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Title: The Civilization of Illiteracy
Author: Mihai Nadin
Release Date: January, 2000 [eBook #2481]
[Last updated: September 15, 2022]
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The Civilization of Illiteracy, by Mihai Nadin
(C) Mihai Nadin 1997

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Literacy in a Changing World
Thinking about alternatives
Progressing towards illiteracy?

Book One The Chasm Between Yesterday and Tomorrow Contrasting characters Choose a letter and click Keeping up with faster living Loaded literacy Man proposes, man disposes Beyond the commitment to literacy A moving target The wise fox "Between us the rift" Malthus revisited Captives to literacy

The Epitome of the Civilization of Illiteracy
For the love of trade
"The best of the useful and the best of the ornamental"
The rear-view mirror syndrome

Book Two From Signs to Language Semeion revisited The first record is a whip Scale and threshold Signs and tools

From Orality to Writing
Individual and collective memory
Cultural memory
Frames of existence
The alienation of immediacy

Orality and Writing Today: What Do People Understand When They
A feedback called confirmation
Primitive orality and incipient writing
Taking literacy for granted
To understand understanding
Words about images

The Functioning of Language
Expression, communication, signification
The idea machine
Writing and the expression of ideas
Future and past
Knowing and understanding
Univocal, equivocal, ambiguous
Making thoughts visible
Alphabet cultures and a lesson from aphasia

Language and Logic
Logics behind the logic
A plurality of intellectual structures
The logics of actions
Memetic optimism

Book Three Language as Mediating Mechanism The power of insertion Myth as mediating pre-text Differentiation and coordination Integration and coordination revisited Life after literacy

Literacy, Language and Market
Products 'R' Us
The language of the market
The language of products
Transaction and literacy
Whose market? Whose freedom?
New markets, new languages
Literacy and the transient
Market, advertisement, literacy

Language and Work
Inside and outside the world
We are what we do
Literacy and the machine
The disposable human being
Scale of work, scale of language
Innate heuristics
The realm of alternatives
Mediation of mediation

Literacy and Education
"Know the best"
Ideal vs. real
Temples of knowledge
Coherence and connection
Plenty of questions
The equation of a compromise
To be a child
Who are we kidding?
What about alternatives?

Book Four Language and the Visual How many words in a look? The mechanical eye and the electronic eye Who is afraid of a locomotive? Being here and there at the same time Visualization

Unbounded Sexuality
Seeking good sex
Beyond immediacy
The land of sexual ubiquity
The literate invention of the woman
Ahead to the past
Freud, modern homosexuality, AIDS
Sex and creativity
Equal access to erotic mediocrity

Family: Discovering the Primitive Future
The quest for permanency
What breaks down when family fails?
The homosexual family
To want a child
Children in the illiterate family
A new individuality
How advanced the past. How primitive the future

A God for Each of Us
But who made God?
The plurality of religious experiences
The educated faithful-a contradiction in terms?
Challenging permanency and universality
Religion and efficiency
Religiosity in the civilization of illiteracy
Secular religion

A Mouthful of Microwave Diet
Food and expectations
Fishing in a videolake
Language and nourishment
Sequence and configuration revisited
On cooks, pots, and spoons
The identity of food
The language of expectations
Coping with the right to affluence
From self-nourishment to being fed
Run and feed the hungry
No truffles (yet) in the coop
We are what we eat

The Professional Winner
Sport and self-constitution
Language and physical performance
The illiterate champion
Gentlemen, place your bets!
The message is the sneaker

Science and Philosophy-More Questions Than Answers
Rationality, reason, and the scale of things
A lost balance
Thinking about thinking
Quo vadis science?
Discovery and explanation
Time and space: freed hostages
Coherence and diversity
Computational science
Explaining ourselves away
The efficiency of science
Exploring the virtual
Quo vadis philosophy?
The language of wisdom
In scientific disguise
Who needs philosophy? And what for?

Art(ifacts) and Aesthetic Processes
Making and perceiving
Art and language
Impatience and autarchy
The copy is better than the original
A nose by any other name
Crying wolf started early
Writing as co-writing
The end of the great novel

Libraries, Books, Readers
Why don't people read books?
Topos uranikos distributed

The Sense of Design
Drawing the future
Convergence and divergence
The new designer
Designing the virtual

Politics: There Was Never So Much Beginning
The commercial democracy of permissiveness
How did we get here?
Political tongues
Can literacy lead politics to failure?
Crabs learned how to whistle
A world of worlds
Of tribal chiefs, kings, and presidents
Rhetoric and politics
Judging justice
The programmed parliament
A battle to be won

"Theirs not to reason why"
The first war of the civilization of illiteracy
War as practical experience
The institution of the military
From the literate to the illiterate war
The Nintendo war (a cliché revisited)
The look that kills

Book Five The Interactive Future: Individual, Community, and Society in the Age of the Web Transcending literacy Being in language The wall behind the Wall The message is the medium From democracy to media-ocracy Self-organization The solution is the problem. Or is the problem the solution? From possibilities to choices Coping with choice Trade-off Learning from the experience of interface

A Sense of the Future
Cognitive energy
Literacy is not all it's made out to be
Networks of cognitive energy
The University of Doubt
Interactive learning
Footing the bill
A wake-up call
Consumption and interaction
Unexpected opportunities


No other time than ours has had more of the future and less of the past in it. The heat and beat of network interactions and the richness of multimedia and virtual reality reflect this time more than do the pages you are about to read. I wish I could put in your hands the new book, suggested on the cover, as the first page following all those that make up the huge library of our literate accumulation of knowledge.

Let's us imagine that it exists. As I see it, the book would read your you pause on a thought and start formulating questions. It should enable you to come closer to the persons whose thoughts are mentioned here, either through further investigation of their ideas or by entering into a dialogue with them. We would be able to interact with many of the individuals making this fascinating present happen.

The emergence of a new civilization, freed from constraints borne by its members during a time to which we must bid farewell-this is the subject of the book. Science and technology are themes of this intellectual expedition, but the subject is the ever-changing human being. The civilization we are entering is no promised land, make no mistake about that. But it is a realm of challenge. Tentative upon entering the territory of new possibilities, we have no choice but to go ahead.

Some-the pioneers, inventors, entrepreneurs, even politicians of the so-called Third Wave-rush into it, unable to contain an optimism based on their own opportunistic enthusiasm (as real or fake as it might be). The young lead, unburdening themselves of the shackles of an education which made the least contribution to their innovative accomplishments.

Others hesitate. They don't even notice the chains of a literate heritage, a heritage that buffers them, as it buffers us all at various times, from the often disquieting changes we experience at all levels of our existence. In the palace of books and eternity, we were promised love and beauty, prosperity, and above all permanence.

Disinheriting ourselves from all that was, we are nostalgic for our lost sense of continuity and security. Still, we cannot help feeling that something very different from what we used to expect is ahead of us. We are excited, though at times apprehensive.

It might be that the cutting-edge language and look of Wired, the magazine of the Netizens, is more appropriate to the subject than is the elaborate prose of this book. But this is not yet another product of the cottage industry of predictions, as we know them from Naisbitt, Gilder, or the Tofflers.

To explain without explaining away the complexity of this time of change was more important to me than to ride the coattails of today's sound-byte stars. Solid arguments that suggest possibilities fundamentally different from what they are willing to accept, or even entertain, make for a more deeply founded optimism.

If you get lost along the intellectual journey to which this book invites, it can be only my fault. If you agree with the argument only because it tired you out, it will be my loss. But if you can argue with me, and if your argument is free of prejudice, we can continue the journey together.

Try reaching me, as my thoughts try to reach you through this book. Unfortunately, I am not yet able to hand you that ideal book that would directly connect us. Short of this, here is an address you can use: Let's keep on touch!

Literacy in a Changing World

Thinking about alternatives

Preoccupation with language is, in fact, preoccupation with ourselves as individuals and as a species. While many concerns, such as terrorism, AIDS, poverty, racism, and massive migration of populations, haunt us as we hurry to achieve our portion of well-being, one at least seems easier to allay: illiteracy. This book proclaims the end of literacy, as it also accounts for the incredible forces at work in our restlessly shifting world. The end of literacy-a chasm between a not-so-distant yesterday and the exciting, though confusing, tomorrow-is probably more difficult to understand than to live with. Reluctance to acknowledge change only makes things worse. We notice that literate language use does not work as we assume or were told it should, and wonder what can be done to make things fit our expectations. Parents hope that better schools with better teachers will remedy the situation. Teachers expect more from the family and suggest that society should invest more in order to maintain literacy skills. Professors groan under the prospect of ill-prepared students entering college. Publishers redefine their strategies as new forms of expression and communication vie for public attention and dollars. Lawyers, journalists, the military, and politicians worry about the role and functions of language in society. Probably most concerned with their own roles in the social structure and with the legitimacy of their institutions, they would preserve those structures of human activity that justify literacy and thus their own positions of power and influence. The few who believe that literacy comprises not only skills, but also ideals and values, say that the destiny of our civilization is at stake, and that the decline in literacy has dreadful implications. Opportunity is not part of the discourse or argument.

The major accomplishment of analyzing illiteracy so far has been the listing of symptoms: the decrease in functional literacy; a general degradation of writing skills and reading comprehension; an alarming increase of packaged language (clichés used in speeches, canned messages); and a general tendency to substitute visual media (especially television and video) for written language. Parallel to scholarship on the subject, a massive but unfocused public opinion campaign has resulted in all kinds of literacy enterprises. Frequently using stereotypes that in themselves affect language quality, such enterprises plead for teaching adults who cannot read or write, for improving language study in all grades, and for raising public awareness of illiteracy and its various implications. Still, we do not really understand the necessary character of the decline of literacy. Historic and systematic aspects of functional illiteracy, as well as language degradation, are minimally addressed. They are phenomena that affect not only the United States. Countries with a long cultural tradition, and which make the preservation and literate use of language a public institution, experience them as well.

My interest in the subject of illiteracy was triggered by two factors: the personal experience of being uprooted from an East European culture that stubbornly defended and maintained rigid structures of literacy; and involvement in what are commonly described as new technologies. I ended up in the USA, a land of unstructured and flawed literacy, but also one of amazing dynamics. Here I joined those who experienced the consequences of the low quality of education, as well as the opening of new opportunities. The majority of these are disconnected from what is going on in schools and universities. This is how and why I started thinking, like many others, about alternatives.

My Mayflower (if I may use the analogy to the Pilgrims) brought me to individuals who do many things-shop, work, play or watch sports, travel, go to church, even love-with an acute sense of immediacy. Worshippers of the instant, my new compatriots served as a contrast to those who, on the European continent I came from, conscientiously strive for permanency-of family, work, values, tools, homes, appliances, cars, buildings. In contrast, the USA is a place where everything is the present, the coming moment. Not only television programs and advertisements made me aware of this fact. Books are as permanent as their survival on bestseller lists. The market, with its increasingly breathtaking fluctuations, might today celebrate a company that tomorrow disappears for good. Commencement ceremonies, family life, business commitments, religious practice, succeeding fashions, songs, presidents, denture creams, car models, movies, and practically everything else embody the same obsession. Language and literacy could not escape this obsession with change. Because of my work as a university professor, I was in the trenches where battles of literacy are fought. That is where I came to realize that a better curriculum, multicultural or not, or better paid teachers, or cheaper and better books could make a difference, but would not change the outcome.

The decline of literacy is an encompassing phenomenon impossible to reduce to the state of education, to a nation's economic rank, to the status of social, ethnic, religious, or racial groups, to a political system, or to cultural history. There was life before literacy and there will be life after it. In fact, it has already begun. Let us not forget that literacy is a relatively late acquisition in human culture. The time preceding writing is 99% of the entire story of the human being. My position in the discussion is one of questioning historic continuity as a premise for literacy. If we can understand what the end of literacy as we know it means in practical terms, we will avoid further lamentation and initiate a course of action from which all can benefit. Moreover, if we can get an idea of what to expect beyond the safe haven now fading on the horizon, then we will be able to come up with improved, more effective models of education. At the same time, we will comprehend what individuals need in order to successfully ascertain their manifold nature. Improved human interaction, for which new technologies are plentifully available, should be the concrete result of this understanding of the end of the civilization of literacy.

The first irony of any publication on illiteracy is that it is inaccessible to those who are the very subject of the concern of literacy partisans. Indeed, the majority of the millions active on the Internet read at most a 3-sentence short paragraph. The attention span of students in high school and universities is not much shorter than that of their instructors: one typed page. Legislators, no less than bureaucrats, thrive on executive summaries. A 30-second TV spot is many times more influential than a 4-column in- depth article. But those who give life and dynamics to reality use means other than those whose continued predominance this book questions.

The second irony is that this book also presents arguments which are, in their logical sequence, dependent on the conventions of reading and writing. As a medium for constituting and interpreting history, writing definitely influences how we think and what we think about. I wondered how my arguments would hold up in an interactive, non-linear medium of communication, in which we can question each other, and which also makes authorship, if not irrelevant, the last thing someone would worry about. Since I have used language to think through this book, I know that it would make less sense in a different medium.

This leads me to state from the outset-almost as self-encouragement-that literacy, whose end I discuss, will not disappear. For some, Literacy Studies will become a new specialty, as Sanskrit or Ancient Greek has become for a handful of experts. For others, it will become a skill, as it is already for editors, proofreaders, and professional writers. For the majority, it will continue in literacies that facilitate the use and integration of new media and new forms of communication and interpretation. The utopian in me says that we will find ways to reinvent literacy, if not save it. It has played a major role in leading to the new civilization we are entering. The realist acknowledges that new times and challenges require new means to cope with their complexity. Reluctance to acknowledge change does not prevent it from coming about. It only prevents us from making the best of it.

Probably my active practice of literacy has been matched by all those means, computer-based or not, for coping with complexity, to whose design and realization I contributed. This book is not an exercise in prophesying a brave new world of people happy to know less but all that they have to know when they need to. Neither is it about individuals who are superficial but who adapt more easily to change, mediocre but extremely competitive. Its subject is language and everything pertaining to it: family and sexuality, politics, the market, what and how we eat, how we dress, the wars we fight, love, sports, and more. It is a book about ourselves who give life to words whenever we speak, write, or read. We give life to images, sounds, textures, to multimedia and virtual reality involving ourselves in new interactions. Transcending boundaries of literacy in practical experiences for which literacy is no longer appropriate means, ultimately, to grow into a new civilization.

Progressing towards illiteracy?

Here is as good a place as any to explain my perspective. Language involves human beings in all their aspects: biology, sense of space and time, cognitive and manual skills, emotional resources, sensitivity, tendency to social interaction and political organization. But what best defines our relation to language is the pragmatics of our existence. Our continuous self-constitution through what we do, why we do, and how we do all we actually do-in short, human pragmatics-involves language, but is not reducible to it. The pragmatic perspective I assume originated with Charles Sanders Peirce. When I began teaching in the USA, my American colleagues and students did not know who he was. The semiotic implications of this text relate to his work. Questioning how knowledge is shared, Peirce noticed that, without talking about the bearers of our knowledge-all the sign carriers we constitute-we would not be able to figure out how results of our inquiries are integrated in our deeds, actions, and theories.

Language and the formation and expression of ideas is unique to humans in that they define a part of the cognitive dimension of our pragmatic. We seem endowed with language, as we are with hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. But behind the appearance is a process through which human self-constitution led to the possibility and necessity of language, as it led to the humanization of our senses. Furthermore, it led to the means by which we constitute ourselves as literate as the pragmatics of our existence requires under ever-changing circumstances. The appearance is that literacy is a useful tool, when in fact it results in the pragmatic context. We can use a hammer or a computer, but we are our language. The experience of language extends to the experience of the logic it embodies, as well as to that of the institutions that language and literacy made possible. These, in turn, influence what we are and how we think, what we do and why we do. So does every tool, appliance, and machine we use, and so do all the people with whom we interact. Our interactions with people, with nature, or with artifacts we ourselves generated further affect the pragmatic self-constitution of our identity.

