We take it for granted, these days reflexively using our thumbs to tap out a msg somebody will immediately read and LOL, ROTFLMAO! Or we can compose a serious tweet, if the very idea of that has not become ridiculous with our gold-plated mad king tweeting a pouting stream of unintelligible absurdities. A text: be there in fifteen, all the necessary information in four words. We take for granted our ability to put symbols in a line and have them speak for us. It is a miracle, when you think about it, to see a thought spelled out in syllables.
Reading and writing have always been regarded by tyrants as something to fear. A slave with a book was said to be more dangerous than a slave with a gun, for obvious reasons. Teach a child to read and you give her the key to open her mind to unimaginable things. Imagine the utter chaos if the immiserated billions we are keeping down could read, and write, and organize behind coherent ideas.
In Margaret Atwood’s great dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrator is handed a pen by the powerful man she is supposed to conceive a child by. Writing has been banned, along with reading and thought itself. But suddenly she is holding a pen:
The pen between my fingers is sensuous, alive almost, I can feel its power, the power of the words it contains.