Future of written language

Languages used in Carnatic Music & Literature
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#1 Future of written language

Post by vasanthakokilam » 10 Jan 2011, 09:35

I am working on a think tank'ish type paper on technology and personal communications. As is common with such efforts, we try to make bold predictions about the future.. the more outlandish it is, the better it is in terms of garnering attention. Still that point of view has to be defended which acts as a governor on such outlandishness!

As an offshoot of that effort, one thread emerged which is relevant to this language sub-forum.

The main work that led to this are not fully cooked and so these offshoot ideas are not fully cooked. But I figured why not cook this interesting offshoot in public!! It is non technical and general in nature. So let your imagination and creativity flow. It is a lot of fun.. Comments, supporting and opposing points are most welcome!!

The outlandish question is: Is written communication necessary? And what is its future? Will there be a time in the next century when it will be so minimized that it is used only for special cases ( like tagging the recordings ), and venerated as vestiges of an once useful mechanism...( one child: anDa kalaththilE pesaradayellAm ezhuduvALAm!! another child: ezhudaradunnA enna? )

Remember, I did say 'outlandish'...

The main idea is that the written language is a lossy communication mechanism. Several important aspects of the meaning involved in communication are lost once you write it down: The pauses, articulation, the intonation, the emotion, the body language etc. We try to capture those with commas, periods, question marks and exclamation marks but as we know that does not do full justice. It took the internet age to even come up with emoticons. A written sentence is a discontinuous and chunky representation of the continuous sentence of verbal communication.

Now, written language was invented to satisfy certain needs. Written language helps with communication among people who are separated over space and time. This is called space and time shifting. ( modern examples: Mailed letter helps with both space and time shifting. Instant messaging and SMS help with space shifting. )

Another obvious need that it fulfills is, it helps with storage and archival of communications and expressed ideas, in the form of manuscripts and books.

Consider these three things: Space shifting, time shifting and storage.

We now have technology for all these three things. Phone calls ( audio and video ) bridge both space and time. Recordings of phone conversations and voice mails provide one method of storage. Audio books, read by the author, turns the written text into emotion rich audio.

Consider 3D video and audio communication which can accomplish all the above three in a much richer and natural fashion.

But there are several magnificent advantages to written text. This posting itself is an example. I can develop this over time, edit it, wordsmith it etc. before sharing. That is hard to do with speech currently. But is that because we are so used to written communication, we are blind to richer possibilities? May be there can be tools that are easy to use which helps us do the same thing with voice or even 3D video and voice. Also, we are all used to reading text much faster than listening. May be over time, our brains have evolved to specialize in such things. Also, we can skim through and get the gist of it.. But these are all artifacts about improving on written communication. If all our communication is 3D video and/or audio, there will be enough tools and methods developed to achieve the same things, we just do not know yet. At least, that is the rebuttal by the proponents of this futuristic possibility, in terms of this think tank'ish exploration.

So the outlandish questions to explore are:

-- With the advances in communication technologies and gadgets, now and in the future, are we seeing the end of written communication? Not immediately, but over the next 50 to 100 years with the decline starting soon or having already started.

-- Not because people are lazy but because of the deficiencies with the written form..

-- That is, is this a case of our ancient ancestors inventing a mechanism which is inferior in nature but a necessary evil which is being replaced by a much richer method which has become only possible due to technological achievements (Assume dirt cheap internet bandwidth and storage costs... it is the future we are talking about )

-- If Humans do not write at all, what are the implications and consequences? (e.g. Education system will focus on speaking, listening and arithmetic instead of reading , writing and arithmetic. That switch does not seem to be bad at all..)

-- As a special case, currently this forum is written language based. How will a full fidelity 3D audio/video version of this forum look like? Is it for the better?

-- Remember, those who do not like that all full fidelity, can always notch way down and step back to written communication ;)

If you are game to thinking like this, and if you have read this far, remember this is not about language but only about script based written language. So authors and poets need not worry!!

Also, as we all know people bemoan the fact that people are losing writing skills because they write so little. This is not about that bemoaning but the opposite. This is about restoring full fidelity to personal communications.

There is an obvious parallel in music. With music we will never equate the communication capabilities of an actual piece of music to its notation. For communicating music over space we use streaming, for communicating music over time, we use recordings/upload/download, for storage we archive the recordings. So in a way, written communication if ever replaced by full fidelity 3D audio and video communication has its precedent in music. If this parallel holds, the transcribed form of the communication ( i.e. the written text ) is just treated as a low fidelity notation and relegated to that status, as an educational tool to learn to speak and as a reference.