The literate experience of language enhanced our cognitive capabilities. Consequently, literacy became larger than life. Much is covered by the practice of literacy: tradition, culture, thoughts and feelings, human expression through literature, the constitution of political, scientific, and artistic programs, ethics, the practical experience of law. In this book, I use a broad definition of literacy that reflects the many facets it has acquired over time. Those readers who think I stretch the term literacy too far should keep in mind all that literacy comprises in our culture. In contrast, illiteracy, no matter what its cause or what other attributes an individual labeled illiterate has, is seen as something harmful and shameful, to be avoided at any price. Without an understanding that encompasses our values and ways of thinking, we cannot perceive how a civilization can progress to illiteracy. Many people are willing to be part of post- literate society, but by no means are they willing to be labeled members of a civilization qualified as illiterate.

By civilization of illiteracy I mean one in which literate characteristics no longer constitute the underlying structure of effective practical experiences. Furthermore, I mean a civilization in which no one literacy dominates, as it did until around the turn of the century, and still does. This domination takes place through imposition of its rules, which prevent practical experiences of human self-constitution in domains where literacy has exhausted its potential or is impotent. In describing the post-literate, I know that any metaphor will do as long as it does not call undue attention to itself. What counts is not the provocativeness but that we lift our gaze, determined to see, not just to look for the comforting familiar.

This civilization of illiteracy is one of many literacies, each with its own characteristics and rules of functioning. Some of such partial literacies are based on configurational modes of expression, as in the written languages of Japan, China, or Korea; on visual forms of communication; or on synesthetic communication involving a combination of our senses. Some are numerical and rely on a different notation system than that of literacy. The civilization of illiteracy comprises experiences of thinking and working above and beyond language, as mathematicians from different countries communicating perfectly through mathematical formulae demonstrate. Or as we experience in activities where the visual, digitally processed, supports a human pragmatics of increased efficiency. Even in its primitive, but extremely dynamic, deployment, the Internet embodies the directions and possibilities of such a civilization. This brings us back to literacy's reason for being: pragmatics expressed in methods for increasing efficiency, of ensuring a desired outcome, be this in regard to a list of merchandise, a deed, instructions on how to make something or to carry out an act, a description of a place, poetry and drama, philosophy, the recording and dissemination of history and abstract ideas, mythology, stories and novels, laws, and customs. Some of these products of literacy are simply no longer necessary. That new methods and technologies of a digital nature effectively constitute an alternative to literacy cannot be overemphasized.

I started this book convinced that the price we pay for the human tendency to efficiency-that is, our striving for more and more at an ever cheaper price-is literacy and the values connected to it as represented by tradition, books, art, family, philosophy, ethics, among many others. We are confronted with the increased speed and shorter durations of human interactions. A growing number and a variety of mediating elements in human praxis challenge our understanding of what we do. Fragmentation and interconnectedness of the world, the new technology of synchronization, the dynamics of life forms or of artificial constructs elude the domain of literacy as they constitute a new pragmatic framework. This becomes apparent when we compare the fundamental characteristics of language to the characteristics of the many new sign systems complementing or replacing it. Language is sequential, centralized, linear, and corresponds to the stage of linear growth of humankind. Matched by the linear increase of the means of subsistence and production required for the survival and development of the species, this stage reached its implicit potential. The new stage corresponds to distributed, non-sequential forms of human activity, nonlinear dependencies. Reflecting the exponential growth of humankind (population, expectations, needs, and desires), this new stage is one of alternative resources, mainly cognitive in nature, compensating for what was perceived as limited natural means for supporting humankind. It is a system of a different scale, suggestively represented by our concerns with globality and higher levels of complexity. Therefore, humans can no longer develop within the limitations of an intrinsically centralized, linear, hierarchic, proportional model of contingencies that connect existence to production and consumption, and to the life-support system. Alternatives that affect the nature of life, work, and social interaction emerge through practical experiences of a fundamentally new condition.

Literacy and the means of human self-constitution based on it reached their full potential decades ago. The new means, which are not as universal (i.e., as encompassing) as language, open possibilities for exponential growth, resulting from their connectivity and improved involvement of cognitive resources. As long as the world was composed of small units (tribes, communities, cities, counties), language, despite differences in structure and use, occupied a central place. It had a unifying character and exercised a homogenizing function within each viable political unit. The world has entered the phase of global interdependencies. Many local languages and their literacies of relative, restricted significance emerge as instruments of optimization. What takes precedence today is interconnectivity at many levels, a function for which literacy is ill prepared. Citizens become Netizens, an identity that relates them to the entire world, not only to where they happen to live and work.

The encompassing system of culture broke into subsystems, not just into the "two cultures" of science and literacy that C.P. Snow discussed in 1959, hoping idealistically that a third culture could unite and harmonize them. Market mechanisms, representative of the competitive nature of human beings, are in the process of emancipating themselves from literacy. Where literate norms and regulations still in place prevent this emancipation-as is the case with government activity and bureaucracies, the military, and legal institutions-the price is expressed in lower efficiency and painful stagnation. Some European countries, more productive in impeding the work of the forces of renewal, pay dearly for their inability to understand the need for structural changes. United or not in a Europe of broader market opportunities, member countries will have to free themselves from the rigid constraints of a pragmatic framework that no longer supports their viability. Conflicts are not solved; solutions are a long time in coming.

One more remark before ending this introduction. It seems that those who run the scholarly publishing industry are unable to accept that someone can have an idea that does not originate from a quotation. In keeping with literacy's reliance on authority, I have acknowledged in the references the works that have some bearing on the ideas presented in this book. Few, very few indeed, are mentioned in the body of the text. The line of argument deserves priority over the stereotypes of referencing. This does not prevent me from acknowledging here, in addition to Leibniz and Peirce, the influence of thinkers and writers such as Roberto Maturana, Terry Winograd, George Lakoff, Lotfi Zadeh, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, George Steiner, Marshall McLuhan, Ivan Illich, Yuri M. Lotman, and even Baudrillard, the essayist of the post-industrial. If I misunderstood any of them, it is not because I do not respect their contributions. Seduced by my own interest and line of reasoning, I integrated what I thought could become solid bricks into a building of arguments which was to be mine. I am willing to take blame for its design and construction, remaining thankful to all those whose fingerprints are, probably, still evident on some of the bricks I used.

In the 14 years that have gone by since I started thinking and writing about the civilization of illiteracy, many of the directions I brought into discussion are making it into the public domain. But I should be the last to be surprised or unhappy that reality changed before I was able to finish this book, and before publishers could make up their minds about printing it. The Internet was not yet driving the stock market, neither had the writers of future shock had published their books churning prophecies, nor had companies made fortunes in multimedia when the ideas that go into this book were discussed with students, presented in public lectures, outlined to policy-makers (including administrators in higher education), and printed in scholarly journals. On starting this book, I wanted it to be not only a presentation of events and trends, but a program for practical action. This is why, after examination of what could be called the theoretical aspects, the focus shifts to the applied. The book ends with suggestions for practical measures to be considered as alternatives to the beaten path of the bandage method that only puts off radical treatment, even when its inevitability is acknowledged. Yes, I like to see my ideas tested and applied, even taken over and developed further (credit given or not!). I would rather put up with a negative outcome in discussions following publication of this book, than have it go unnoticed.

Book one The Chasm Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

Contrasting characters

The information produced in our time, in one day, exceeds that of the last 300 years. What this means can be more easily understood by giving some life to this dry evaluation originating from people in the business of quantifying data processing.

Zizi, the hairdresser, and her companions exemplify today's literate population. Portrayed by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, she is contrasted to Pascal, who at the age of sixteen had already published his work on conic sections, to Hugo Grotius, who graduated from college at fifteen, and to Melanchton, who at the age of twelve was a student at the once famous Heidelberg University. Zizi knows how to get around. She is like a living address on the Internet at its current stage of development: more links than content, perennially under construction. She continuously starts on new avenues, never pursuing any to the end. Her well-being is supported by public money as she lives off all the social benefits society affords. Zizi's conversations are about her taxes, and characters she reads about in magazines, sees on television, or meets on vacation. As superficial as such conversations can be, they are full of catch phrases associated or not with the celebrations of the day. Her boyfriend, 34-year-old Bruno G., graduated with a degree in political economy, drives a taxi cab, and still wonders what he wants to do in life. He knows the name of every soccer team that has won the championship since 1936; he knows by heart the names of the players, which coach was fired when, and every game score.

Melanchton studied reading, writing, Latin, Greek, and theology. He knew by heart many fragments from the classical writers and from the Bible. The world he lived in was small. To explain its workings, one did not need to master mathematics or physics, but philosophy. Since Melanchton can no longer be subjected to multiple choice or to IQ tests, we will never know if he could make it into college today. The question posed about all the characters introduced is a simple one: Who is more ignorant, Melanchton or Zizi?

Enzensberger's examples are from Germany, but the phenomena he brings to his readers' attention transcend national boundaries. He himself-writer, poet, publisher-is far from being an Internet buff, although he might be as informed about it as his characters are. As opposed to many other writers on literacy and education, Enzensberger confirms that the efficiency reached in the civilization of illiteracy (he does not call it that) makes it possible to extend adolescence well into what used to be the more productive time in the life of past generations. Everyone goes to college-in some countries college education is a right. This means that over half of the young people enter some form of higher education. After graduating, they find out that they still don't know what they want. Or, worse yet, that what they know, or are certified as knowing, is of no consequence to what they are expected to do. They will live, like Zizi, from social benefits and will get extremely angry at anyone questioning society's ability to provide them. For them, efficiency of human practical experiences translate into the right to not worry whether they will ever contribute to this efficiency. While still students, they demand, and probably rightly so, that everything be to the point. The problem is that neither they nor their teachers can define what that means. What students get are more choices among less significant subjects. That, at least, is how it looks. They probably never finish a book from cover to cover. Assignments are given to them in small portions, and usually with photocopied pages, which they are expected to read. A question-and-answer sheet is conveniently attached, with the hope that the students will read the pages to find the answers, and not copy them from more dedicated classmates.

That Zizi probably has a vocabulary as rich as that of a 16th-century scholar in the humanities can be assumed. That she likely uses fewer than 1,000 of these words only says that this is how much she needs in order to function efficiently. Melanchton used almost all the words he knew. His work required mastery of literacy so that he could express every new idea prompted by the few new practical experiences of human self-constitution he was involved in or aware of. He spoke and wrote in three languages, two of which are used today only in the specialties they are part of. Two or three sentences from a tourist guidebook or from a tape is all Zizi needs for her next vacation in Greece or Italy. For her, travel is a practical experience as vital as any other. She knows the names of rock groups, and lip-syncs the songs that express her concerns: sex, drugs, loneliness. Her memory of any stage performance or movie surpasses that of Melanchton, who probably knew by heart the entire liturgy of the Catholic Church. Like everyone else constituting their identities in the civilization of illiteracy, Zizi knows what it takes to minimize her tax burden and how to use coupons. The rhythm of her existence is defined more by commercial than natural cycles. And she keeps refreshing her base of practical information. Living in a time of change, this is her chance to beat the system and all the literate norms and constraints it imposes on her.

Melanchton, despite his literacy, would have been lost between two consecutive tax laws of our time, and even more between consecutive changes in fashion or music trends, or between consecutive versions of computer software, not to say chips. He belonged to a system appropriate to a stable world of relatively unchanging expectations. What he studied would last him a lifetime. Zizi and Bruno, as well as their friend Helga-the third in Enzensberger's text-live in a world of unsettled, heterogeneous information, based on ad hoc methods delivered by magazines, or through the Internet, that one has only to scan or surf in order to find useful data.

At this juncture, readers familiar with the World Wide Web, whether passionate about it or strongly against it, understand why I describe Zizi as a living Internet address. To derive some meaning from this description, and especially to avoid the appearance of drawing a caricature of the Internet, we need to focus on the pragmatic context in which Zizi constitutes herself and in which the Internet is constituted as a global experience. The picture one gets from contrasting the famous Melanchton to Zizi the hairdresser is not exactly fair, as it would be unfair to contrast the Library of Alexandria to the Internet. On the one hand, we have a tremendous collection representative of human knowledge (and the illusion of knowledge). On the other we have the embodiment of extremely effective methods for acquiring, testing, using, and discarding information required by human pragmatics. The world in which Melanchton worked was limited to Central Europe and Rome. News circulated mainly by word-of- mouth. Melanchton, like everyone who was raised with and worked amid books, was subjected to less information than we are today. He did not need an Intel inside computer or search engine to find what he wanted. He would not understand how anyone could replace the need for and pleasure of browsing by a machine called Browser. His was a world of associations, not matches, no matter how successful. Human minds, not machines, made up his cognitive world.

Literacy opened access to knowledge as long as this knowledge was compatible with the pragmatic structures it embodied and supported. The ozone hole of over- information broke the protective bubble of literacy. In the new pragmatic context, the human being, thirsty for data, seems at the mercy of the informational environment that shapes work, entertainment, life-in short, everything. Access to study was far from being equal, or even close to some standard of fairness, in Melanchton's time of obsession with excellence. Information itself was very expensive. In order to become a hairdresser-were it possible and necessary 500 years ago-Zizi, as well as the millions who attend career training schools, would have had to pay much more for her training than she did in our age of unlimited equal access to mediocrity. Knowledge was acquired through channels as diverse as family, schools, churches, and disseminated in very few books, or orally, or through imitation.

Individuals in Melanchton's time formed a set of expectations and pursued goals that changed minimally over their lifetime, since the pragmatic context remained the same. This ended with the dynamic practical experiences of self-constitution that led to the pragmatic context of our day. Ended also are the variety of forms of human cooperation and solidarity-as imperfect as they were-characteristic of a scale in which survival of the individual was essential for the survival and well-being of the community. They are replaced by a generalized sense of competition. Not infrequently, this takes the form of adversity, socially acceptable when performed by literate lawyers, for instance, yet undesirable when performed by illiterate terrorists.

More suggestive than precise, this description, in which Zizi and Melanchton play the leading characters, exemplifies the chasm between yesterday and today. A further examination of what is going on in our world allows the observation that literate language no longer exclusively, or even dominantly, affects and regulates day-to-day activities. A great amount of language used in the daily routine of people living in economically advanced countries was simply wiped out or absorbed in machine transactions. Digital networks, connecting production lines, distribution channels, and points of sale spectacularly augment the volume and variety of such transactions. Practical experiences of shopping, transportation, banking, and stock market transactions require literacy less and less. Automation rationalized away the literate component of many activities. All over the world, regardless of the economic or technological level reached, communication-specific endeavors, such as advertisement, political campaigns, various forms of ceremonial (religious, military, athletic), make crystal clear that literate language use is subordinated to the function or purpose pursued.

The developments under scrutiny affect surviving pre-literate societies-the nomadic, animistic population of Sudan, the tribes of the Brazilian Amazon forests, remote populations of Africa, Asia, Australia-as they affect the literate and post- literate. Without going into the details of the process, we should be aware that commodities coming from such societies, including the commodity of labor, no less than their needs and expectations, are traded on the global market. In the African Sahara, TV is watched-sets connected to car batteries-as much as in the high mountains of Peru populated by illiterate Incas. As virtual points of sale, the lands with pre-literate societies are traded in the futures markets as possible tourist resorts, or as a source of cheap labor. Experiences of practical self-constitution as nomadic, animistic, and tribal are no longer confined to the small scale of the respective community. In the effective world of a global pragmatics of high efficiency, their hunger and misery shows up in ledgers as potential aid and cooperation programs. Don't read here only greed and cynicism, rather the expression of reciprocal dependencies. AIDS on the African sub- continent and the Ebola epidemics only capture the image of shared dangers. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the plants of the disappearing Amazon rain forest, studied for their healing potential, capture an image of opportunity. In such situations and locations, the pragmatics of literacy and illiteracy meet and interact.

Choose a letter and click

Images substitute text; sounds add rhythm or nuance; visual representations other than written words become dominant; animation introduces dynamics where written words could only suggest it. In technologically advanced societies, interactive multimedia (or hypermedia) combine visual, aural, dynamic, and structural representations. Environments for personal exploration, organization, and manipulation of information proliferate in CD-ROM formats, interactive games, and tutorial networks. High fidelity sound, rich video resources, computer graphics, and a variety of devices for individualized human interaction provide the technological basis for what emerges as a ubiquitous computing environment.

