In the Beginning Was the Word and Then Four Revolutions in the History of Information

In the beginning was the word, or grunt, or groan, or signal of some sort. This, however, hardly qualifies as an information revolution, at least in any standard technological sense. Nature is replete with meaningful signs, and we must imagine that our early ancestors noticed natural patterns that helped to determine when to sow and when to reap, which animal tracks to follow, what to eat, and so forth. Spoken words at first must have been meaningful in some similar sense. But in time the word became flesh (corpus) and dwelt among us, as "inscription" (literally, to put into writing) inaugurated the dawn of human history. This did not happen instantly. One place to enter the story is with clay tokens to represent trade transactions that in time became accounting tablets and, then, the world's first literature (Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, The Epic of Gilgamesh, etc.) and codes of law (The Codes of Ur-Nammu, Lipit-Ishtar, Hammurabi, and so forth.) This event happened around the north shore of the Persian Gulf sometime in the 4th millennium BCE and was enshrouded in mystery as the role of the scribe trained in the art of inscribing and deciphering signs belonged to the priest (Deibert 1997). With the sanction of religion, writing gave birth to "civility" (literally, life in the city) and defined the line between "history" and "pre-history," the latter being a term designating everything that happened before. There is little doubt that the invention of writing was significant and that it deserves recognition as the first revolution in the history of information. Life as we live it today would have been impossible otherwise. Innovations in writing technologies happened with significant effects, but at various points in the history of information, changes in technology were so dramatic that they reshaped the course of human history in radical ways. The revolution in printing is well-studied; the invention of the printing press and movable type (c..
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