

For starters, some of us, cough, would be far less employed. On the broader scale, though, without writing information could only travel as swiftly as the nearest bard. Memories would last only as long as we lived, or as long as those who came after remembered to keep passing our stories down.

Socrates railed against writing, says Dennis Baron, on his blog The Web of Language. The philosopher warned "his fellow Athenians that writing would weaken human memory, that when they lost their shopping lists they'd quickly forget what to buy when they went to the Agora. We remember what Socrates said because Plato wrote it down." Baron:

Socrates also objected to writing because it wasn't interactive -- this was long before text messaging -- and because the written word gave only a distant and incomplete picture of the reality to which it referred. Writing, Socrates complained, can't answer questions the way a real live human being can. If you ask a piece of paper something, all it can do is repeat the same words over and over. Writing, Socrates told his companion Phaedrus over and over again, is like a broken record.

So Socrates wasn't a fan. But we feel safe saying that, on the whole, writing was a pretty stellar invention.

Which brings us to the question: who came up with the idea of communicating through little lines scratched on a surface? In the video above, Matthew Winkler explores the history of the written word for TED Education. It's a question that, like so many others, has no simple answer.

H/T Maria Popova





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