The entire process can be provisionally summarized as follows: Human cooperation and interaction corresponding to the complexity of the undertakings of our age is defined by expectations of high efficiency. Relatively stable and well structured literate communication among the people involved is less efficient than rather fast and fragmentary contact through means other than those facilitated by, or based on, literacy. Stereotyped, highly repetitive or well defined unique tasks, and the literate language associated with them, have been transferred to machines. Unique tasks require strategies of specialization. The smaller the task assigned to each participant, the more effective the ways to carry it out at the expense of variety of forms and extent of direct human interaction, as well as at the expense of literacy-based interactions. Accordingly, human self-constitution today involves means of expression and communication no longer based on or reducible to literacy. Characteristics immanent in literacy affect cognitive processes, forms of human interaction, and the nature of productive effort to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, the reshaping of human pragmatics does not take place by general agreement or without conflict, as will be pointed out more than once.

While some fail to notice the decreased role of literacy and the deterioration of language in our life today, others surrender to illiteracy without even being aware of their surrender. We live in a world in which many people-especially those with more than undergraduate college education-complain about the low level of literacy while they simultaneously acquiesce to methods and necessities that make literacy less and less significant. Furthermore, when invoking literacy, people maintain a nostalgia for something that has already ceased to affect their lives. Their thinking, feeling, interpersonal relations, and expectations regarding family, religion, ethics, morals, art, dining, cultural and leisure activities already reflect the new illiterate condition. It is not a matter of personal choice, but a necessary development. The low level of literacy of those who receive an education from which society used to expect literate adults to graduate worries politicians, educators, and literacy professionals (writers, publishers, booksellers). They fear, probably for the wrong reasons, that people cannot live and prosper without knowing how to write or read at high levels of competence. What actually worries them is not that people write less well, or less correctly, or read less (some if at all), but that some succeed despite the odds. Self-styled champions of literacy, instead of focusing on change, spend money, energy, and intelligence, not in exploring how to optimally benefit from change, but on how to stop an inexorable process.

The state of affairs characteristic of the civilization of illiteracy did not come about overnight. Norbert Wiener's prophetic warning that we will become slaves of intelligent contraptions that take over intellectual faculties deserves more than a parenthetic reminder. Some commentators point to the disruption of the sixties, which put the educational system all over the world in turmoil. The events of the sixties, as much as the new machines Wiener discussed, are yet another symptom of, but not a reason for, the decline of literacy. The major hypothesis of this book is that illiteracy, in its relative terms mentioned so far, results from the changed nature of human practical experiences; that is, from the pragmatics corresponding to a new stage of human civilization. (I prefer to use pragmatics in the sense the Greeks used it: pragma, for deeds, from prattein, to do.) Regardless of our vocations-working in a large corporation or heading one's own business, farming, creating art, teaching language or mathematics, programming, or even participating in a university's board of trustees- we accept, even if with some reluctance, the rationalization of language. Our lives take place increasingly in the impersonal world of stereotype discourse of forms, applications, passwords, and word processed letters. The Internet, as World Wide Web, e-mail medium, data exchange, or chat forum effectively overrides constraints and limitations resulting from the participation of language in human pragmatics. Our world is becoming more and more a world of efficiency and interconnected activities that take place at a speed and at a variety of levels for which literacy is not appropriate.

Still, complex interdependencies are reflected in our relation to language in general, and in our use of it, in particular. It seems that language is a key-at least one among many-to the mind, the reason for which artificial intelligence is interested in language. It also seems to be a major social ingredient. Accordingly, no one should be surprised that once the status of language changes, there are also changes far beyond what we expect when we naively consider what a word is, or what is in a word or a rule of grammar, or what defines a text. A word on paper, one like the many on this page, is quite different from a word in the hypertext of a multimedia application or that of the Web. The letters serve a different function. Omit one from this page and you have a misspelling. Click on one and nothing happens. Click on a letter displayed on a Web page and you might be connected to other signs, images, sounds, and interactive multimedia presentations. These changes, among others, are the implicit themes of this book and define the context for understanding why illiteracy is not an accident, but a necessary development.

Keeping up with faster living

Ours is a world of efficiency. Although more obvious on the computer screen, and on the command buttons and touch-sensitive levers of the machines we rely quite heavily upon, efficiency expectations met in business and financial life insinuate themselves into the intimacy of our private lives as well. As a result of efficiency expectations, we have changed almost everything we inherited in our homes-kitchen, study, or bathroom-and redefined our respective social or family roles. We do almost everything others used to do for us. We cook (if warming up prefabricated dishes in a microwave oven still qualifies as cooking), do the laundry (if selecting dirty sheets or clothes by color and fabric and stuffing them into the machine qualifies as washing), type or desktop publish, transport (ourselves, our children). Machines replaced servants, and we became their servants in turn. We have to learn their language of instructions and to cope with the consequences their use entails: increased energy demand, pollution, waste, and most important, dependence. Ours is a world of brief encounters in which "How are you?" is not a question reflecting concern or expecting a real answer, but a formula. Once it meant what it expressed and prefaced dialogue. Now it is the end of interaction, or at best the introduction to a dialogue totally independent of the question. Where everyone living within the model of literacy expected the homogeneous background of shared language, we now find a very fragmented reality of sub-languages, images, sounds, body gestures, and new conventions.

Despite the heavy investment society has made in literacy over hundreds of years, literacy is no longer adopted by all as a desired educational goal. Neither is it actively pursued for immediate practical or long-term reasons. People seem to acknowledge that they need not even that amount of literacy imposed upon them by obligatory education. For quite a few-speech writers, editors, perhaps novelists and educators-literacy is indeed a skill which they aptly use for making a living. They know and apply rules of correct language usage. Methods for augmenting the efficiency of the message they put in the mouths of politicians, soap-opera actors, businessmen, activists and many others in need of somebody to write (and sometimes even to think) for them are part of their trade. For others, these rules are a means of exploring the wealth of fiction, poetry, history, and philosophy. For a great majority, literacy is but another skill required in high school and college, but not necessarily an essential component of their current and, more important, future lives and work. This majority, estimated at ca. 75% of the population, believes that all one has to know is already stored for them and made available as an expected social service-mathematics in the cash register or pocket calculator, chemistry in the laundry detergent, physics in the toaster, language in the greeting cards available for all imaginable occasions, eventually incorporated, as spellers or writing routines, into the word processing programs they use or others use for them.

Four groups seem to have formed: those for whom literacy is a skill; those using it as a means for studying values based on literacy; those functioning in a world of pre- packaged literacy artifacts; and those active beyond the limitations of literacy, stretching cognitive boundaries, defining new means and methods of communication and interaction, constituting themselves in practical activities of higher and higher efficiency. These four groups are the result of changes in the condition of the human being in what was broadly (in fact, too broadly) termed Post-Industrial Society. Whether specifically identified as such or assuming labels of convenience, the conflict characteristic of this time of fundamental change has its locus in literacy; and more specifically in the direction of change towards the civilization of illiteracy.

At first glance, it is exceedingly difficult to say whether language, as an instrument of continuity and permanence, is failing because the rhythm of existence has accelerated increasingly since the Industrial Revolution, or the rhythm of existence has accelerated because human interaction is no longer at the mercy of language. We do not know whether this acceleration is due to, or nourished by, changes in language and the way people use it, or if changes in language reflect this acceleration. It is quite plausible that the use of images, moreover of interactive multimedia and network-based exchange of complex data are more appropriate to a faster paced society than texts requiring more time and concentration. But it is less clear whether we use images and synesthetic means of expression because we want to be faster, and thus more efficient, or we can be faster and improve efficiency if we use such means.

Shorter terms of human interaction and, for example, the change in the status of the family have something in common. The new political condition of the individual in modern society also has something in common with the characteristics of human interaction and the means of this interaction. But again, we do not really know whether the new socio-economic dynamics resulted from our intention to accelerate interactions, or the acceleration in human interaction is only the background (or a marginal effect) of a more encompassing change of our condition under circumstances making this change necessary. My hypothesis is that a dramatic change in the scale of humankind and in the nature of the relation between humans and their natural and cultural environments might explain the new socio-economic dynamics.

Loaded literacy

Languages, or any other form of expression and communication, are meaningful only to the extent that they become part of our existence. When people do not know how to spell words that refer to their existence, we suspect that something related to the learning of spelling (usually the learner) does not function as we assumed it should. (Obviously, literacy is more than spelling.) School, family, new habits-such as extensive television viewing, comics reading, obsessive playing of computer games, Internet surfing, to name some of the apparent culprits-come under scrutiny. Culture, prejudice, or fear of the unknown prevents us from asking whether spelling is still a necessity. Cowardly conformity stops us short from suspecting that something might be wrong with language or with those literacy expectations deeply anchored in all known political programs thrown into our face when our vote is elicited. When spelling and phonetics are as inconsistent as they are in English especially, this suspicion led to the examination and creation of alternative alphabets and to alternative artificial languages, which we shall examine. But spelling fails even in languages with more consistent relations between pronunciation and writing.

Because we inherited, along with our reverence for language, a passive attitude regarding what is logically permissible under the guise of literacy, we do not question implicit assumptions and expectations of literacy. For instance, the belief that command of language enhances cognitive skills, although we know that cognitive processes are not exactly reducible to language, is accepted without hesitation. It is ascertained that literate people from no matter what country can communicate better and learn foreign languages more easily. This is not always the case. In reality, languages are rather loaded systems of conventions in which national biases and other inclinations are extensively embodied and maintained, and even propagated, through speech, writing, and reading. This expectation leads to well intended, though disputable, statements such as: "You can never understand one language until you understand at least two" (signed by Searle).

There is also the implication that literate people have better access to the arts and sciences. The reason for this is that language, as a universal means of communication, is consequently the only means that ultimately explains scientific theories. Works of art, proponents of language argue, can be reduced to verbal description, or at least be better accessed through the language used to index them through labels, classifications, categories. Another assumption (and prejudice) is that the level of performance in and outside language is in direct relation to competence acquired in literacy. This prejudice, from among all others, will come under closer scrutiny because, though literacy is declining, language use deviating from that normed by literacy takes astonishing forms.

Man proposes, man disposes

Knowledge of the connection between languages-taking the appearance of entities with lives of their own-and people constituting them-with the appearance of having unlimited control over their language-is essential for understanding the shift from a literacy-dominated civilization to one of multiple means of expression and communication. These means could be called languages if an appropriate definition of such languages (and the literacies associated with them) could be provided. In light of what has been already mentioned, the broader context of the changes in the status of literacy is the pragmatic framework of our existence. It is not only that the use of language has diminished or its quality decreased. Rather, it is the acknowledgment of a very complex reality, of a biologically and culturally modified human being facing apparent choices difficult, if not impossible, to harmonize. Life is faster paced, not because biological rhythms abruptly changed, but because a new pragmatic framework, of higher efficiency, came about.

Human interaction extends in our days beyond the immediate circle of acquaintances, or what used to be the family circle. This interaction is, however, more superficial and more mediated by other people and by various devices. The universe of existence seems to open as wide as the space we can explore-practically the whole planet, as well as the heavens. At the same time, the pressure of the narrower reality, of exceedingly specialized work, through whose product individual and social identification, as well as valuation take place, is stronger than ever before. On a different level, the individual realizes that the traditional mapping from one to few (family, friends, community) changes drastically. In a context of globality, the mapping extends to the infinity of those partaking in it.

Characteristic of the context of change in the status and function (communication, in particular) of literacy are fragmentation of everything we do or encounter and the need to coordinate. We become aware of the increased number and variety of stimuli and realize that previous explanations of their origin and possible impact are not satisfactory. Decentralization of many, if not all, aspects of existence, paralleled by strong integrative forces at work, is also characteristic of the dynamics of change. It is not communication alone, as some believe, that shapes society. More encompassing effective forces, relatively independent of words, images, sounds, textures, and odors continuously directed at society's members, from every direction and with every imaginable purpose, define social dynamics. They define goals and means of communication as well.

The gap between the performance of communication technology and the effectiveness of communication is symptomatic of the contradictory condition of contemporary humans. It often seems that messages have lives of their own and that the more communication there is, the less it reaches its address. Less than two percent of all the information thrown into mass media communication reaches its audience. At this level of efficiency, no car would ever move, no plane could take off, babies could not even roll over in their cribs! The dependency of communication on literacy proved to be communication's strength. It delivered a potential audience. But it proved to be its weakness, too. The assumption that among literate people, communication not only takes place, but, based on the implied shared background, is always successful, was found to be wrong time and again. Experiences such as wars, conflicts among nations, communities, professional groups (academia, a highly literate social group, is infamous in this respect), families and generations continuously remind us that this assumption is a fallacy. Still we misinterpret these experiences. Case in point: the anxiety of the business community over the lack of communication skills in the young people it employs. That the most literate segment of business is rationalized away in the massive re-engineering of companies goes unnoticed.

We want to believe that business is concerned with fundamental values when its representatives discuss the difficulties mid-level executives have in articulating goals and plans for achieving them in speech or writing. The new structural forms emerging in today's economy show that business-people, as much as politicians and many other people troubled by the current state of literacy today, speak out of both sides of their mouths. They would like to have it both ways: more efficiency, which does not require or stimulate a need for literacy since literacy is not adapted to the new socio-economic dynamics, and the benefits of literacy, without having to pay for them. The reality is that they are all concerned with economic cycles, productivity, efficiency, and profit in trying to figure out what a global economy requires from them. Re-engineering, which companies also called restructuring or downsizing, translates into efficiency expectations within an extremely competitive global economy. By all accounts, restructuring cut the literacy overhead of business. It replaced literate practical experiences of management and productive work with automated procedures for data processing and with computer-aided manufacturing. The process is far from over. It has just reached the usually placid working world of Japan, and it might motivate Europe's effort to regain competitiveness, despite all the social contracts in place that embody expectations of a past that will never return. In fact, all boils down to the recognition of a new status of language: that of becoming, to a greater extent than in its literate embodiment, a business tool, a means of production, a technology. The freeing of language from literacy, and the subsequent loss in quality, is only part of a broader process. The people opposing it should be aware that the civilization of illiteracy is also the expression of practical criticism in respect to a past pragmatic framework far from being as perfect as literacy advocates lead us to believe.

The pragmatics of literacy established a frame of reference in respect to ownership, trade, national identity, and political power. Distribution of ownership might not be new, but its motivations are no longer rooted in inheritance, rather in creativity and a selfish sense of business allegiance. One much circulated observation sums it up: If you think that the thousands of not yet fully vested Microsoft programmers will miss their chance to join the club of millionaires to which their colleagues belong, think again! It is not for the sake of the owner of a business, or of a legendary entrepreneur, and certainly not for the sake of idealism. It is for their own sake that more and more young and less young people use their chance in this hierarchy-free, or freer, environment in which they constitute their identity. What motivates them are arguments of competitiveness, not national identity, political philosophy, or family pride. All these and many other structural aspects resulting from the acquired freedom from structural characteristics of a pragmatic context defined by literacy do not automatically make society better or fairer. But a distribution of wealth and power, and a redefinition of the goals and methods through which democracy is practiced is taking place.

We know, too, that the coercion of writing was applied to what today we call minorities. Since writing is less natural than speaking and bears values specific to a culture, it has alienated individuality. Literacy implies the integration of minorities by appropriating their activity and culture, sometimes replacing their own with the dominant literacy in total disregard of their heritage. "If writing did not suffice to consolidate knowledge," observed Claude Lévi-Strauss, "it was perhaps indispensable in affirming domination. […] the fight against illiteracy is thus identical with the reinforcement of the control of the citizen by authority." I shall not go so far as to state that the current attempt to celebrate multiplicity and to recognize contradiction brought about by irreducible differences among races, cultures, and practical experiences is not the result of literate necessities. But without a doubt, developments peculiar to the civilization of illiteracy, as this becomes the background for heterogeneous human experiences and conflicting value systems, brought multiplicity to the forefront. And, what is more important, illiteracy builds upon the potential of this multiplicity.

