Humility to begin with

One of the most widespread rhetorical strategies in medieval writing is the deployment of humility. Especially at the start of a book, the author would mix retraction, litotes and protestations of weakness, insufficiency and imperfection to point out that the text he or she is about to write would have been done better by someone…

Visible speech

There’s no escaping the fact that the way we speak has been shaped by the way we write. You could say that in a literate culture, speech tends to follow script, which is the opposite of what is called phonemic orthography, the writing of words based on the spoken sounds (graphemes matching phonemes). It seems…

For a different kind of virology

Information is infectious. Like a living organism, it brings about changes in the host which, though unnoticeable to the naked eye, are no less significant. A body may recover from a pathogen, but its immune system comes out transformed. It is perhaps unfortunate, not to mention portentous, that the rapid and widespread circulation of media…

The pain of lorem ipsum

I’ve created several quizes for different sets of people during this lockdown season and I one of the questions was always the same: If the Latin word ipsum in the well-known editorial gimmick lorem ipsum means ‘himself/itself’, what does lorem mean? Latin dictionary is allowed, but reference to Google & Co is not. Everyone who’s…

Retrofit writing

The history of human culture is also the history of the technology that humans have developed and used through the ages. Tech is not an extra to the human story, but it has always been at the centre of it. Nothing evolves in a vacuum, but everything depends on everything else. Until yesterday – in…

It’s all jargon

If Jack Dorsey and the other co-founders of Twitter had been more etymologically minded in 2006 (there’s some evidence that some of them have since improved), then instead of Twitter we might have had ‘Jargon’. Only the coolest and least angry birds know that the origin of the word ‘jargon’ has to do with the…

Building walls

Echo chambers. In a monopolar or heavily polarised environment, what strategic value do professions of faith have? In a monopolar culture like those during the European age of faith, holding strong views benefits the person holding the view, giving her a sense of achieved righteousness. In a polarised world like the 21st century West, strong…

The orphanage of history

The 13th century was an age of information. Arguably the first one. The main challenge for the European writers and scholars of the period was the organisation of information, novel ways of processing the chaotic body of knowledge amassed during the late antique, early and high medieval period. Major breakthroughs were achieved in the area…

Analog speed

A face-to-face chat between two or more people runs at analog speed. A group discussion, a conference, a parliamentary session, a rally, even a protest is conducted at analog speed. Writing, sending, receiving and reading a letter are all analog operations. They obey human time. As the agents set the temporal constraints, the technology follows….

Of mice and users

In 1968, while violent protests were breaking out around the world, something was sidling its way forward in the tech world: the computer mouse. On 9 December 1968 at the Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, the American engineer Douglas Engelbart conducted a live demonstration of the first computer mouse in what has since been…