The written word is arguably the most powerful and most influential tool humanity has ever created. Writing allows for the sharing of ideas, memories, events, stories, and other facets of the human experience in a manner completely unparalleled by anything else. By aiding in the recording of people, places, and events, writing allows us to recognize and understand our history and our past. It allows for the communication of complex ideas and concepts, a communication vitally necessary for the development and growth of our now complex, diverse, and sophisticated cultures, governments, philosophies, sciences, and technologies. Yet perhaps more importantly, the written word connects humans to each other in ways nothing else can. By putting down directly our thoughts, stories, and memories, we are creating an immortal record of ourselves and our experiences. The written word traverses time and space; by reading the words recorded by someone in the far distant past or in a far distant land, we are instantly transported into their mind and thoughts, intimately connected to their life, their ideas, and their experiences.
Without writing, ideas cannot be recorded. Prior to the invention and proliferation of writing, they were instead passed down through oral histories and stories. While this form of idea communication served its purpose, as we can see by the present existence of early oral stories such as The Iliad, it lacked any permanence. One person recalling and describing information could be prone to altering it in a fashion similar to the game of “telephone”. Ideas are always changing, but without having a record of the original idea, there was no idea of what had changed. Progress might be being made, but it was progress without direction. Recording ideas down with the written word, however, has an immortal sense of permanence. These words, unless rewritten, will always remain the same. As such, the ideas they convey are clearly laid out, and can always be revisited.
This has had enormous implications on human development. By allowing for us to record our progress, and by allowing us to see our roots, writing has enabled us to learn from our past and plan for our future. It has allowed for the communication and proliferation of new ideas based around a single, permanent concept. Through books and other literary mediums, writing has made accessible ideas in a much wider fashion than the oral historians and storytellers, who were few and far between. By doing so, it has spread knowledge and fostered intellectual growth in ways unmatched. It is no small coincidence that the printing press and the internet, two of the most revolutionary and important inventions developed by our species, do little more than disseminate and reproduce the written word.
The written word has been vital for our species’ development. Yet it also serves a much more intimate and personal role. Writing connects us, the reader, intimately to an author regardless of who they are or where and when they lived. By reading a book, we are given a firsthand account of an author’s ideas, perspectives, feelings, circumstances, and more. We can read about the ideas of a person writing thousands of years ago and connect to them as though that person was sitting right across from us. The words we read, after all, are the same exact words that they wrote. Reading accounts of different places or different times transports us to them and exposes us to those settings. Similarly, we can record our own ideas which will be read by people thousands of years from now, and they too will be transported into our thoughts, place, and time. Writing thus allows us to experience human life from throughout the world and throughout history. It exposes us to, and helps us try to understand, completely different human worlds. There is nothing else which is capable of doing so.