In “Does Writing Have a Future,” Flusser examines writing’s past and future in our evermore digital world. According to him, writing fundamentally changed the way human beings think. Our thinking progressed from a circular mess of ideas to an organized, linear method. This linear way of thinking created our historical consciousness, and thus created history. Going forward, the digital and programming will render writing in its current form obsolete because the digital is not limited to the linear.
Flusser writes, “All writing is ‘right’: it is a gesture of setting up and ordering written signs. And written signs are, directly or indirectly, signs for ideas. So writing is a gesture that aligns and arranges ideas” (6). The invention of writing allowed humans to organize their ideas and “direct those ideas toward a recipient” (6). The ability to transmit ideas and record events allows for historical consciousness. He continues, “Only one who writes can think logically, calculate, criticize, pursue knowledge,philosophize—and conduct himself appropriately. Before that one turned in circles” (7). He adds, “History is a function of writing and the consciousness that expresses itself in writing” (8). The invention of writing has fundamentally changed the way humans think about their existence and the existence of the world. According to Flusser, writing is the basis for logical thought.
After Flusser establishes that writing creates the concept of history, he argues that machines are inherently capable of recording history just as well, if not better, than humans. He writes, “Such machines fundamentally perform not only a grammatical but also a thinking function, and as we consider the future of writing and of thinking as such, this might well give us pause for thought” (6). He continues, “Writing, this ordering of written signs into rows, can be mechanized and automated. Machines write faster than human beings…They will possess a historical consciousness far superior to ours” (8). These passages raise the question, if human thought stems from writing, what will happen when all writing is done by machines? Our consciousness will be altered forever. He writes, “For spoken language would lose its position as mediator between thinking and writing…thought will have detached itself from language” (61). With thought so dependent on language and writing, it is disconcerting to imagine a future without these foundations.
Programming, the entering of code digitally, will cause us to relearn thought. Flusser writes, “At least two things characterize this relearning of thought: first, that we think images and only images, for everything we called perceptions—whether external or internal—are nothing but images computed in the brain; second, that thinking is not a continuous, discursive process—thinking ‘quantizes’” (144). He adds, “The level of consciousness that prevailed before history is articulated pictorially, the historical alphabetically, the new digitally…Each alphabetic attempt to bridge the abyss in the direction of the digital will fail because it will carry its own linear, goal-oriented structure into the digital, covering the digital up” (160). The thinking that developed with the invention of writing was goal-oriented and was aimed at a reader. The digital is not limited in these ways, so the alphabetic becomes obsolete. Since writing limits, the digital will inevitably overcome it as the predominant way of thinking. These passages shows how writing both developed thought in its current form and limits it. Flusser believes that all writing will be the last writing because the digital has no use for it.
- I don’t quite understand how historical consciousness is always goal oriented. Is it always supposed to tell a story or can it just exist?
I also don’t understand how writing will be rendered totally obsolete. Won’t writing still have a place in history because of its contributions to thought?
- What will human thought look like in 100 years? Will it even be human? In what form will writing exist? Will it be relegated to dark corners in museums or will it still have its place in the world?