I have written on this blog and elsewhere that the phonetic alphabet was the greatest ever breakthrough in information technology. I still think is the best medium for the Web. Now I would add that it is best supplemented with images but images without text frustrates me. When I get a link to a slide share or a video I frequently do not bother the look at it. Here are some reasons.
You cannot grab quotes or paste into another doc.
Text is very scannable – according to Jakob Nielsen users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average site visit and 20% is more likely but it is easier to come back with text.
Text is easy to distribute – It’s easy to cut and paste it and send it somewhere or to clip and re-syndicate it via email, RSS or social networks
Text is easy on the workplace – It’s much easier for cube-based workers to read text on the screen and get away with it vs. watching long videos.
Search results are still largely made up of text and better SEO is good thing if you want to get your message out.
Now the ancient Greeks who came up with the phonetic alphabet probably did not think about these implications. It is the invention that keeps on giving. The concept of an original version that could be preserved did not evolve until after written text. This was critical to the development of modern science among other things. In many ways, the epic poets, chief knowledge distributors of their day, made up the details as they went along. Text made available a visual record of thought, abolishing the need for an acoustic record and hence the need for rhythms. The first thing put into text was an epic poem but soon text inspired documents appeared. But there is more.
Like many great inventions, the uses of text slowly evolved. In fact, it appears that reading was often done aloud until after the 6th century. Ivan Illich relates that St. Augustine refrained from reading after his brothers went to sleep for fear of waking them. After the 6th century, silent reading became more commonplace, and such techniques such as tables of contents and indexes first appeared over a thousand years after the phonetic alphabet first emerged. These new devices allowed for random access to text information, a concept we take for granted now. Now people were free to read their emails and blog posts without disturbing their neighbors. What will be next for text?