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“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 3. Historic roots of reading.

Have a fantastic week in September. We have discovered in our quest for the history of reading, an opportunity to realize again a fascinating tale of human development. Only when we discover the treasure of looking at the past, to understand the present, before proceeding further with our inventions and innovations, then and only then we can take the right decisions for the path of the next generations. The baby boomer cohort received the world from the silent generation, the decision makers from the times of WWI and WWII. Generation X still got an impact from them, and just during the last 20 years, the baby boomers nailed the batons of oversight. But I am sure that whenever we observe wars and destructive technologies which barred the old, that is a legacy of the past generations’ methods of doing their own corporate strategy.

Les Crayons, a Watercolor exercise 7 x 5 inches. By Eleonora Escalante. The purpose of this exercise was to test colors. Testing the Sennelier Grain Fine 300GSM paper and my first Sennelier Professional Watercolors tubes. What beautiful french pigments!.

Now we foresee that in less than a decade, it will be the turn for Generation X to “start to lead”, so we humbly must teach to ask ourselves, every single day, how our decisions will impact the next generations. How our decisions with products/services and value propositions with the new technologies, will affect those who are not born yet. In this case of reading and writing, we have to ask ourselves what are we doing correctly and wrongly with the new innovations that are affecting our learning to read and write.  The history of reading is the history of writing. So whatever our companies decide to implement to sell to the masses that affects our history of reading/writing, is something relevant to think about.  Today´s goal is to provide at least a glimpse of that story, so let´s begin.

Writing and reading together. It took thousands of years in our human evolution to arrive at a point in time in which our ancestors were able to write. It was a long road, adorable readers. To go from orality to literacy. To shift from what they said or what they performed with non-verbal communication, to a written one. Just imagine how long it took to our ancestors to realize that they could inscribe and record a message on a surface. What a magnificence was for the most illustrious to initiate to define things and write them on a surface. They started with painting. Then with the creation of a language. then with a definition of terms. And then suddenly the written language occurred. Oh my God, they were able to create a dictionary. They could record transactions with numbers. They could calculate for engineering infrastructure and register climate or astronomy discoveries. What a treasured labor on the cusp of their inventions!.

Our predecessors were so judicious that they knew the strength of materials for writing. And they started to explore painting and engraving symbols and signs on stones. They chose rocks that could stand thousands of years to show us what was relevant to them at that time. They carved on rocks. They painted on walls. They tested innumerable surfaces coming from nature: leaves, bark, wood, tortoise shells, clothing, silk, trees, metals, rocks, and clay. But they knew that stones were the best for leaving a legacy of permanence. Afterward, they invented the papyrus, the parchment from animal skin, and the wax tablets, just to end up discovering the procedure of doing paper, invented in China, around 1300 CE. After the paper was discovered, the first printing machine emerged with the Gutenberg printing press in Europe.

We wonder, what was the purpose of reading and writing in our ancient times? Their goal wasn´t to make money with it but to leave stories for us. Valuable stories that could help us to move forward with our life, coming from the monasteries that manufactured the first books. Or were they trying to tell us to don´t repeat their mistakes? What has happened in the evolution of our reading and writing since Gutenberg? How did the first industrial revolution affect books? and how is it that now we are being forced to leave the paper for a virtual non-existent device economy that is returning us back to the times in which literacy didn´t exist?

If you read carefully the last paragraph, there is a reality in the aspects of writing down and reading: reading can´t happen without writing. And writing, can´t happen without reading. Nevertheless, both actions: writing and reading have been part of our communication process, a cycle of interminable tests and errors that evolved over time. We will dedicate the next chapter (next Friday) to developing the way in which writing and reading tied the knot to live in full matrimony forever.  But let’s proceed, to refresh our conceptual framework on communication.

Foundations of communication. Communication is a word that comes from the Latin root “communis”, which means “common” (2).  Common what? Common language? Common interpretations? Common messages? Or Common mediums to transmit the message? What is common to communication? What are the fundamental elements of communication to occur?

For communication to occur, there should be several elements beyond the message that we transmit. Please visit slide number 5 of our today´s material. In this slide, we have offered you the most general “common” scheme of the elements of communication.  Some authors explain the communication process in a diagram of 6 components, others with the arrival of the new digital channels, they have expanded it to even 10 elements. We have decided to stick to the notion of 7 core elements (7 is our Godly lucky number):

  1. Sender (encoding)
  2. Message (written in a specific language)
  3. Medium or communication channel
  4. Receiver (decoding)
  5. Feedback
  6. Noise or interference
  7. Context

Communicating is inherent to our existence. Regardless of how we communicate, for communication to happen there must be an intense desire or need to interconnect with others. This longing or necessity has different reasons or causes. What has caused human beings to wish or to need to communicate? What are the reasons? The motivations?   Other species’ societies can’t write or read, but they use signs, eye contact, sounds, buzzing, vocal noises, actions of aggression, gestures, physical behavior, excretes or liquid from glands, specific odors expelled from their organisms, and even silence to transmit or convey messages in between their individuals.  For thousands of years before the appearance of the first inscriptions in writing, humans were able to transfer messages without a medium, without a surface, without ink, or even without paper. So, why have we landed into the inscription of our messaging systems? How is it that human civilization evolved to set up books for reading? How did different cultures in parallel or in distinct epochs of times invent the notion of writing and so the concept of reading? So many questions, that we need to answer. Remember please, that writing/reading as a system of communication took thousands of years as a process of cognition. And it happened from the human desire for inscribing the message outside our emerged speech or orality” (1). Purposes for communication range with an ample spectrum: to convey information, sell products and services, show appreciation, socialize with others, request things, agree or disagree with something, etc.

