Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reading is Telepathy

Or more accurately writing is telepathy. The transmission of ideas and emotions and impressions from mind to mind without spoken words. It seems to me that the relationship between the writer and the reader is, in many cases, profoundly intimate - especially for the reader. A reader allows the writer into his mind. The relationship is not one-sided of course. The writer doesn't know where or when the conversation will take place and the reader can end the conversation at any time. The writer controls the content of the conversation.

But its not a conversation. It's a unique interaction. One of the things that happens is that a reader is differentiated from his physical community by having this experience of a individual, mind to mind, transfer of information. This is one of the most powerful by-products of the Gutenberg Revolution - the transformation of an illiterate, agrarian population into nations of differentiated individuals who could read the Bible or the works of Plato and have their own relationships with those texts and come to their own conclusions.

Before the printing press (more accurately - before books became widely available because of the printing press) nearly everyone got their information and their ideas (and their interpretation of those ideas) from a few leaders who read to them in churches and city squares. Everyone had the same experience and, it could be argued, no one had an inner life that was distinct from his peasant neighbors.

Martin Luther could not have been successful without a printing press. The Renaissance could not have happened without hundreds of thousands of readers coming to their own conclusions about science, religion, art and philosophy and then writing about it. The American, French and Industrial Revolutions were all made possible by printed books. (Remember, reading is required for Reformation, Renaissance and Revolution)

This begs the question of what social, cultural and political effects the hypermedia revolution will have. But that is a question I will consider another time.

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