Beyond the commitment to literacy

What seems to be the issue of putting the past in the right perspective (with the appearance of historic revisionism) is actually the expression of pragmatic needs in regard to the present and the future. The subject, in view of its many implications, deserves a closer examination outside, but not in disregard of, the political controversy it has already stirred up. Writing is a form of commitment that extends from the Phoenician agreements and Egyptian records, religious and legal texts on clay and in stone, to the medieval oath and later to contracts. Written language encodes, at many levels (alphabet, sentence structure, semantics, etc.), the nature of the relation among those addressed in writing. A tablet that the Egyptians used for identifying locally traded commodities addressed very few readers. A reduced scale of existence, work, and trade was reflected in very direct notation. For the given context, the tablets supported the expected efficiency. In the framework of the Roman Empire, labeling of construction materials-roof tiles, drainage pipes-distributed within and outside the Empire, involved more elaborate elements. These materials were stamped during manufacture and helped builders select what matched their needs. More people were addressed. Their backgrounds were more diverse: they functioned in different languages and in different cultural contexts. Their practical experience as builders was more complex than that of Egyptian dealers in grain or other commodities who operated locally. Stamping construction materials signaled a commitment to fulfill building needs and expectations. Over time, such commitments became more elaborate and separated themselves from the product. With literacy, they became formalized contracts covering various pragmatic contexts. They bear all the characteristics of literacy. They also become representative of the conflict between means of a literate nature and means appropriate to the levels of efficiency expected in the civilization of illiteracy.

A short look at contracts as we experience them today reveals that contracts are based on languages of their own, hard to decipher by even the average literate person. They quantify economic expectations, legal provisions, and tax consequences. Written in English, they are expected to address the entire world. In the European Community, each of the member countries expects a contract to be formulated in its own language. Consequently, delays and extra costs can make the transaction meaningless. Actually, the contract, not only the packaging and distribution labels, could be provided in the universal language of machine-readable bar codes. Ours is a pragmatic framework of illiteracy that results in the generation of languages corresponding to functions but pertinent to the fast-changing circumstances that make the activity possible in the first place. In a world of tremendous competition, fast exchange, and accelerated growth of new expectations, the contract itself and the mechanisms for executing it have to be efficient.

Relations to power, property, and national identity expressed in language and stabilized through the means of literacy were also embodied in myths, religions, poetry and literature. Indeed, from the epic poems of ancient civilizations to the ballads of the troubadours and the songs of the minstrels, and to poetry and literature, references were made to property and feelings, to the living and the dead. Records of life were kept and commitments were reiterated. Today many literates despair at the thought that these are displaced by the dead poetry or prose of the computer-generated variety. It is unquestionable that information storage and access redefined the scope of commitments and historic records, and ultimately redefined memory.

From whatever angle we look at language and literacy, we come back to the people who commit themselves in the practical experience of their self-constitution. While the relation of people to language is symptomatic of their general condition, to understand how and why this relation changes is to understand how and why human beings change. With the ideal of literacy, we inherited the illusion that to understand human beings is to understand human language. It is actually the other way around-if we understand language as a dynamic practical experience in its own right. There is a deeper level that we have to explore-that of the human activity through which we project our being into the reality of existence, and make it sensible and understandable to others. It is only in the act of expressing ourselves through work, contemplation, enjoyment, and wonder that we become what we are for ourselves and for others. Under pragmatic circumstances characteristic of the establishment of the species and its history up to our time, this required language and led to the need for literacy. As a matter of fact, literacy can be seen as a form of commitment, one among the successive commitments that individuals make and the human species enters. For over 2,500 years, these circumstances seemed to be eternal and dominated our existence. But as humankind outgrows the pragmatics based on the underlying structure of literacy, means different from language, that is, means different from those constituting the framework of literacy and of literacy-based commitments become necessary.

A moving target

The context of the subject of change comprises also the terminology developed around it. The variation of the meanings assigned to the words literacy and illiteracy is symptomatic of the various angles from which they are examined. Literacy, as someone said (I found this credited to both John Ashcroft, once governor of Missouri, and to Henry A. Miller) has been a moving target. It has reflected changes in criteria for evaluating writing and writing skills as the pragmatic framework of human activity changed through time. Writing is probably more than 5,000 years old. And while the emergence of writing and reading are the premise for literacy, a notion of generalized literacy can be construed only in connection to the invention of movable type (during the 11th century in China, and the early 16th century in Western Europe), and even more so with the advent of the 19th century high-speed rotary press.

Within the mentioned time-frame, many changes in the understanding of what literacy connotes have come about. For those who see the world through the Book (Torah, Bible, Koran, Upanishads, Wu Ching), literacy means to be able to read and understand the book, and thus the world. All practical rules presented in the Book constitute a framework accessed either through literacy or oral tradition. In the Middle Ages, to be literate meant to know Latin, which was perceived as the language of divine revelation. Parallel to the religious, or religion-oriented, perspective of literacy, many others were acknowledged: social-how writing and reading constitute a framework for social interaction; economic-how writing and reading and other skills of comprehending maps, tables, and symbols affect people's ability to participate in economic life; educational-how literacy is disseminated; legal-how laws and social rules are encoded in order to ensure uniform social behavior.

Scholars have looked at literacy from all these perspectives. In doing so, they have foisted upon the understanding of literacy interpretations so diverse and so contradictory that to follow them is to enter a maze from which there is no escape. One of Will Rogers' lines was paraphrased as: "We are all illiterate, only about different things." The formula deserves closer examination because it defines another characteristic of the context for understanding the relative illiteracy of our times. The degree of illiteracy is difficult to quantify, but the result is easy to notice. Everything carried into the self-constitution of the individual as warrior, lover, athlete, family member, educator or educated in literacy-based pragmatics is being replaced by illiterate means. Nobody expected that an individual who reads Tolstoy or Shakespeare will be a better cook, or devise better military plans, or even be a better lover. Nevertheless, the characteristics of literacy affected practically all pragmatic experiences, conferring upon them a unity and coherence we can only look back upon with nostalgia. Champions of sexual encounters, as much as innovators in new technologies and Olympic athletes are extremely efficient in their respective domains. Peak performance increases as the average falls in the range of mediocrity and sub- mediocrity. In this book I will examine many aspects of literacy pertinent to what is usually associated with it: the publications people write and read, communication at the individual and social levels, as well as many aspects of human activity that we do not necessarily consider in relation to literacy-military, sports, sex and family, eating-but which nevertheless were influenced by the pragmatic framework that made literacy possible and necessary.

With the evident demise of philosophy as the science of sciences, began fragmentation of knowledge. Doubt that a common instrument of access to and dissemination of knowledge exists is replaced by certitude that it does not. A so-called third culture, in the opinion of the author who brought it to public attention, "consists of rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives" in ways different from those of literary intellectuals. This is not C.P. Snow's third culture of scientists capable of communicating with non-scientific intellectuals, but the illiterate scientific discourse that brings fascinating notions into the mainstream, via powerful metaphors and images (albeit in a trivialized manner). This is why the relation between science and literacy, as well as between philosophy and literacy, will be examined with the intention to characterize the philosophy and science of the civilization of illiteracy.

But are we really equipped with the means of exploration and evaluation of this wide-ranging change? Aren't we captive to language and literacy, and thus to the philosophic and scientific explanations based on them? We know that the system in place in our culture is the result of the logocratic view adopted. The testing of skills rated by score is to a great extent a measure of comprehension characteristic of the civilization of literacy. The new pragmatic framework requires skills related not only to language and literacy, but also to images, sounds, textures, motion, and virtual space and time. Knowing this, we have to address the relation between a relatively static medium and dynamic media. We should look into how literacy relates to the visual, in general, and, in particular, to the controversial reality of television, of interactive multimedia, of artificial images, of networking and virtual reality. These are all tasks of high order, requiring a broad perspective and an unbiased viewpoint.

Most important is the comprehension of the structural implications of literacy. An understanding of the framework that led to literacy, and of the consequences that the new pragmatic framework of existence has on all aspects of our lives will help us understand how literacy influenced them. I refer specifically to religion, family, state, and education. In a world giving up the notion of permanency, God disappears for quite a number of people. Still, there are many more churches, denominations, sects, and other religious factions (atheist and neo-pagan included) than at any other time. In the United States of America, people change life partners 2.8 times during their lifespan (if they ever constitute a family), and calculate the financial aspects of getting married and having children with the same precision that they use to calculate the expected return on an investment. The state has evolved into a corporation regulating the business of the nation, and is now judged on its economic achievements. Presidents of states act as super-peddlers of major industries on whose survival employment depends. These heads of state are not shy about giving up the ideals anchored in literate discourse (e.g., human rights). But they will raise a big fuss when it comes to copyright infringement, especially of software. The irony is that copyright is difficult to define in respect to digital originals. Through the literacy model, the state became a self- preserving bureaucratic machine rarely akin to the broad variety of options brought about by the pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy.

Many more people than previous records mention become (or remain) illiterates after finishing the required years of schooling-a minimum of ten years-and even after graduating from college. Some people know how to read; even how to write, but opt for scanning TV channels, playing games, attending sports events, or surfing the Internet. Aliteracy is also part of the broader change in the status of literacy. Decisions to forego reading and writing are decisions in favor of different means of expression and communication. The new generation is more proficient in video games than in orthography. This generation will be involved in high-efficiency practical experiences structurally similar to the interactive toy and far removed from the expectation of correct writing. The Internet shapes the choices of the new generation in terms of what they want to know, how, when, and for what purpose more than newspapers, books, and magazines, and even more than radio or television does. And even more than schools and colleges do. Through its vast and expanding means and offerings, the Internet connects the individual to the globe, instead of only talking about globality. Networking, at many levels and in many ways, is related to the characteristics of our pragmatic framework. As rudimentary as it still is, networking excludes everything that is not fast- paced and to the point.

Can all these examples, part of the context of the discussion of literacy in our changing world, be interpreted as being in causal relation to the decline of literacy? That is, the less people are knowledgeable in reading and writing, or choose not to read or write, the less they believe in God or the more pagan they want to be? The more often they divorce, the less they marry or have children? The more they want or accept a bureaucratic machine to handle their problems, the more TV programs they watch and the more electronic games they play, the more they surf the infinite world of networks? No, not along this line of one-dimensional, linear, simplistic form of determinism. A multiplicity of factors, and a multiplicity of layers need to be considered. They are, however, rooted in the pragmatic framework of our continuous self- constitution. It is exhibited through the dynamics of shorter and faster interactions. It is embodied in the ever wider choices of ascertaining our identity. It takes the appearance of availabilities, fragmentation and global integration, of increased mediation. The dynamics described corresponds to the higher efficiency that a larger scale of human activity demands. To call attention to the multi-dimensionality of the process and to the many interdependencies, which we can finally uncover with the help of new technologies, is a first step. To evince their non-linearity, reflecting the meshing between what can be seen as deterministic and what is probably non-deterministic is another step in the argument of the book.

Without basing our discussion on human pragmatics, it would be impossible to explain why, despite all the effort and money societies invest in education, and all the time allocated for education-sometimes over a quarter of a lifetime-despite research of cognitive processes pertinent to literacy, people wind up less literate, but, surprisingly, not at all less efficient. Some would argue-the late Alan Bloom, a crusader for culture and literacy, indeed a brilliant writer of the epilogue of human culture and nostalgia for it, already did-that without literacy, we are less effective as human beings. The debate over such arguments requires that we acknowledge changes in the status of human beings and of human societies, and that we understand what makes such changes unavoidable.

The wise fox

The world as it stands today, especially the industrialized world, is fundamentally different from the world of any yesteryear, the last decade and century, not to mention the past that seems more the time of story than of history. Alan Bloom's position, embraced by many intellectuals, is rooted in the belief that people cannot be effective unless they build on the foundation of historically confirmed values, in particular the great books. But we are at a point of divergences with no noticeably privileged direction, but with many, many options. This is not a time of crisis, although some want us to believe the contrary and are ready to offer their remedies: back to something (authority, books, some primitive stage of no-ego, or of the mushroom, i.e., psychedelic drugs, back to nature); or fast forward to the utopia of technocracy, the information age, the service society, even virtual reality or artificial life.

Humans are heuristic animals. Our society is one of creativity and diversity, operating on a scale of human interaction to which we exponentially add new domains: outer space, whose dimensions can be measured only in light years, and whose period of observation extends over lifetimes; the microcosmos, mirroring the scale in the opposite direction of infinitesimal differentiations; the new continents of man-made materials, new forms of energy, genetically designed plants and animals, new genetic codes, and virtual realities to experience new spaces, new times, and new forms of mediation. Networking, which at its current stage barely suggests things to come, can only be compared to the time electricity became widely available. Cognitive energy exchanged through networks and focused on cooperative endeavors is part of what lies ahead as we experience exponential growth on digital networks and fast learning curves of efficient handling of their potential.

The past corresponds to a pragmatic framework well adapted to the survival and development of humankind in the limited world of direct encounters or limited mediations. In terms pertinent to a civilization built around the notion of literacy, the current lower levels of literacy can be seen as symptomatic of a crisis, or even a breakdown. But what defines the new pragmatic context is the shift from a literacy- centered model to one of multiple, interconnected, and interconditioned, distributed literacies. It is well justified to repeat that some of the most enlightened minds overlook the pragmatics of bygone practice. Challenged, confused, even scared by the change, they call for a journey to the past: back to tradition, to discipline, to the ethics of our forefathers, to old-time religion and the education that grew out of it, to permanence, and hopefully to stability. Even those who wholeheartedly espouse evolutionary and revolutionary models seem to have a problem when it comes to literacy. All set to do away with authority, they have no qualms about celebrating the imperialism of the written word. Other minds confess to difficulties in coping with a present so promising and, at the same time, so confusing in its structural contradictions. What we experience, from the extreme of moral turpitude to a disquieting sense of mediocrity and meaninglessness, nourishes skeptical, if not fatalistic, visions. The warning is out (again): We will end up destroying humankind! Yet another part of the living present accepts the challenge without caring about the implications it entails. The people in this group give up their desire to understand what happens, as long as this makes life exciting and rewarding. Hollywood thrives on this. So do the industries of digital smoke- and-mirrors, always a step from fame, and not much farther from oblivion. Addresses on the Internet fade as quickly as they are set up. The most promising links of yesterday show up on the monitor as a "Sorry" message, as meaningful as their short- lived presence was. Arguing with success is a sure recipe for failure. Success deserves to be celebrated in its authentic forms that change the nature of human existence in our universe.

The future suggested in the labels technocracy, information age, and service society might capture some characteristics of today's world, but it is limited and limiting. This future fails to accommodate the development of human activity at the new scale in terms of population, resources, adaptation, and growth it has reached. Within this model, its proponents preserve as the underlying structure the current set of dependencies among the many parts involved in human activity, and a stubborn deterministic view of simplistic inclination. Unreflected celebration of technocracy as the sole agent of change must be treated with the same suspicion as its demonization. The current participation of technology in human activity is indeed impressive. So are the extent of information processing and information mining, and the new relation between productive activities and services. To make sense of disparate data and from them form new productive endeavors is a formidable task. Science, in turn, made available enormously challenging theories and extremely refined models of the world.

But after all is done and said, these are only particular aspects of a much more encompassing process. The result is a pragmatic framework of a new condition. Highly mediated work, distributed tasks, parallel modes, and generalized networking of rather loosely coordinated individual experiences define this condition. Within this framework, the connection between input (for instance, work) and output (what results) is of a different order of magnitude tfrom that between the force applied on a lever and the outcome; or that between the energy necessary to accomplish useful tasks through engines or electric, or pneumatic devices, no matter how efficient, and the result. In addition, even the distinction between input and output becomes fuzzy. The wearable computer provides interoperability and interconnectedness-an increase in a person's heart rate can be a result of an increase in physical exertion or cause for communicating with a doctor's office or for alerting the police station (if an accident takes place). It might be that the next interaction will involve our genetic code.

