The written word carries with it a puzzling paradox. It is unmediated, and yet strictly coded. Words are naked and layered at the same time.
No software is required to read a book. But literacy is one of the most programmed human activities.
On the personal scale, it takes at least half a decade for a human to develop the cognitive and intellectual skills to prepare herself for reading and, what’s worse, writing. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Literacy isn’t acquired in a day either.
On the cultural scale, it took humanity hundreds of thousands of years to invent and master writing. And to make reading widespread. That game is still on.
There is a code to be cracked, but once it’s cracked, it becomes second nature, running effortlessly in the background.
Unlike electronic words, written words, handwritten or printed, are seemingly immediate. Access is almost total. All it takes is the embedded code acquired by the reader. A blot of ink on a piece of something. That’s all. Fragile, yet permanent. Depending on very little for survival, and yet so prone to destruction. Another paradox.
Unlearning is not an option. But amnesia is, and always has been. Empires have come and gone, generations have replaced each other, but the word is still there, written and supreme, the guarantee underwriting the hope for the human project. The curse and the blessing. The disease and the cure. The final word belongs to the word.