FANDOM


In Chapter 10: The Written Word, Hinton explains that writing is the transformation of language from a variant, temporary event (speech) to an invariant physical object. This change allows for a nearly-infinite audience across time and space, and it influences how people perceive the ideas contained within writing. It also allows for innovative ways of thinking about concepts through language. The written word has necessitated more rigorous structure to be implemented into language in order for it to be widely understood.

The Origins of WritingEdit

Writing is an inherent part of designing, according to Hinton, although its development is more recent than that of spoken language. Writing began as simple pictorial representation but quickly developed into representing spoken language, making written language much more nuanced than merely pictures strung together to make meaning: “Eventually writing became much more about encoding the richness of verbal language than mere pictorial representation, because the pictures were quickly co-opted into representations of the sounds of written language, instead.” [1] This has led to modern readers being able to interpret meaning from a written page just as easily as they understand oral communication.

What Writing DoesEdit

Oral language can only be stored in memory, which led to difficult and time-consuming study of mnemonic devices by ancient orators. Even with elaborate memorization techniques, an oral event is temporary. As Hinton puts it, "Writing enabled us to freeze our ideas in time and space and then dissect and study them."[2] By writing words down, the spoken content (a variant event) becomes static and unchanging (an invariant object), allowing its meaning to be retained and communication to be expanded across time and space. This created the concept of “looking it up,” which allows ideas to be preserved, organized, and eventually studied. Some other developments due to the shift from variance to invariance include:

  • Categories, and categories of ideas: Categorization is used not just for elements of a thing but for the ideas themselves.
  • Abstraction: Symbols are utilized more fully and can create layers of meanings in a single work.
  • Proliferation: Since writing is easily preserved, a problem of too much information is created.
  • Storage and retrieval: A new “nested terrain” made of categories, similar to the physical environment that hunter-gatherers were used to, is a consequence of the organization of information. The organization of a system of information has real impact on how people interact with that system when trying to use the information contained in it.
  • Logic: Writing is a necessary component of formal logic, which requires ideas to be constantly rearranged and rethought. Hinton quotes author James Gleik in his idea that logic uses abstract concepts in order to find out the true meaning behind something: “Logic turns the act of abstraction into a tool for determining what is true and what is false; truth can be discovered in words alone, apart from concrete experience.” [3] Concrete experience is no longer required for understanding.
  • Complexity of thought: The ability to write words down and come back to them later allows for higher-level cognitive analysis.
  • Transmission: A person’s words can be quoted directly across time and space, with the text itself treated as a physical object.

Hinton adds that "The ability to label, direct, and instruct through written language and semantic graphics is a huge boon to creating the context of inhabited environments; it is part of what makes civilization possible." [4] The changes brought about by a written form of language are what lead to the creation of inhabited environments in the first place.The development of “meta” analysis, in which language is used to analyze language, results in a disconnect of ideas from the physical world. Ancient understanding is not equipped for this meta-language, which has resulted in a distinct characterization of the digital world from the physical one.

ListsEdit

Lists transform labels into structures by way of organizing them, which is a fundamental reason why writing was developed in the first place. Hinton claims that “lists can literally save lives” [5], giving the example of procedural checklists for United States Army bombing crews in 1935. The implementation of these checklists almost entirely eliminated fatalities due to human error. He gives a second example of checklists becoming a requirement for Michigan hospitals’ procedures, which caused a significant drop in mortality due to infection. Hinton attributes the original human error to satisfice, in which shortcuts are taken subconsciously on an activity that a person is highly skilled and practiced in.

The Structure of WritingEdit

Writing is both a code for the modern world and a form of language that must reflect rules for oral communication. Because written language does not allow for non-verbal communication, it must be highly structured for its full meaning to come across. These structures can be analyzed and standardized. Grammar becomes especially important in written language when context is stripped out, since the meaning of a sentence can change based on the placement of a single comma--Hinton gives the example of a joke about a panda who enters a cafe and opens fire on the customers before exiting. The panda excuses his actions because it is well known that a panda "eats, shoots and leaves." The inclusion or deletion of a comma completely transforms the meaning of the phrase.

Computers are even more prone to confusing the meaning of a sentence based on incorrect grammar, since they rely more heavily on patterns than humans do. Hinton claims that “Writing is a sort of proto-technology beneath all information technology.” [6] Writing is the foundation for much of the modern world; small mistakes can easily compile into big ones, since writing is the structure for modern communication.

Rules and SystemsEdit

Language not only creates the framework for the world, but also influences the logic behind the actions that people take within it. “Rules form essential functional elements of semantic environments,” Hinton says [7], giving the example of a sports game whose rules must be widely understood and highly structured by an official body in order to be played by many different groups of people. Writing is necessary for anything on a large-scale, especially commerce. Because its audience is essentially unlimited, writing can offer communication across otherwise unthinkable distances of time and space.

AnalysisEdit

Hinton is setting the stage for language in the digital world to be a completely different topic than spoken language. Perhaps the most relevant line is the one in which he explains that meta-analysis of language contributes heavily to the “digital mode of information.” [8] The chapter as a whole focuses on the differences between spoken and written language--not only in the physical differences, but how people react differently to them and what new methods of analysis arise from the act of putting words onto a page.

Although Hinton starts at the development of language in ancient times, his conclusion that written language breaches gaps of time and space connect nicely to the history of the printed word. A massively increased distribution of written language consequently caused the effects Hinton describes to be more widespread as well. At this point, writing became not merely a personal human endeavor but a product of the interaction between humans and machines. The real transformative power of writing comes in the transposition of language from verbal communication to a virtual, abstract, malleable material. [9]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 161
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 163
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 165
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 165-6
  5. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 167
  6. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 170
  7. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 170
  8. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 166
  9. Bolter, Jay David. 2001. “Writing as Technology” Pdf.  http://williamwolff.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/bolter-writing-20011.pdf

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.