The capacity for language and the ability to understand its various implications are only relatively interdependent, and thus only relatively open to scrutiny and understanding. This statement, as personal as it sounds, and as much as it expresses probably less resignation than uncertainty, is crucial to the integrity of this entire enterprise. Indeed, once within a language, one is bound to look at the world surrounding oneself from the perspective of that language as the medium for partial self-constitution and evaluation. Participating in its dynamics affects what I am able to see and describe. This affects also what I am no longer able to perceive, what escapes my perception, or even worse, filters it to the point that I see only my own thoughts. This dual identity-observer and integral part of the observed phenomena-raises ethical, axiological, and epistemological aspects almost impossible to reconcile. Since every language is a projection of ourselves-as participants in the human experience, yet as distinct instantiations of that experience-we do not see the world so much as ourselves in relation to it, ourselves in establishing our culture, and again ourselves in taming and appropriating the universe around us. The fox in Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince says it much better: "One only understands the things one tames."

"Between us the rift"

Huge industrial complexes where an immense number of workers participate in the production of goods, and densely populated urban centers gravitating around factories, make up the image characteristic of industrial society. This image is strikingly different from the new reality of interconnected, yet decentralized, individual activities going well beyond telecommuting. Various mediating elements contribute to increasingly efficient practical experiences of human self-constitution. The computer is one of the varied embodiments of these mediating elements, but by no means the only one. Through its functions, such as calculation, word, image, and information processing, and control of manufacturing, it introduces many layers between individuals and the object of their actions. The technology of interconnecting provides means for distributive task strategies. It also facilitates parallel modes of productive work. This is a world of progressive decentralization and interoperative possibilities. All kinds of machines can be an address in this interconnected world. Their operations can range from design tasks to computer-aided manufacturing. Distributed work and cognitive functions pertinent to it afford practical experiences qualitatively different from the mechanical sequencing of tasks as we know it from industrial modes of production.

Obviously, large portions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as part of the European and North American continents, do not necessarily fit this description in detail. Industrial activities still constitute the dominant practical experience in the world. Although nomadic and jungle tribes are part of this integrated world, the Industrial Revolution has not yet reached them all. In some cases, the stages leading to agriculture have not yet been attained. In view of the global nature of human life and activity today, I submit that despite the deep disparity in the economic and social evolution of various regions of the world, it is plausible to assume that centralized modes of production peculiar to industrial economies are not a necessary development. Efficiency expectations corresponding to the global scale of human activity can be reached only by development strategies different from those embodied in the pragmatic framework of industrial activity. It is therefore probable that countries, and even subcontinents, not affected by the Industrial Revolution will not go through it. Planners with an ecological bent even argue that developing countries should not take the path that led industrial nations to augment their population's living standard to the detriment of the environment or by depleting natural resources (A German Manifest, 1992).

Industrial production and the related social structures rely on literacy. Edmund Carpenter formulated this quite expressively: "Translated into gears and levers, the book became machine. Translated into people, it became army, chain of command, assembly line…." His description, made in broad strokes, is to the point. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, children and women became part of the labor market. For the very limited operation one had to perform, no literacy was necessary; and women and children were not literate. Still, the future development of the industrial society could not take place without the dissemination of literacy skills. For instance, industry made possible the invention, in 1830, of the steel pen indispensable to the compulsory elementary education that was later instituted. The production of steel needles seemed to extend domesticity, but actually created the basis for the sweat trades following what Louis Mumford called carboniferous capitalism. Gaslight and electricity expanded the time available for the dissemination of literacy skills. Housing improvements made possible the building of the individual library. George Steiner sees this as a turning point in the sense that a private context of the experience of the book was created.

As far as national structures were concerned, phenomena characteristic of the Industrial Revolution cannot be understood outside the wider context of the formation and consolidation of nations. Affirmation of national identity is a process intimately connected to the values and functions of literacy. The production process of the industrial age of mechanical machinery and electric power required not brute force, but qualified force. Administrative and management functions required more literacy than work on the assembly line. But literacy projected its characteristics onto the entire activity, thus making a literate workforce desirable. The market it generated projected the condition of the industry in the structure of its transactions. The requirements for qualified work expanded to requirements for qualified market activities and resulted in the beginnings of marketing and advertising. That market was based on the recognition of national boundaries, i.e., boundaries of efficiency, self-sufficiency, and future growth offering markets of a size and complexity adequate to industrial output. Nations replaced the coarse fragmentation of the world. They were no longer, as Jean-Marie Guéhenno notices, a disguise of tribal structures, but a political space within which democracy could be established.

Progression from competing individual life and temporary congregation in an environment of survival of the fittest to tribal, communal, local, confederate, and national life is paralleled by progression in the forms and methods of human integration. The global scale of human activity characteristic of our age is not an extension of the linear, deterministic relations between those constituting a valid human entity and the life-support system, called environment, that structurally define industrial society. Discontinuity in numbers (of people, resources, expectations, etc.), in the nature of the relations among people, in the forms of mediations that define human practical experiences is symptomatic of the depth and breadth of change. The end of nations, of democracy even, might be far off, but this end is definitory of the chasm before us. The United Nations, which does not yet comprise the entire world, is a collection of over 197 nations, and increasing. Some are only island communities, or newly proclaimed independent countries brought about by social and political movements. Of the over 240 distinct territories, countries, and protectorates, very few (if any) are truly autarchic entities. Despite never before experienced integration, our world is less the house of nations and discrete alliances among them, and more the civilization of a species in firm control (too firm, as some perceive) of other species.

Within the world, we know that there are people still coming out of an age of natural economy based on hunting, foraging, fishing, and rudimentary agriculture. While barter and the minimal language of survival is the only market process in such places, in reality, the world is already involved in global transactions. Markets are traded in their entirety, more often than not without the knowledge of those comprising these markets. This only goes to show again the precarious nature of national structures. National independence, passionately fought for, is less a charter for the future than the expression of the memory of the past (authentic or fake). Selling or buying extends to the entire economy, which while still at a stage difficult to entirely explain, is bound to change in a rhythm difficult to cope with by those supposed to control it, but inescapable in the context of world-wide market. That literacy and national identity share in this condition should not surprise anyone.

Malthus revisited

The Malthusian principle (1798) related growth of populations (geometric) to food supply increases (arithmetic): "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio." The weakness of the principle is probably its failure to acknowledge that the equation of mankind has more than the two variables it considers: population and food supply. The experience of extensive use of natural resources, in particular through farming, is only one among an increasing number of experiences. Human beings constitute their own reality not only as one of biological needs, but also of cultural expectations, growing demands, and creativity. These eventually affect changes in what were believed to be primary needs and instincts. In many ways, a great deal of previously acknowledged sources of protein are exhausted. But in an ever more impressive proportion, the acceptable realm of sources of nutrition-proteins included-has been expanded so as to include the artificial. Hunting and gathering wild plants (not to mention scavenging, which seems to predate hunting) were appropriate when linear, sequential strategies of survival defined human behavior; so were herding and agriculture, a continuation of foraging under circumstances of changed subsistence strategies.

Language was formed, and then stabilized, in connection to this linear form of praxis. Linearity simply reflects the fact that one person is less effective than two, but also that one's needs are smaller than those of several. The experience of self- constitution in language preserves linearity. This preservation of linearity extends as long as the scale of the community and its needs and wants allowed for proportional interaction among its individuals and the environment of their existence. Industrial society is probably the climax of this optimization effort.

If the issue were only to feed mankind, the population census (over five billion people on record as of the moment these pages are being written, though less than four billion when I started) and the measure of resources would not yet indicate a new scale. But the issue is to accommodate geometrically growing populations and exponentially (i.e., non-linearly) diversifying expectations. Such expectations relate to a human being celebrating higher average ages, and an extended period of active life. We change anatomically, not necessarily for the better: we see and hear less well and have lower physical abilities. Our cognitive behavior and our patterns of social interaction change, too. These changes reflect, among other things, the transition from direct interaction and co-presence to indirect, mediated forms of the practical self-constitution of the human being.

The sequential nature of language, in particular its embodiment in literacy, no longer suits human praxis as its universal measure. The strategies of linearization introduced through the experience of literacy were acceptable when the resulting efficiency accommodated lower and less differentiated expectations. They are now replaced by more efficient, intrinsically non-linear strategies made possible by literacies structurally different from those rooted in the practice of so-called natural language. Accordingly, literacy loses its primacy. New literacies emerge. Instead of a stable center and limited choice, a distributed and variable configuration of centers and wide choice connect and disconnect areas of common or disjoint interest. There are still national ambitions, huge factories to be built, cities to be erected and others to be expanded, highways to be widened in order to accommodate more intercity traffic, and airports to be constructed so that more airplanes can be used for national and international travel. The inertia of past pragmatics has not yet been annihilated by the dynamics of a fundamental change of direction. Still, an integrated, yet decentralized, universe of work and living has been taking shape and will continue to do so. Interconnection made possible by digital technology, first of all, opens a wide range of possibilities for reshaping social life, political institutions, and our ability to design and produce goods. Our own ability to mediate, to integrate parts and services resulting from specialized activities is supported by machines that enhance our cognitive characteristics.

Captives to literacy

Probably the most shocking discovery we sometimes make is that, in order to be able to undertake new experiences, we need to forget, to break the curse of literate memory, and to immerse ourselves in the structurally amnesiac systems of signs corresponding to and addressing our senses. Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Earth's Holocaust" was prophetic in this sense. In this parable, the people of a new world (obviously the United States of America) bring all the books they inherited from the old world to a great bonfire. Theirs is not an exercise in mindless book-burning. They conscientiously discard all the rules and ideas passed down through millennia that governed the world and the life they left behind. Old ideas, as well as new ones, would have to prove their validity in the new context before they would be accepted. Indeed, the awareness brought about by theories of the physical world, of the mind, of our own biogenetic condition made possible practical experiences of self-constitution that are not like anything experienced by humans before our time. The realization of relativity, of the speed of light, of micro- and macro-structures, of dynamic forces and non-linearity is already translated in new structures of interactions. Our systems of interconnection- through electric energy, telephone (wired and cellular), radio, television, communication, computer networks-function at speeds comparable to that of light. They integrate dynamic mechanisms inspired by genetics, physics, molecular biology, and our knowledge of the micro- and macro-structure.

Our life cycle seems to accept two different synchronizing mechanisms: one corresponding to our natural condition (days, nights, seasons), the other corresponding to the perceived scale and to our striving towards efficiency. The two are less and less dependent, and efficiency seems to dominate nature. Discovery of the world in its expanded comprehensive geographic dimensions required ships and planes. It also required the biological effort to adapt and the intellectual effort to understand various kinds of differences. In outer space, this adaptation proves to be even more difficult. In a world in a continuous flux of newer and newer distinctions, people constitute, instead of one permanent and encompassing literacy, several literacies, none of which bears the status of (quasi)eternal. Differentiation of human experience is so far reaching that it is impossible to reduce the variety to one literate language.

In the process of building rational, interpretive methods and establishing a body of knowledge that can be tested and practically applied, people often discard what did not fit in the theories they advanced, what did not obey the laws that these theories expressed. This was a necessary methodology that resulted in the progress we enjoy today. But it was also a deceptive method because what could not be explained was omitted. Where literacy was instilled, non-linguistic aspects-such as the irreducible world of magic, mystery, the esoteric (to name a few)-were done away with. Commenting upon The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Illich and Sanders pointed out that there is a whole world in Twain's novel that is inaccessible to the illiterate, but also a world of folklore and superstition that cannot be understood by those hostage to the beautiful kingdom of literacy. Folklore in many countries, and superstition, and mystery in all the varieties corresponding to human practical self-constitution are definitely areas from which we might gain better insight into life past, present, and future. They are part of the context and should not be left out, even though they may belong to the epoch before literacy.

All in all, since language was and still is the most comprehensive testimony to (and participant in) our experience as human beings, we may want to see whether its crisis says something about our own permanence and our own prejudices concerning the species. After all, why, and based on what arguments, do we see ourselves as the only permanence in the universe and the highest possible achievement of evolution? Literacy freed us in many respects. But it also made us prisoners of a number of prejudices, not the least a projection of self-awareness in direct contradiction to our own experience of never-ending change in the world.

The Epitome of the Civilization of Illiteracy

In the opinion of foe and friend alike, America (the name under which the United States of America, appropriating the identifier of the two continents comprising the New World) epitomizes many of the defining characteristics of today's world: market oriented, technologically driven, living on borrowed means (financial and natural resources), competitive to the extreme of promoting adversarial relations, and submitting, in the name of democracy and tolerance, to mediocrity, demagoguery, and opportunism. Americans are seen as boastful, boorish, unrealistic, naive, primitive, hypocritical, and obsessed with money. Even to some of its most patriotic citizens, the USA appears to be driven by political opportunism, corruption, and bigotry. As still others perceive the USA, it is captive to militarism and prey to the seductive moral poison of its self-proclaimed supremacy. At times it looks like the more it fails in some of its policies, the more it wants to hear declarations of gratitude and hymns of glory, as in John Adams' lines: "The eastern nations sink, their glory ends/ And empires rise where sun descends." To the peoples just awaking from the nightmare of communism, the American political slogans have a familiar, though frightening, self-delusive ring.

On the other hand, Americans are credited with extraordinary accomplishments in technology, science, medicine, the arts, literature, sports, and entertainment. They are appreciated as friendly, open, and tolerant. Their willingness to engage in altruistic projects (programs for the poor and for children all over the world), indeed free from discrimination, makes for a good example to people of other nations. Patriotism does not prevent Americans from being critical of their own country. To the majority of the world, America represents a vivid model of liberal democracy in action within a federation of states united by a political system based on expectations of balance among local, state, and federal functions.

Jean Jacques Servan-Schreiber once made headlines writing about the American challenge (Le Défi Américain), more or less about the danger of seeing the world Americanized. Downtown Frankfurt (on the river Main) is called Mainhattan because its skyscrapers recall those of the island between the Hudson and East Rivers. The Disneyland near Paris, more of an import (the French government wanted it badly) than an export product, was called a "cultural Chernobyl." Tourists from all over the crumbled Soviet Empire are no longer taken to Lenin's Mausoleum but to Moscow's McDonald's. The Japanese, reluctant to import American-made cars and supercomputers, or to open their markets to agricultural goods (except marbled beef), will bend over backwards for baseball. Add to all this the symbolism of blue jeans, Madonna or Heavy Metal (as music or comic books), Coca-Cola, the television series Dallas, the incessant chomping on chewing gum and bubble-gum popping, Texan boots, and the world-wide sneaker craze, and you have an image of the visible threat of Americanization. But appearance is deceitful.

Taken out of their context, these and many other Americanized aspects of daily life are only exotic phenomena, easy to counteract, and indeed subject to counteraction. Italians protested the culture of fast food near the Piazza d'Espagna in Rome (where one fast food establishment rented space) by giving out free spaghetti carbonara and pizza. (They were unaware of the irony in this: the biggest exporter of pizza restaurants is no longer Italy, but the USA.) The rightist Russian movement protested McDonald's by touting national dishes, the good old high-calorie menu of times when physical effort was much greater than in our days (even in that part of the world). The Germans push native Lederhosen and Dirndls over blue jeans. The German unions protest attempts to address structural problems in their economy through diminishing social benefits with a slogan that echoes like a hollow threat: American conditions will be met by a French response, by which they mean that strikes will paralyze the country. The Japanese resisted the Disney temptation by building their own lands of technological marvels. When an athlete born in America, naturalized as Japanese, won the traditional Sumo wrestling championship, the Japanese judges decided that this would be his last chance, since the sport requires, they stated, a spirituality (translated by demeanor) that a foreign-born sportsman cannot have.

On closer examination, Americanization runs deeper than what any assortment of objects, attitudes, values, and imitated behavior tell us. It addresses the very core of human activity in today's global community. It is easy to understand why America appears to embody efficiency reached at the expense of many abandoned values: respect for authority, for environment, for resources, even human resources, and ultimately human values. The focus of the practical experience through which American identity is constituted is on limitless expectations regarding social existence, standard of living, political action, economic reward, even religious experience. Its encompassing obsession is freedom, or at least the appearance of freedom. Whatever the pragmatics affords becomes the new expectation and is projected as the next necessity. The right to affluence, as relative as affluence is in American society, is taken for granted, never shadowed by the thought that one's wealth and well-being might come at the expense of someone else's lack of opportunity. Competitive, actually adversarial, considerations prevail, such as those manifest in the morally dubious practices accepted by the legal and political systems. "To the victor go the spoils" is probably the most succinct description of what this means in real life.

The American way of life has been a hope and promise for people all over the world. The mixed feelings they have towards America does not necessarily reflect this. The entire world is probably driven by the desire for efficiency that makes such a standard of living possible more than by the pressure to copy the American style (of products, living, politics, behavior, etc.). This desire corresponds to a pragmatics shaped by the global scale of humankind, and by the contemporary dynamics of human self-constitution. Each country faces the battle between efficiency and culture (some going back thousands of years), in contrast to the USA, whose culture is always in status nascendi. The American anxiety over the current state of literacy is laden with a nostalgia for a tradition never truly established and a fear of a future never thought through. It is, consequently, of more than documentary interest to understand how America epitomizes a civilization that has made literacy obsolete.

For the love of trade

As a country formed by unending waves of immigration, America can be seen, superficially though, as a civilization of many parallel literacies. Ethnic neighborhoods are still a fact of life. Here one finds stores where only the native language is spoken, with newspapers printed in Greek, Hungarian, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Farsi, Armenian, Hebrew, Romanian, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean. Cable TV caters to these groups, and so do many importers of products reminiscent of some country where "food tastes real" and goods "last forever." All of these carried-over literacies are, in final analysis, means of self-constitution, bridges between cultures that will be burned by the third generation. In practicing the literacy of origins, human beings constitute themselves as split personalities between two pragmatic contexts. One embodies expectations characteristic of the context that relied upon literacy- homogeneity, hierarchy, centralism, tradition. The other, of the adopted country, is focused upon needs that effect the transition to the civilization of illiteracy- heterogeneity, horizontality, decentralism, tradition as choice, but not way of life.

Aspects of immigration (and in general of human migration) need to be addressed, not from the perspective of parallel literacies, but as variations within a unifying pragmatic framework. The de-culturization of people originating from many countries and belonging to many nations is probably a unique feature of America. It impacted all aspects of life, and continues to be a source of vitality, as well as tension. Immigrants arrive as literates (some more so than others) only to discover that their literacy is relatively useless. That things were not always like this is relatively well documented. Neil Postman reported that the 17th-century settlers were quite literate in terms characteristic of the time. Up to 95 percent of the men were able to read the Bible; among women the percentage reported is 62. They also read other publications, some imported from England, and at the beginning of the second half of the eighteenth century supported a printing industry soon to become very powerful.

In importing their literacies, the English, as well as the French and Dutch, imported all the characteristics that literacy implies and which went into the foundation of the American government. Over time, in the successive waves of immigration, unskilled and skilled workers, intellectuals, and peasants arrived. They all had to adapt to a different culture, dominated by the British model but moving farther away from it as the country started to develop its own characteristics. Each national or ethnic group, shaped through practical experiences that did not have a common denominator, had to adapt to others. The country grew quite fast, as did its industry, transportation system, farming, banking, and the many services made possible and necessary by the overall economic development. To some extent, literacy was an integral part of these accomplishments. The young country soon established its own body of literature, reflecting its own experience, while remaining true to the literacy of the former mother country. I say to some extent because, as the history of each of these accomplishments shows, the characteristics inherent in literacy were opposed, under the banner of States' rights, democracy, individuality, or progress.

With all this in mind, it is no wonder that Americans do not like to hear that they are a nation of illiterates, as people from much older cultures are sometimes inclined to call them (for right or wrong reasons). No wonder either that they are still committed to literacy; moreover, that they believe that it represents a panacea to the problems raised by fast technological cycles of change, by new modes of human interaction, and by circumstances of practical experiences to which they have to adapt. Educators and business-people are well aware, and worried, that literacy in the classical sense is declining. The sense of history they inherited makes them demand that effort and money be spent to turn the tide and bring America back to past greatness, or at least to some stability. Probably the nature of this greatness is misunderstood or misconstrued, since there is not much in the history of the accomplishments of the United States that could rank the country among the cultural giants of past and present civilizations.

Throughout its history, America always represented, to some degree, a break with the values of the old world. The Europeans who came to the Dutch, French, and English colonies had at least one thing in common: they wanted to escape from the pragmatics of hierarchy, centralized political and religious domination, and fixed rules of social and cultural life representing a system of order that kept them in their place. Freedom of religion-one of the most sought after-is freedom from a dominant, unified church and its vision of the unconditionally submissive individual. Cultivating one's own land, another hope that animated the settlers, is freedom from practical serfdom imposed by the landowning nobility on those lower on the hierarchy. John Smith's maxim that those who didn't work didn't eat was perhaps the first blow to the European values that ranked language and culture along with social status and privilege.

Most likely, the immigrants, highborn and low, did not come with the intention of overthrowing the sense and morals prevailing at the time. The phase of imitation of the old, characteristic of any development, extended from religious ceremonies to ways of working, enjoying, educating, dressing, and relating to outsiders (natives, slaves, religious sects). In this phase of imitation, a semi-aristocracy established itself in the South, emulating the English model. In protesting the taxes and punitive laws imposed by King George III, the upper-class colonials were demanding their rights as Englishmen, with all that this qualifier entailed. Jefferson's model for the free United States was that the agrarian state best embodied the classic ideals that animated him. Jefferson was himself the model of literacy-based practical experiences, a landed aristocrat who owned slaves, a man trained in the logic of Greece and Rome. His knowledge came from books. He was able to bring his various interests in architecture, politics, planning, and administration in focus through the pragmatic framework for which literacy was adequate. Although Jefferson, among others, rejected monarchy, which his fellow citizens would have set up, he did not hesitate to exercise the almost kingly powers that the executive branch of government entailed. His activity shows how monarchic centrality and hierarchy were translated in the new political forms of emerging democracies, within which elective office replaced inherited power. In the history of early America, we can see how literacy carries over the non-egalitarian model as it advanced equality in people's natural rights and before the law, the power of rules, and a sense of authority inspired by religion, practiced in political life, and connected to expectations of order.

Just as new trees sprout from the trunk of an old tree, so new paradigms take root within an old one. People immigrated to America to escape the old models. Challenged by the need to provide a framework for their own self-identification, they ended up establishing an alternative context for the unfolding of the Industrial Revolution. In the process, they changed in more ways than they could foresee. Politically, they established conditions conducive to emancipation from the many constraints of the system they left. Even their patterns of living, speaking, behaving, and thinking changed. In 1842, Charles Dickens observed of Americans that "The love of trade is assigned as a reason for that comfortless custom…of married persons living in hotels, having no fireside of their own, and seldom meeting, from early morning until late at night, but at the hasty public meals. The love of trade is a reason why the literature of America is to remain forever unprotected: 'For we are a trading people, and don't care for poetry: though we do, by the way, profess to be very proud of our poets.'" Dickens came from a culture that considered literacy one of the highest achievements of England, so much so that, according to Jane Austen, Shakespeare could be particularly appreciated by the English alone (cf. Mansfield Park). She gave cultivation of the mind the highest priority. Literature was expected to assist in defining values and pointing out the proper moral and intellectual direction. France was in a very similar position in regard to its culture and literature; so were the German lands and Holland. Even Russia, otherwise opposed to acknowledging the new pragmatic context of industrial production, was affected by the European Enlightenment.

De Toqueville, whose journey to America contributed to his fame, made his historic visit in the 1830's. By this time, America had time and opportunity to establish its peculiar character, so he was able to observe characteristics that would eventually define a new paradigm. The associated emerging values, based on a life relatively free of historic constraints, caught his attention: "The Americans can devote to general education only the early years of life. […] At fifteen they enter upon their calling, and thus their education generally ends at the age when ours begins. If it is continued beyond that point, it aims only towards a particular specialized and profitable purpose; one studies science as one takes up a business; and one takes up only those applications whose immediate practicality is recognized. […] There is no class, then, in America, in which the taste for intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure and by which the labors of the intellect are held in honor. Accordingly, there is an equal want of the desire and power of application to these objects."

Opinions, even those of scholars of de Toqueville's reputation, are inherently limited in scope. Sent by the French government to examine prisons and penitentiaries in the New World, he wound up writing a study of how a highly literate European understood America's social and political institutions. Many of the characteristics of the civilization of illiteracy were emerging during the years of his visit. He highlighted the shortness of political cycles, the orality of public administration, the transience of commitments (the little there is of writing "is soon wafted away forever, like the leaves of the sibyl, by the smallest breeze"). Severance from the past, in particular, made this visitor predict that Americans would have to "recourse to the history of other nations in order to learn anything of the people who now inhabit them." What we read in de Toqueville is the expression of the surprise caused by discontinuity, by change, and by a dynamics that in other parts of the world was less obvious.

The New World certainly provided new themes, addressed and interpreted differently by Americans and Europeans. The more European cities of the Northeast- Boston, New York, Philadelphia-maintained cultural ties to the Old World, as evidenced by universities, scholars, poets, essayists, and artists. Nevertheless, Washington Irving complained that one could not make a living as a writer in the United States as one could in Europe. Indeed, many writers earned a living as journalists (which is a way of being a writer) or as civil servants. The real America-the one Dickens so lamented-was taking form west of the Hudson River and beyond the Appalachian Mountains. This was truly a world where the past did not count.

America finally did away with slavery (as a by-product of the Civil War). But at the same time, it started undoing some part of the underlying structure reflected in literacy. The depth and breadth of the process escaped the full understanding of those literate Founding Fathers who set the process in motion, and was only partially realized by others (de Toqueville included). It clearly affected the nature of human practical experiences of self-constitution as free citizens of a democracy whose chance to succeed lay in the efficiency, not in the expressive power, of ideas. America's industrial revolution took place against a background different from that of the rest of the world- a huge island indulging in relative autarchy for a short time. Forces corresponding to the pragmatics of the post-industrial age determined a course of opening itself and opening as much of the world as possible-regardless of how this was to be accomplished. The process still affects economic development, financial markets, cultural interdependencies, and education.

"The best of the useful and the best of the ornamental"

Some will protest that over 150 years have gone by and the American character has been shaped by more than the love of trade. They will point to the literary heritage of Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James. Indeed, 20th century American writers have been appreciated and imitated abroad. Faulkner and Hemingway are the best known examples. Today, American writers of lesser stature and talent are translated into the various European languages, for the same reasons that Disneyland was brought to France. Americans will point to theaters (which presented European plays) and opera houses, forgetting how late these acquisitions are, instituted when economic progress was on a sound track. Indeed, the response to these assertions is simple: the result of other influences is not a change of course, but a much faster movement in the direction America pursues.

A good example is given by education. The American colleges and universities founded in the 18th and early 19th centuries attempted to follow the traditional model of learning for its own sake; that is, moral and intellectual improvement through study of the age-old classics. This lasted until various interest groups, in particular businessmen, questioned the validity of an educational program that had little or no pragmatic value. These schools were in the East-Harvard, Brown, Yale, Columbia, William and Mary- and the curricula reflected that of the Old World. In general, only the elite of America attended them. The newer universities, the so-called Land Grant colleges, later called state universities (such as Ohio State University, Texas A & M), established west of the Allegheny River during the last quarter of the 19th century, did indeed pursue more pragmatic programs-agriculture and mechanics-to serve the needs of the respective state, not the nation.

In view of this demand for what is useful, it is easy to understand why American universities have become high (and sometimes not so high) level vocational schools, substituting for what high school rarely provided. Pragmatic requirements and anti-elitist political considerations collided with the literate model and a strange hybrid resulted. A look at how the course offerings changed over time brings clear evidence that logic, rhetoric, culture, appreciation of the word and of the rules of grammar and syntax-all the values associated with a dominant literacy-are relegated to specializations in philosophy, literature, or written communication, and to a vast, though confusing, repertory of elective classes, which reflect an obsession with free choice and a leveling notion of democracy. Literature, after being forced to give up its romantic claim to permanency, associates itself with transitory approaches that meet, with increasing opportunistic speed, whatever the current agenda might be: feminism, multiculturalism, anti-war rhetoric, economic upheaval. Human truth, as literary illusion or hope, is replaced by uncertainty. No wonder that in this context programs in linguistics and philology languish or disappear from the curriculum. Economics lost its philosophic backbone and became an exercise in statistics and mathematics.

When faced with a list of courses that a university requires, most students ask, "Why do I need…?" In this category fall literature, mathematics, philosophy, and almost everything else definable within literacy as formative subject matter or discipline. Blame for this attitude, if any can be uttered, should not be put on the young people processed by the university system. The students conform, as difficult as it might be for them to understand their conformity, to what is expected of them: to get a driver's license and a college diploma, and to pay taxes. The expectation of a diploma does not result from requirements of qualification but from the American obsession with equality. America, which revolted against hierarchy and inequality, has never tolerated even the appearance of individual superiority. This led to a democracy that opposed superiority, leveling what was not equal-rights or aptitudes, opportunities or abilities-at any price. College education as privilege, which America inherited from the Europe it left behind, was considered an injustice. Over time, commercial democracy turned college into another shopping mall. Today, diplomas, from BA to Ph.D., are expected just for having attended college, a mere prerequisite to a career, not necessarily the result of rigorous mental application leading to quality results. Young adults go to college because they heard that one can get a better (read higher paying) job with a college education.

The result of broadening the scope of university studies to include professions for which only training is required is that the value of a college diploma (but not the price paid for it) has decreased. Some say that soon one will need a college diploma just to be a street cleaner (sanitation engineer). Actually, a person will not need a diploma, but will just happen to have one. And the wage of a sanitation worker will be so high (inflation always keeps pace with demagogy) that a college graduate will feel more entitled to the job than a high school dropout. When Thomas Jefferson studied, he realized that none of his studies would help him run his plantation. Architecture and geometry were subordinate to a literacy-dominated standard. Nevertheless, education inspired him as a citizen, as it inspired all who joined him in signing the Declaration of Independence.

A context was established for further emancipation. The depth and breadth of the process escaped the full understanding of those who set the process in motion, and was at best partially realized by very few others, de Tocqueville included. It clearly affected the nature of human practical experiences of self-constitution as free citizens of a democracy whose chance to succeed lay in the efficiency of ideas, not in their expressive power. Inventiveness was unleashed; labor-saving devices, machinery that did the work of tens and hundreds of men provided more and more immediate satisfaction than intellectual exercise did.

Americans do not, if they ever did, live in an age of the idea for its own sake or for the sake of the spirit. Maintaining mental faculties or uplifting the spirit are imported services. In the early history of the USA, the Transcendentalist movement, of a priori intuitions, was a strong intellectual presence, but its adherents only transplanted the seed from Europe. Those and others-the schools of thought associated with Peirce, Dewey, James, and Royce-rarely took root, producing a flower more appreciated if it actually was imported. This is not a country that appreciates the pure idea. America has always prided itself in its products and practicality, not thinking and vision. "A plaine souldier that can use a pick-axe and a spade is better than five knights," according to Captain John Smith. His evaluation summarizes the American preference for useful over ornamental.

Paradoxically though, business leaders argued for education and proclaimed their support for schools and colleges. At a closer look, their position appears somewhat duplicitous. American business needed its Cooper, Edison, and Bell, around whose inventions and discoveries industries were built. Once these were in place, it needed consumers with money to buy what industries produced. Business supported education as a right and took all the tax deductions it could in order to have this right serve the interests of industry and business. Consequently, in American society, ideas are validated only at the material level, in providing utility, convenience, comfort, and entertainment, as long as these maximize profit. "The sooner the better" is an expectation of efficiency, one that does not take into consideration the secondary effects of production or actions, as long as the first effect was profit. Not the educated citizen, but the person who succeeded in getting rich no matter how, was considered the "smart" fellow, as Dickens learned during his journey through America. Prompted by such a deeply rooted attitude, Sidney Lanier, of Georgia, deplored the "endless tale/ of gain by cunning and plus by sale." To value success regardless of the means applied is part of the American teleology (sometimes in complicity with American theology).

Bertrand Russell observed of Machiavelli that no one has been more maligned for simply stating the truth. The observation applies to those who have taken upon themselves the task of writing about the brave citizens of the free land. Dickens was warned against publishing his American Notes. European writers and artists, and visitors from Russia, China, and Japan have irritated their American friends through their sincere remarks. Not many Americans refer to Thorston Veblen, Theodore Dreiser, Henry James, or to Gore Vidal, but the evaluations these authors made of the American character have been criticized by the majority of their compatriots whose sentimental vision of America cannot cope with legitimate observations. Mark Twain felt that he'd rather be "damned to John Bunyan's heaven" than be obliged to read James's The Bostonians.

The rear-view mirror syndrome

So why do Americans look back to a time when people "knew how to read and write," a time when "each town had five newspapers?" Big businesses, consolidated well before the invention of newer means of communication and mediation, have large investments in literacy: newspapers, publishing houses, and especially universities. But the promise of a better material life through literacy today rings tragically hollow in the ears of graduates who cannot find jobs in their fields of study. The advertisement most telling of this state of affairs is for a cooking school: "College gave me a degree in English. Peter Kump's Cooking School gave me a career."

Granted that literacy has never made anyone rich in the monetary sense, we can ask what the pragmatic framework set up in this part of the New World did accomplish that literacy could not. In the first place, escape from one dominant mode embodied in literate practical experiences facilitated the assertion of other modes of expression and communication. Peter Cooper, founder of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, made his fortune in railroads, glue, and gelatin desserts. He was truly illiterate: he could not read. Obviously he was not unintelligent. Many pioneers had a better command of their tools than of their pen. They read nature with more understanding than some university students read books. There are other cases of people who succeed, sometimes spectacularly, although they cannot read. The illiterate California businessman who taught high school social sciences and mathematics for eighteen years became known because television, for some reason, saw in him a good case for the literacy cause. People like him rely on a powerful memory or use an intelligence not based on literate conventions. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (formerly known as aptitudes) seems to be ignored by educators who still insist that everyone learn to read and write-better said, conform to the conventions of literacy-as though these were the only ways to comprehend others and to function in life. There are few commentaries that contradict this attitude. William Burroughs thought that "Language is a virus from outer space." Probably it feels better to perceive language like this in view of the many abuses to which language is subjected, but also in view of the way people use it to deceive. A more direct criticism states: "The current high profile of literacy is symptomatic of a speedy, ruthless transition from an industrial to an information-based economy. […] Literacy, to be sure, is a powerful, unique technology. Yet literacy remains a human invention contained by social contract, and the maintenance of that contract in education betrays our ideas of humanity as surely as our use of literacy enforces them" (cf. Elsbeth Stuckey)

American experience shows that the imposition of a sole model of higher education, based on literacy, has economic, social, and cultural consequences. It is very costly. It levels instead of addressing and encouraging diversity. It introduces expectations of cultural homogeneity in a context that thrives on heterogeneity. The literate model of education with which the country flirted, and which still seems so attractive, negates one of America's sources of vitality-openness to alternatives, itself made possible by the stubborn refusal of centralism and hierarchy. Held in high esteem in the early part of American history, literacy came to students through schoolhouses in which Webster's Speller and McGuffey's Reader disbursed more patriotism (essential to a nation in search of an identity) and more awareness of what "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" should mean than quality writing or the possibility to select good books for reading. Literacy with a practical purpose, and the variety of literacies corresponding to the variety of human practical experiences, is a discovery made in America. Understanding pragmatic requirements as opposed to pursuing literacy for the sake of literacy, at the price of rejecting its rewards, is where the road forks. But here America follows Yogi Berra's advice: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

In their search for new values, or when faced with competing answers to tough questions, people tend to look back to a time when everything seemed all right. And they tend to pick and choose the characteristics that led to this perceived state of affairs. Things were all right, some want to believe, when kids, plodding along country roads, winter or summer, went to school and learned to read. Therefore, most people assume that the environment propitious to literacy will bring back the golden age. No one wants to see that America was never reducible to this romantic picture. In the South, education never seemed to be a mission. Slaves and poor whites remained outside the idealized stream. Females were not encouraged to study. A Protestant viewpoint dominated subject matter (recall the Puritan alphabet primer).

Americans seem intent on ignoring accomplishments outside the domain of literacy and the dynamics of the non-literate United States. In admiration of real cultures, Americans do not want to hear or see that many of them, of proud and ancient ancestry, started questioning their own values and the education transmitting them. The practical sense and pragmatism ascertained in the formation of America were adopted as causes worth fighting for. In Europe, students protested an education that did not prepare them for work. Thanks to universal education-European governments by and large offer publicly supported higher education, at no cost to the student, through college and graduate school-more young people received an education (in the classical sense of the word) and their ranks flooded the market. They discovered that they were not prepared for the practical experiences characteristic of the new pragmatics, especially the new forms of mediations that characterize work and that are making headway around the world. In Europe, there is a clear distinction between university studies and vocational studies. This has prevented universities from becoming the high-class vocational schools that they are in America, and has maintained the meaning of the diploma as a proof of intellectual endeavor. On the other hand, they remain ivory towers, not preparing students for the practical experiences of the new pragmatics. Brotlose Kunst (breadless art) is what the Germans now call such fields of study as literature, philosophy, musicology, religion, and any other purely intellectual endeavor.

Looking at a totally different culture, Americans tend to respond to Japan's economic success and criticism of our system by saying that our educational system must become more like that of America's leading competitor. They ignore the fact that Japan's high rate of productivity has less to do with the nation's high rate of literacy than does the indoctrination and character formation that Japanese schooling entails. Fundamental attitudes of conformity, team mentality, and a very strong sense of hierarchy, together with an almost sacred sense of tradition, are instilled through literate means. One does not have to be literate in any language in order to solder one circuit to another on an assembly line or to snap together modular components fabricated by advanced machines. What is necessary, indeed expected, is an ethic that calls for a sense of duty and pride in a job well done, a sense met by the social promise of permanency. All in all, the Japanese system allows for little variation from the consensus, and even less for the creation of new models. The only way Japan stepped out of the literate mode in the manufacturing world is in quality control. Ironically, this idea was developed by the American Edward Denning, but rejected by his compatriots, who literally stagnated in a hierarchic model originating from circumstances of literacy. This hierarchical model, now in obvious decline, gave to American businessmen the sense of power they could not achieve through education or culture.

The Japanese, living in a system that preserved its identity while actively pursuing plans for economic expansion, formed strategies of self-containment (severely tested in times of economic downturn), as well as methods of relating to the rest of the world. This condition is manifest in their talent for spotting the most profitable from other countries, making it theirs, and pursuing avenues of competition in which what is specifically Japanese (skills, endurance, collusion) and the appropriated foreign component are successfully joined. Almost the entire foundation of today's television, in its analog embodiment, is Japanese. But if for some reason the programming component would cease to exist, all the marvelous equipment that makes TV possible would abruptly become useless. In some ways, Japan has almost no interest in a change of paradigm in television, such as the revolutionary digital TV, because an enormous industry, present in almost every home where television is used, would have to reinvent itself. The expectation of permanency that permeates literate Japan thus extends from literacy to a medium of illiteracy. In the American context, of almost no stable commitments, digital television, along with many other innovations in computation and other fields, is a challenge, not a threat to an entire infrastructure. This example was not chosen randomly. It illustrates the dynamics of the change from a literacy-dominated civilization to one of many competing literacies. These emerge in the context of change from self-sufficient, relatively small-scale, homogeneous communities to the global world of today, so powerfully interconnected through television and through digital media of all kinds. As illiterates, Americans lead other nations in breakthroughs in medicine, genetics, networking, interactive multimedia, virtual reality, and inventiveness in general.

Obviously, it is easier to design a course of education assuming some permanency or maintaining it, regardless of pragmatic requirements. Diane Ravitch stated that it is hard to define what education will be needed for the future when we don't know what skills the jobs of the future will require. An optimal education, reflecting pragmatic needs of highly mediated practical experiences of distributed effort and networking, will have to facilitate the acquisition of new cognitive skills. Decentralized, non-sequential, non-deterministic experiences require cognitive skills different from those characteristic of literacy. Schools used to be able to prepare students to find their place in the workforce even before graduation. More schools than ever insist on churning out a strange version of the literate student who should go on to a college that is more (though still not enough) vocational school than university. The university, under the alibi of equal opportunity and more in consideration of its own agenda, has done more damage to education and literacy by forcing itself upon Americans as the only means to attain a better life. The result is crowded classes in which passive students are processed according to the industrial model of the assembly line, while the creative energy of faculty and students is redirected to a variety of ventures promising what a university cannot deliver. The very word university acknowledges one encompassing paradigm, prevalent in the Middle Ages, that the USA practically disposed of over a century ago. In an age of global reality and many paradigms, the university is in reality less universal and increasingly specialized.

In these times of change, America, founded on innovation and self-reliance, seems to forget its own philosophy of decentralization and non-hierarchy. By no surprise, the newer computer technology-based companies took the lead in decentralizing and networking the workplace, in re-engineering each and every business. Most business-people, especially in established companies, are reluctant to address matrix management methods or to use distributed forms of organization and decentralized structures. Consequently, after waves of corporate restructuring and resizing, presidents and chairmen (not unlike university presidents and school principals) are kings, and the laborer, when not replaced by a machine, is often a virtual serf. Surprisingly, the decentralized spirit of homesteading and the distribution of tasks and responsibilities, through which much of efficiency is reached, makes slow headway. But things are changing! If there is an engine at work pulling the world from its literacy- based pragmatics to the future of higher efficiency required by the new scale of human activity, it has the initials USA written on it. And it is-make no mistake about it-digital.

When not faithful to its own experience of pluralism and self-motivation, the USA faces the inherent limitations of literacy-based practical experience in a number of domains, the political included. America once had a number of political parties. Now it seems that it cannot effectively get beyond the literate dualistic model of two antagonistic parties, emulating the Tories and the Whigs of the empire to which it once belonged. European countries and several African and Asian states have multi-party systems that reflect sensitivity to differences and take advantage of the variety they allow for. Such systems enfranchise more of a country's citizenry than does the two- party system in the USA. Every four years, Americans demand greater choice in elections, but only one state, Alaska, considers it normal to have more than two parties, and, incidentally, a governor who is neither Republican nor Democrat.

The USA has a complex about literacy to the extent that every subject is now qualified as literacy-cultural literacy, computer literacy, visual literacy, etc.-whether literacy is involved or not. Literacy has become its own specialty. In addition, new literacies, effectively disconnected from the ideals and expectations of classical literacy, have emerged from practical experiences of human self-constitution in realms where writing and reading are no longer required. This would not be so bad if it were not blinding people to the truth about a major characteristic of humankind. Diversity of expression and multiplicity of communication modes define new areas of human accomplishment and open avenues for further unfolding of people's creative and economic potential. The new condition of language, in particular the failure of literacy, is at the same time a symptom of a new stage in human progress. It in no way reflects a failure of national policy or will. As a matter of fact, the new stage we are entering is a reflection of the human spirit unfolding, refusing to be held captive to a dominant mode that has outlived its usefulness. It may well be that the coming of age of America is part of this new stage. After all, many believe that the crisis of language is the crisis of the white man (cf. Gottfried Benn), or at least of Western civilization.

So, is the USA the epitome of the civilization of illiteracy? Yes, America is illiterate to the extent that it constituted itself as an alternative to the world based on the underlying structures of literacy. The new pragmatic framework that the USA embodies does not automatically free it from the seductive embrace of the civilization it negates, and the current angst over the state of literacy is a manifestation of this. As an embodiment of the civilization of illiteracy, America demonstrates how several literacies can work together by complementing each other. Such a pragmatics succeeds or fails on its own terms. Whenever the implicit founding principles of adaptation, openness, exploration and validation of new models, and pragmatically based institutions are pursued, the result is the expected efficiency. Sometimes, the price people seem to pay for it is very high-unemployment, dislocation, retrenchment, a loss of a sense of permanency that humans long for. The price includes the ability or willingness to consider all aspects involved in a situation-political, environmental, social, legal, religious. These aspects transcend the tangible and necessitate taking the broad view, which literate civilization allowed for, over the specialized, narrowly focused, short- sighted, parochial view. Other times, it looks as though there are no alternatives. But in the long run, no one would really want to go back to the way things were 200 years ago.

Book two

From Signs to Language

Languages are very different. So are literacies. The differences go well beyond how words sound, how alphabets differ, how letters are put together, or how sentences are structured in the various languages used around the world. In some languages, fine distinctions of color, shape, gender, numbers, and aspects of nature are made while more general statements are difficult to articulate. Anthropologists noted that in some of the Eskimo languages many words could be identified for what we call (using one word) snow and for activities involving it; in Arabic, many names are given to camel; in Mexico, different names qualify ceramic pottery according to function, not form: jarro for drinking, jarra for pouring, olla for cooking beans, cazuela for cooking stews. The Japanese and Chinese distinguish among different kinds of rice: still in the paddy, long- grained, shucked, kernels. George Lakoff mentions the Dyirbal language of Australia where the category balan includes fire, dangerous things, women, birds, and animals such as platypus, bandicoot, and echidna.

In other languages, the effort to categorize reveals associations surprising to individuals whose own life experiences are not reflected in the language they observe. The questioning attitude in the Talmud (a book of interpretations of the Hebrew Torah) is based on 20 terms qualifying different kinds of questions. Shuzan is calculation based on the use of the abacus. Hissan, hiding the Japanese word hitsu that stands for the brush used for writing, is calculation based on the use of Arabic numerals. To be in command of a language such as Chinese (to be literate in Chinese) is different from being literate in English, and even more different from being literate in various tribal languages. These examples suggest that the practical experience through which language is constituted belongs to the broad pragmatic context.

There is no such thing as an abstract language. Among particular languages there are great differences in vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, as well as in the idiosyncratic aspects implicit in them, reflective of the experience of their constitution. Despite such differences-some very deep-language is the common denominator of the species Homo Sapiens, and an important constitutive element of the dynamics of the species. We are our language. Those who state that language follows life consider only one side of the coin. Life is also formed in practical experiences of language constitution. The influence goes both ways, but human existence is in the end dependent upon the pragmatic framework within which individuals project their own biological structure in the practical act through which they identify themselves

Changes in the dynamics of language can be traced in what makes language necessary (biologically, socially, culturally), what causes different kinds of language use, and what brought about change. Necessity and agents of change are not the same, although sometimes it is quite difficult to distinguish between them. Changed working habits and new life styles are, as much as the appropriate language characterizing them, symptomatically connected to the pragmatic framework of our continuous self-constitution. We still have ten fingers-a structural reality of the human body projected into the decimal system-but the dominant number system today is probably binary. This observation regards the simplistic notion that words are coined when new instances make them desirable, and disappear when no longer required. In fact, many times words and other means of expression constitute new instances of life or work, and thus do not follow life, but define possible life paths.

There are several sources from which knowledge about language constitution and its subsequent evolution can be derived: historic evidence, anthropological research, cognitive modeling, cultural evaluation, linguistics, and archaeology. Here is a quote from one of the better (though not uncontroversial) books on the subject: Language "enabled man to achieve a form of social organization whose range and complexity was different in kind from that of animals: whereas the social organization of animals was mainly instinctive and genetically transmitted, that of man was largely learned and transmitted verbally through the cultural heritage," (cf. Jack Goody and Ian Watt, The Consequence of Literacy). The general idea pertaining to the social implications of language is restrictive but acceptable. What is not at all explained here is how language comes into existence, and why instinctive and genetically transmitted organization (of animals) would not suffice, or even be tantamount to the verbally transmitted organization of human beings. As a matter of fact, language, as perceived in the text cited and elsewhere in literature, becomes merely a storing device, not a formative instrument, a working tool of sorts, even a tool for making other tools and for evaluating them.

