The inevitable and necessary obsolescence of literature

What's the one thing that makes human development so different to that of any other species on this planet? If I had to bet, I'd put my chips on the ability that we have to build upon other people's work. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. Someone did it in the past, and explained his tribe how to make it, and the knowledge spread. One day someone used that knowledge to invent the chariot. The next thing you know, we're sending people into space.

The capacity to transfer knowledge from one brain to another efficiently is the key to our success. You see, language. It's the closest thing we have to telepathy. I have something in my head, I'm explaining it to you right now. Hopefully, by the end of this post, it'll be in your head too.

Other species also have language, of course. But only ours seems evolved enough to allow for complex data to be transmitted without error.

Languages allowed for the human species to have an organic technological evolution that was transmitted from parent to child, master to apprentice, via the spoken word, and to be fair, a bit of facial expression and gestures.

Then someone came up with writing.

The absolutely cool thing about writing is that you can teach stuff to people that don't even know you. However, there's a very serious drawback to writing. While language is something that comes naturally to every human, writing must be tediously learned. It's a very unnatural process, supported by the very artificial medium that are visually drawn signs such as letters and ideograms. But with the limited means at disposal at the time, they couldn't come up with a less arcane data storage scheme. If we had to invent writing now, we probably wouldn't. We'd just record language directly.

Not only is learning to write a process that our minds vigorously hates, but even after many years of practice, reading a wall of text is a pain in the neck. Get this: around half the literate human population reads an average of zero books a year.

But they watch movies.

Us book-lovers are quick to diss on that kind of behavior. We all know that books are always better than movies. In the hierarchy of arts, film is the accessible one and literature is above all. Fact, right?

But isn't writing just a clumsy way of making speech recordable with old school tech like ink and paper? Film on the other hand is very hi-fi. The next best thing to having the master teach in front of you is having a film of the master teaching. It's much closer to the real deal than reading it. When it comes to data-transmission, film is dope.

The written word does have some things going for it. You can read at your own pace, reading can be done in many situation where film-watching would be impractical, referencing written material is easy, everyone reads a little differently but everyone watches the same movie. For me, personally, these details are of great importance. Given the choice between watching an interview or reading the transcription, I go for reading. I find videos frustratingly slow and distracting. (With the notable exception of Crash Course, that can fit hours worth of reading in a ten minutes clip.) But I'm institutionalized. It's only after decades and decades of painstaking practice that reading has become natural enough for me that I prefer it over recorded live action. Like an old-timer that prefers to handwrite than typing. Everyone knows that typing is faster-better-more-practical-and-then-you-can-email-it-instead-of-having-to-use-the-post-god-old-people-are-dumb.

I'm most probably of a dying breed. The advantages of the written word are so not worth the massive investment that learning to read it to a high level of literacy represents. I believe literature occupies the top of the art-pyramid only as a vestige of its past importance. Even though Internet has put the written word front and center again, it was only because words carry well over low bandwidth. It was temporary.

I believe in a future where people don't even bother to learn writing, and literacy rates are a measure of how backward a society is.

Bad time for authors? Well, I'm talking distant future here. And, anyways, what we do is tell stories. With language. Writing is just a medium for us. And not a terribly good one at that: a half-baked low-tech record of language. Language is what it's all about. And language isn't going away.

Until we come up with good telepathy protocols, that is.

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