There are many serious issues facing the viability of humanity’s future. To effectively deal with these issues we will need to work together and interact with our knowledge more efficiently and more deeply than we do now.
When will text be valued not just for it's historical importance,
but also for it's future potential?
We will not deal with these issues with just chat and pictures - no matter how fancy or high-tech - we will also need to draw on the benefits of the power written word.
They didn’t invent writing in order to copy spoken language,
but rather to do things that spoken language failed at
Yuval Noah Harari in ‘Sapiens’
Writing has evolved over the last five and a half thousand years and changed to fulfil the demands at the time, evolving both the type and the substrate, from bones and clay into papyrus and parchment into paper and now onto a digital substrate, setting the scene for the greatest revolution of the written word.
The alphabet was one thing when applied to clay or stone,
and quite another when set down on light papyrus
The combination of modern high performance computers and high speed internet connection gives us unparalleled opportunities to harness the incredible power of what Doug Engelbart called Symbol Manipulation.
The written word in digital form promises an interactive power beyond anything we have seen in any medium before. Some of it is already happening and a lot more lies in the potential of the medium:
These rich digital interactions allow the user to follow hunches easier, to check possible connections, to share findings, see the information from different angles and to see it in context, giving the reader and the author an incredibly richer understanding of the text than any diagram, picture or video alone could do.
Mental Freedom of Movement : Rich Interactivity
In the same way a modern computer game provides great freedom to leap and around and pivot at will, so can digital text provide greater freedom of mental movement, freedom to question and follow hunches and intuitions as easily and powerfully as a dancer changing pose.
We are seeing a change in our physical beings as para-olympians are augmented to become what some call ‘super-human’. We need to provide the same augmentation to knowledge workers, supporting and nurturing a deep literacy.
(Text does not exist in isolation and can benefit from being analysed in concert with other media, and integrated with other media. However, other media are receiving serious investment beyond anything which text is seeing. The future of text is not however simply being more integrated with other media - you would not discuss the future of photography, video, 3D or audio in terms of how it needs to be more integrated with other media.)
The reason the Future Text Initiative was created was to harness our collective expertise to build the most powerful interactive text systems possible. In order to succeed we will have to work on many fronts simultaneously, including: