How apt that Michael Valpy's article on Marshall McLuhan appeared in the July 16th Globe and Mail Focus section. McLuhan had much to say about communication media, culture and meaning. A good intro to his ideas can be found at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/innis-mcluhan.
McLuhan describes the impact of the 3 most important technological changes that have influenced culture; the alphabet, the printing press and the telegraph. He described not only the changes these tools have wrought, he expressed how they reshaped the world we live in.
The alphabet is the most incredible advance in the technology of communication. Typing this on an iPad, I can't help wonder how today's tools will shape all of us. McLuhan describes how the alphabet ushered in a linear, geometric, and specific environment. A world as a series of parts. The world before the alphabet was in his terms 'acoustic' or using multiple senses to understand the whole. This is where drawing comes in, as it is a language that engages all of the senses to express meaning.
The Greek philosopher Plato had a unique opinion about the alphabet. The alphabet was the ENEMY, he saw it as a new technology that diminished memory, as he came from an oral narrative culture. Writing could lie and yet still be believed--hard to stare down a cheater when they are symbols on paper. Sounds a bit like Plato saw tabloid news coming.
Some great ideas about words, images and writing in Simon Morley's book, 'Writing on the Wall.'