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Lecture 2

Media, Information and Technoculture 2000F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Eric A. Havelock, Pictogram, Sumer

Media, Information and Technoculture
Course Code
MIT 2000F/G
Daniel Robinson

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The pen and the sword work together over colonial rule
3200 BCE Mesopotamia
o Economy outstripping memory
o Writing was used to spread the economy, keeping track of financial
o Record keeping
o Taxation
o The economy extends beyond the capacity of memory now
o Certain things you don’t necessarily want to write down mofia
o Writing is secular, utilitarian (everyday life)
Pictograph Script
o Worked best for things that were easily drawn, physical things
o Hard to draw ideas or thoughts
o A society with pictographic struggle to use reading and writing to
their fullest advantage
Rebus Principe
o Taking a pictographic symbol and use it for its phonetic value
o Expanded the capacity for written vocabulary
o But what about words that do not correspond to phonetics?
o Abstract Concepts
Rel./legal/medical texts
Objects AND ideas
Corresponded to an idea or syllable
o Cuneiform
Pictography to formal patterns
Ideographic and syllabic symbols
o Cylinders on clay
Personal stamps (signature) represented who you are
o Baked Clay Tablets
Baked so that no one could change the message
o Trade/Commerce
o Time-biased medium
The clay was heavy, it was ill-suited for travel over long
Permanent records that stay permanent
Not in large, centralized Roman empires
Used in smaller, scattered cities
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Writing systems developed independently
Social/economic changes were taking place around this period that gave rise
to the need to have a writing system in place
3200 BCE Sumeria
3000 BCE Egypt
o Hieroglyphics
o 1500 BCE
o 22 letters
o More efficient, a lot easier to learn
o Only consonants
Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Cyrillic, Bengali
o Indo-European (Romance, Germanic, Slavic, Indonesian)
Took the Phoenician alphabet and added vowels
o 1000-200 BCE
Improved the capacity to expand the vocabulary
Easier to read and write
o You don’t have to memorize all the pictures that correspond to words
o You just have to know that 26 letters have different sounds and you
group them into words
o Could teach children to read and write easier
o Schools taught younger and younger people that didn’t happen in the
other societies
Precise meanings
Transition from craft based literacy to democratic literacy
o With the earlier forms of writing, essentially because it was difficult to
learn it meant often that only certain elites could do it, those with the
time and money to be taught those writing systems
o It was elitist enterprise
o Scribes were those that were specialists in reading and writing
In Greek society, more and more people can read and write thanks to the
alphabetic system
In a way, the alphabet is a technical and social innovation
o Development of the school systems
Devalue memorization
o In pictographic systems, memorization is still important
New statements/novel ideas
o In a society that is based on the alphabet, we are able to explore more
and more unfamiliar concepts
o They can be read and reread and spread influence
Eric Havelock
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