Communicating. A backbone principle for societies. As you already know, we always start with the simplest ways of knowledge, and then we proceed to elevate you further. According to one of the most common dictionaries that exist nowadays, Merriam-Webster, communication is an action that occurs in different communities of species. “It is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals of the same community or different communities through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior” (2). From that simple definition, we will elevate the concept much more. Communication exists in every specie, not just in humans. All animals, including plants, communicate between them. Humans also have the capacity to communicate with members of other species, that is how we convey messages to our pets, and we understand the messages coming from our flora, without the intervention of words. Therefore, communicating is an action between at least two or more members of the same specie or other species that share a common language.

 Learning to read is to learn to write. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Microsoft Office Library

Language is understood here as a system (or several systems) that are used as a mechanism or code to communicate something (3).

A language can be of non-verbal manners, means, symbols, numbers, and body signs. This is as basic as a point of departure for transmitting to others without using words, but exhausting the utilization of sounds, touch, smell, body motions, gestures, emotions, etc. The non-verbal communication includes music with instruments, dance, painting, sculpture on stones or carving, and even theater pantomimes.

Language is a verbal system in which we speak words using our mouths. It is associated with the word “orality”, spoken means of talking with words intermingled in sentences and phrases.  A verbal speaking system of words agglutinates a vocabulary with its respective definitions. And it is used by people of a particular country or by a group of people who have learned this language with the purpose to be understood by those who want to speak that idiom and the jargon of a particular culture, or by those who share the same history or set of traditions. Verbal communication is under the orality cognition of social communication. Oral civilizations before the invention of writing required a particular set of skills and forms of discourse. For these societies, the reliance on memory and repetition to retain knowledge was crucial because the only way they had to preserve information and expertise, was to keep learning from one generation to the next one by keeping everything in our brains´ memory.

A written language is utilized through written words on a surface. It is also a language system, that obeyed the spoken words, but for which we have required physical materials for at least 5,000 years. Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. Once human beings evolved from orality to literacy, the writing systems were established with specific rules, norms of grammar, and relative contexts. Everything was set up in such a way that helped to organize our notions with words, as a result, we could express and read on a tangible surface. These grammar and orthography rules helped the human community to organize our thoughts for a particular sentence, then paragraphs, and then narratives, constituent inscriptions of that specific writing system (with its respective alphabet). The combination of words from a particular language (non-verbal, verbal, and written texts) has triggered the qualified ability to express and share messages, concepts, ideas, thoughts, teachings, and feelings. Then that is why when we learn a language, the evaluation of our performance is organized into 4 pillars: oral and written production, and oral and written comprehension.

From the basics, we have tried to structure today´s episode using the conventional ground of communication. The literacy process to write and reading as we know it today has always relied on human brains and efforts.   That is why, if we wish to learn about the historic roots of reading, it is imperative to cognize what has caused us to write. Reading can´t be separated from writing. And that is why we are required today to take off with a conceptual background in communication.

Historic roots of reading. For this section, I invite you to watch the timeline of our historic roots of reading, which are arranged in the slides above. Enjoy the spectacle of our reading history over the slides. In our next chapter, we will kick off with Gutenberg´s printing press.

Learning to read is to learn to write.  Illustrative and non-commercial image.

Our next episode: “Once upon a time write and read tied the knot”.

Strategic Music Section.

Music Reading chill-outs. Our previous musical section of the last episode was simply a preamble to motivate you to start reading books again. I do not wish you to go to read from “digital mediums”, because the noise or interference of multiple applications and platforms in your laptop or tablet has raised exponentially nowadays. Our tip of today is linked to the rationale of why reading on paper is much better than reading on digital channels.

Once you have assembled and are placed in your reading chill-out ambiance (with peaceful music that allows you to read), reading from books on paper is the only way in which our brains can relax from the interference that has kept us out of reading. Our emphasis to return to printed books has nothing to do with an anti-technology advancement. We have comprehended from our own experience with digital devices exposure, that our brains are being injured in our process to be literate, because of our over-exposure to them. So, it is ridiculous, or even out of mind from my side (and after being totally exposed to digital screens for 25 years) to advise you to read BOOKS or JOURNALS from a screen reading device with Wi-Fi or internet included. Your levels of interference will be as higher as trying to send you to read to a discotheque. For example, in our personal context, if we wish to understand what we read (no matter what we read), we always print the book’s material that we download from the internet. I can´t find these books in the local bookstores. But if you live in places that have exquisite local bookstores, it is much better to go directly and buy the book from there. Once you finish it, you can lend or gift it to someone who will need it. You can also donate your books to the libraries that are waiting for these printed versions. In societies where poverty is the norm, or if we can’t afford a printer and paper, or if we are unable to purchase a written book, libraries play an essential role in reading. If we have a beautiful library in our city or our school, we can go to lend books there. Libraries are of extreme importance for those readers who wish to ignite the passion for discovery, and we will develop this topic in episode 25.

Please stop reading books from digital screens. These devices don´t do any favor to you. The whole purpose of reading books on paper is to help you to relax from the digital world. Voila!

Today´s music is from a pianist from Canada Andre Gagnon. Enjoy!

See you next Friday 23rd of September, with the fourth episode of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist”. Thank you for reading to me.

“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo.

Sources of reference utilized today (visit the slides please)

  1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-companion-to-the-history-of-the-book/materials-and-meanings/DD58B577AC68054762E7E5A98BC3A8C0
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communication
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337649561_What_is_Communication

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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