Our vedic ancestors believed only in oral transmission. But the problem they had and worked very hard to fix was, it is not easy to detect distortions over generations. But with current recording technologies, that is no longer a problem.
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#2 Re: Future of written language

Post by Nick H » 10 Jan 2011, 11:06

With the advances in communication technologies and gadgets, now and in the future, are we seeing the end of written communication?
I don't think so, although certain areas such as SMS are causing major degradation of it. Even there, there are online forums aimed at a youthful audience who refuse to accept this dreadful u yr pls stuff. How about Twitter? Possibly the ultimate in triviality, but also the ultimate lesson in brevity. Did any English teacher ever think of setting the lesson, tell about this in maximum 140 letters?.

I know people who say they hate computers and e-mail. I cannot see their point of view, as they tend to be the same people who bemoan the end of letter writing. The only differences between email and letter writing are the ease of editing and the method of delivery. email, for me, has resurrected letter writing.

To the list of attributes of the written word, I would add reliability and accountability. Thus, we request that people "put that in writing". Sometimes, of course, on the internet, people are a little too willing to do that!

The word will endure. Papyrus and the palm leaf has been left behid, pen and paper may join them, but the word (and all its friends) will go on for ever.
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#3 Re: Future of written language

Post by srkris » 10 Jan 2011, 13:38

Writing may not die, though writing by hand may die.
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#4 Re: Future of written language

Post by VK RAMAN » 10 Jan 2011, 23:49

Habbit of writing format will change for sure but fingers will be needed to press some buttons
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#5 Re: Future of written language

Post by vasanthakokilam » 11 Jan 2011, 04:53

In this all happens, it will relabel illiteracy as a sign of evolutionary progress. :)
BTW, the degradation with SMS is a symptom of inefficiency with writing and bolsters the case of this thesis.
Voice is a much better alternative there.. short snippets of speech.. we may there soon.. voice SMS.. It evens lets you do SMS while driving: pick it up, say the name of the person, record a short message and shake the phone to send it.. Less accident prone!!

Let us go back to the beginning. Let us indulge in a thought experiment.


The above link is about invention of writing by the Mesopopotamenas and a hypothesis about why writing was needed.

All those reasons can be classified into
- Space shifted communication,
- Time shifted communication and
- Archival

Now, imagine nature provided a sturdy recording and playback technology around
3500 B.C. Say, some kind of natural wax that recorded the sound waves and provided
some plant based stylus that would replay it. Would these people have invented writing? Probably not.

One obvious use of writing was sending messages through a messenger. Before writing was invented,
you tell the messenger the information, the messenger memorizes it, travels to the other nomadic group
and 'recites' the message. Now that is cumbersome and error prone. So writing was a great discovery and a revolution.
But against that natural recording and playback, writing would not have had a chance to compete.

They would still have needed a way to label these recordings and they may have come up with a system for that.
May be a simple system to record the place, date and what it is about.
It helps with activities like searching and sorting ( manual or automated )

Such labels are called meta-data.

So writing for meta data makes sense, even in the midst high fidelity recording, playback and storage.

One significant meta data is the writing on tombstones.. May be writing will be preserved for that purpose ;)

For humans, having lived with writing for at least 5500 years, it is hard to imagine
a time without it. And we are not there yet in terms of cost effective bandwidth, storage and tools
for this full fidelity communication to replace writing. But major transformations sometimes happen even within three generations:
A launch generation, a growth generation and a steady state completely transformed
generation. For this kind of huge transformation, we may have to give it 10 generations.
A generation is defined on the average as 25 years. So that is 250 years.
We would not be around to see it.....some generation N'ers may stumble on this post in some old archives in the
dark corners of the internet and wonder what the was fuss was about....ha..ha.

Again, the above is just to kindle some out of the box exploration for such outlandish speculations, and not borne out of any messianic zeal against writing.
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#6 Re: Future of written language

Post by perezellen » 22 Jan 2016, 15:50

Language is way through which we could condense our thoughts into just the information. There is no evolutionary selective pressure that might result in the elimination of writing/speaking. A technological methodology to allow the equivalent of mind to mind conversations (is so far into the future and possible not even possible in the first place.Written language may be phased out. Superseded by spoken language. But I don’t think spoken language going by the wayside as long we are in our current physical form.Future of language could be preserved through improving the writing skill.Any one can improve their writing skill as there are many writing services are provided
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