Languages have to be understood in a much broader perspective. Like humans, languages have an evolution in time. What came before language can be identified. What remains after a certain language disappears (and we know of some that have disappeared) are elements as important as the language itself for our better understanding of what makes language necessary. The disappearance of a language also helps us realize how the life of a language takes place through the life of those who made it initially possible, afterwards necessary, and finally replaced it with means more appropriate to their practical life and to their ever-changing condition. Research into pre-linguistic time (I refer to anthropological, archaeological, and genetic research) has focused on items people used in primitive forms of work. It convincingly suggests that before a relatively stable and repetitive structure was in place, people used sounds, gestures, and body expressions (face, hands, legs) pretty much the way infants do. The human lineage, in its constitutive phases, left behind a wealth of testimony to patterns of action and, later, to behavioral codes that result in some sense of cohesion. Distant forebears developed patterns in obtaining food and adapting to changes affecting the availability of food and shelter.

Before words, tools probably embodied both potential action and communication. Many scholars believe that tools are not possible without, or before, words. They claim that cognitive processes leading to the manufacture of tools, and to the tool-making human being (Homo Faber), are based on language. In the opinion of these scholars, tools extend the arm, and thus embody a level of generality not accessible otherwise than through language. It might well be that nature-based "notation" (footprints, bite marks, and the stone chips that some researchers believe were the actual tools) preceded language. Such notation was more in extension of the biological reality of the human being, and corresponded to a cognitive state, as well as to a scale of existence, preparing for the emergence of language.

Research on emerging writing systems (the work of Scribner and Cole, for instance, and moreover the work of Harald Haarmann, who considers the origins of writing in the notations found at Vinca, in the Balkans, near present-day Belgrade) has allowed us to understand how patterns of sounds and gestures became graphic representations; and how, once writing was established, new human experiences, at a larger scale of work, became possible. Finally, the lesson drawn from dying languages (Rosch's studies of Dyirbal, reported by Lakoff) is a lesson in the foundation of such languages and their demise. What we learn from these is less about grammar and phonetics and more about a type of human experience. We also acquire information regarding the supporting biological structure of those involved in it, the role of the scale of humankind, and how this scale changes due to a multitude of conjectures.

The differentiation introduced above among pre-language notations, emerging languages, emerging systems of writing, and dying languages is simultaneously a differentiation of kinds and types of human expression, interaction, and interpretation of everything humans use to acknowledge their reality in the world they live in. Drawing attention to oneself or to others does not require language. Sounds suffice; gestures can add to the intended signal. In every sound and in every gesture, humans project themselves in some way. Individuality is preserved through a sound's pitch, timbre, volume, and duration; a gesture can be slow or rapid, timid or aggressive, or a mixture of these characteristics. Once the same sound, or the same gesture, or the same sequence of sounds and gestures is used to point to the same thing, this stabilized expression becomes what can be defined, in retrospect, as a sign.

Semeion revisited

Interest in various sign systems used by humans reaches well back to ancient times. But it was only after renewed interest in semiotics-the discipline dealing with signs (semeion is the Greek word for sign)-that researchers from various other disciplines started looking at signs and their use by humans. The reason for this is to be found in the fast growth of expression and communication based on means other than natural language. Interaction between humans and increasingly complex machines also prompted a great deal of this interest.

Language-oral and written-is probably the most complex system of signs that researchers are aware of. Although the word language comprises experiences in other sign systems, it is by no means their synthesis. Before the practical experience of language, humans constituted themselves in experiences of simpler means of expression and communication: sounds, rhythms, gestures, drawings, ritualized movement, and all kinds of marks. The process can be seen as one of progressive projection of the individual onto the environment of existence. The sign I of one's own individuality-as distinct from other I's with whom interaction took place through competition, cooperation, or hostility-is most likely the first one can conjure. It must be simultaneous with the sign of the other, since I can be defined only in relation to something different, i.e., to the other. In the world of the different, some entities were dangerous or threatening, others accommodating, others cooperating. These qualifiers could not be simply translated into identifiers. They were actually projections of the subject as it perceived and understood, or misunderstood, the environment.

To support my thesis about the pragmatic nature of language and literacy, a short account of the pre-verbal stage needs to be attempted here. Very many scholars have tried to discover the origin of language. It is a subject as fascinating as the origins of the universe and the origin of life itself. My interest is rather in the area of the nature of language, the origin being an implicit theme, and the circumstances of its origination. I have already referred to what are loosely called tools and to behavioral codes (sexual, or relating to shelter, food-gathering, etc.). There is historic evidence that can be considered for such an account, and there are quite a number of facts related to conditions of living (changes in climate, extinction of some animals and plants, etc.) that affect this stage. The remaining information is comprised of inferences based on how beings similar to what we believe human beings once were constituted their signs as an expression of their identity. These signs reflected the outside world, but moreover expressed awareness of the world made possible by the human's own biological condition.

The very first sentence of the once famous Port-Royal Grammar unequivocally considers speaking as an explanation of our thoughts by signs invented for this particular purpose. The same text makes thinking independent of words or any kind of signs. I take the position that the transition from nature to culture, i.e., from reactions caused by natural stimuli to reflections and awareness, is marked by both continuity and discontinuity. The continuous aspect refers to the biological structure projected into the universe of interactions with similar or dissimilar entities. The discontinuity results from biological changes in brain size, vertical posture, functions of the hands. The pre- verbal (or pre-discursive) is immediate by its very nature. The discursive, which makes possible the manifest thought (one among many kinds) is mediated by the signs of language. Closeness to the natural environment is definitive of this stage. Although I am rather suspicious of claims made by contemporary advocates of the psychedelic, in particular McKenna, I can see how everything affecting the biological potential of the being (in this case psilocybin, influencing vision and group behavior) deserves at least consideration when we approach the subject of language.

Signs, through which pre-verbal human beings projected their reality in the context of their existence, expressed through their energy and plasticity what humans were. Signs captured what was perceived as alike in others, objects or beings, and likeness became the shared part of signs. This was a time of direct interaction and immediateness, a time of action and reaction. Everything delayed or unexpected constituted the realm of the unknown, of mystery. The scale of life was reduced. All events were of limited steps and limited duration. Interacting individuals constituted themselves as signs of presence, that is, of a shared space and time. Signs could thus refer to here and now as immediate instantiations of duration, proximity, interval, etc., but long before the notions of space and time were formed. Once distinctions were projected in the experience of signs, the absent or the coming could be suggested, and the dynamics of repetitive events could be expressed. It was only after this self- expression took place that a representational function became possible: a high-pitched cry not just for pain, but also for danger that might cause pain; an arm raised not only as an indication of firm presence, but also of requested attention; a color applied on the skin not only as an expression of pleasure in using a fruit or a plant, but also of anticipated similar pleasures-an instruction to be mimetically followed, to be imitated.

Being part of the expressed, the individuals projecting themselves in the expression also projected a certain experience related to the limited world they lived in. Signs standing for associations of events (clouds with rain, noise of hooves with animals, bubbles on a lake's surface with fish) were probably as much representations of those sequences as an expression of constituted experience shared with others living in the same environment. Sharing experience beyond the here and now, in other words, transition from direct and unreflected to indirect and reflected interaction, is the next cognitive step. It took place once shared signs were associated with shared common experiences and with rules of generating new signs that could report on new, similar, or dissimilar experiences. Each sign is a biological witness to the process in which it was constituted and of the scale of the experience. A whisper addresses one other person, maybe two, very close to each other. A shout corresponds to a different scale. Accordingly, each sign is its shorthand history and a bridge from the natural to the cultural.

Sequences, such as successions of sounds or verbal utterances, or configurations of signs, such as drawings, testify to a higher cognitive level. Relations between sequences or configurations of signs and the practical experience in which they are constituted are less intuitive. To derive from the understanding of such sign relations some practical rules of significance to those sharing a sign system was an experience in human interaction. Later in time, the immediate experiential component is present only indirectly in language. The constitution of the language is the result of the change of focus from signs to relations among them. Grammar, in its most primitive condition, was not about how signs are put together (syntax), nor of how signs represent something (semantics), but of the circumstances determining new signs to be constituted in a manner preserving their experiential quality-the pragmatics.

Consequently, language was constituted as an intermediary between stabilized experience (repetitive patterns of work and interaction) and future (patterns broken). Signs still preserved the concreteness of the event that triggered their constitution. In the use of language, the human being abandoned a great deal of individual projection. Language's degree of generality became far higher than that of its components (signs themselves), or of any other signs. But even at the level of language, the characteristic function of this sign system was the constitution of practical experiences, not the representation of means for sharing categories of experiences. In each sign, and more so in each language, the biological and the artificial collide. When the biological element dominates, sign experiences take place as reactions. When the cultural dominates, the sign or language experience becomes an interpretation, i.e., a continuation of the semiotic experience. Interpretation of any kind corresponds to the never-ending differentiation from the biological and is representative of the constitution of culture. Under the name culture as used above, we understand human nature and its objectification in products, organizations, ideas, attitudes, values, artifacts.

The practical experience of sign constitution-from the use of branches, rocks, and fur to the most primitive etchings (on stone, bone, and wood), from the use of sounds and gestures to articulated language-contributed to successive changes in ongoing activity (hunting, seeking shelter, collaborative efforts), as well as to changes in humans themselves. In the universe of rich detail in which humans affirmed their identity through fighting for resources and creatively finding alternatives, information did not change, but the awareness of the practical implications of details increased. Each observation made in the appropriation of knowledge through its use in work triggered possible patterns of interaction.

Once signs were constituted, sharing in the experience became possible. Genetic transmission of information was relatively slow. It dominated the initial phases during which the species introduced its own patterns within the patterns of the natural environment. Semiotic transmission of information, in particular through language, is much faster than genetic inheritance but cannot replace it. Human life is attested at roughly 2.5 million years ago, incipient language use roughly 200,000 years ago. Agriculture as a patterned experience emerged no more than 19,000 years ago, and writing less than 5,000 years ago (although some researchers estimate 10,000 years). The shorter and shorter cycles characteristic of self-constitution correspond to the involvement of means other than genetic in the process of change. What today we call mental skills are the result of a rather compressed process. Compare the time it took until motor skills involved in hunting, gathering, and foraging were perfected to the extent they were before they started to degenerate, relatively speaking, as we notice in our days.

The first record is a whip

Signs can be recorded-quite a few were recorded in and on various materials- and so can language, as we all know. But language did not start out as a written system. The African Ishango Bone predates a writing system by some thousands of years; the quipus of the Inca culture are a sui generis record of people, animals, and goods previous to writing. China and Japan, as well as India, have similar pre-writing forms of keeping records.

The polygenetic emergence of writing is, in itself, significant in several ways. For one, it introduced another mediating element disassociated from a particular speaker. Second, it constituted a level of generality higher than that of the verbal expression that was independent of time and space, or of other forms of record keeping. Third, everything projected into signs, and from signs into articulated language, participated in the formation of meaning as the result of the understanding of language through its use. Only at that moment did language gain a semantic and syntactic dimension (as we call them in today's terminology).

Formally, if the issue of literacy and the constitution of languages are connected, then this connection started with written languages. Nevertheless, events preceding written language give us the perspective of what made writing necessary, and why some cultures never developed a written language. Although referring to a different time-frame (thousands of years ago), this could help us comprehend why writing and reading need not dominate life and work today and in the future. Or at least it could help clarify the relation among human beings, their language, and their existence. After all, this is what we want to understand from the vantage point of today's world. We take the word for granted, wondering whether there was a stage of the wordless human being (about which we can only infer indirectly). But once the word was established, with the advent of the means for recording it, it affected not only the future, but also the perception of the past.

Conquering the past, the word gives legitimacy to explanations that presume it. Thus it implies some carrying device, i.e., a system of notation as a built-in memory and as a mechanism for associations, permutations, and substitutions. But if such a system is accepted, the origins of writing and reading are pushed back so far in time that the disjunction of literate-illiterate becomes a structural characteristic of the species at one of the periods of its self-definition. Obviously expanded far in time and seen in such a broad perspective, this notation (comprising images, the Ishango Bone, quipus, the Vinca figurines, etc.) contradicts the logocratic model of language. Mono- and polysyllabic elements of speech, embodying audible sequences of sounds (and appropriate breathing patterns that insert pauses and maintain a mechanism for synchronization), together with natural mnemonic devices (such as pebbles, knots on branches, shapes of stones, etc.) are pre-word components of pre-languages. They all correspond to the stage of direct interaction. They pertain to such a small scale of human activity that time and space can be sequenced in extension of the patterns of nature (day-night, very close-less close, etc.).

This juncture in the self-definition of the species occurred when the transition, from selected natural marks to marking, and later to stable patterns of sounds, eventually leading to words, took place. This was an impressive change that introduced a linear relation in a realm that was one of randomness or even chaos. If catastrophes occurred (as many anthropologists indicate), i.e., changes of scale outside the linear to which human beings were not adapted, they resulted in the disappearance of entire populations, or in massive displacements. Rooted in experiences belonging to what we would call natural phenomena, this change resulted in rudimentary elements of a language. New patterns of interaction were also developed: naming (by association, as in clans bearing names of animals), ordering and counting (at the beginning by pairing the counted objects, one by one, with other objects), recording regularities (of weather, sky configurations, biological cycles) as these affected the outcome of practical activities.

Scale and threshold

Already mentioned in previous pages, the concept of scale is an important parameter in human development. At this point, it is useful to elaborate on the notion since I consider scale to be critical in explaining major transitions in human pragmatics. The progression from pre-word to notation, and in our days from literacy to illiteracy is paralleled by the progression of scale. Numbers as such-how many people in a given area, how many people interacting in a particular practical experience, the longevity of people under given circumstances, the mortality rate, family size-are almost meaningless. Only when relations among numbers and circumstances can be established is some meaningful inference possible. Scale is the expression of relations.

A crude scale of life and death is remote from underlying adaptive strategies as these are embodied in practical experiences of self-constitution. Knowledge regarding biological mechanisms, such as knowledge of health or disease, supports efforts to derive models for various circumstances of life, as humans project their biological reality into the reality of interactions with the outside world. We know, for instance, that when the scale of human activity progressed to include domesticated animals, some animal diseases affecting human life and work were transmitted to humans. Domestication of animals, a very early practical experience, brought humans closer to them for longer times, thus facilitating what is called a change of host for agents of such diseases. The common cold seems to have been acquired from horses, influenza from pigs, smallpox from cattle. We also know that over time, infectious diseases affect populations that are both relatively large and stationary. The examples usually given are yellow fever or malaria and measles (the latter probably also transported from swine, where the disease is caused by the larva of the tapeworm from which the word measles is derived). Sometimes the inference is made from information on groups that until recently were, or still are, involved in practical experiences similar to those of remote stages in human history, as are the tribes of the Amazon rain forest. Isolated hunter- gatherers and populations that still forage (the !Kung San, Hadza, Pygmies) replay adaptive strategies that otherwise would be beyond our understanding. Statistical data derived from observations help improve models based only on our knowledge about biological mechanisms.

The notion of scale involves these considerations insofar as it tells us that life expectancy in different pragmatic frameworks varies drastically. The less than 30-year life expectancy (associated with high infant mortality, diseases, and dangers in the natural environment) explains the relatively stationary population of hunter-gatherers. Orders of magnitude of 20 years higher were achieved in what are called settled modes of life existing before the rise of cities (occurring at different times in Asia Minor, North Africa, the Far East, South America, and Europe). The praxis of agriculture resulted in diversified resources and is connected to the dynamics of a lower death rate, a higher birth rate, and changes in anatomy (e.g., increased height).

The hypotheses advanced by modern researchers of ancestral language families concerning the relation between their diffusion over large territories and the expanding agricultural populations is of special interest here. The so-called Neolithic Revolution brought about food production in some communities of people as opposed to reliance on searching, finding, catching or trapping (as with foragers and hunters). As conditions favored an increase in population, the nature of the relations among individuals and groups of individuals changed due to force of number. Groups broke away from the main tribe in order to acquire a living environment with less competition for resources. Alternatively, pragmatic requirements led to situations in which the number of people in a given area increased. With this increase, the nature of their relations became more complex.

What is of interest here is the direction of change and the interplay of the many variables involved in it. Definitely, one wants to know how scale and changes in practical experiences are related. Does a discovery or invention predate a change in scale, or is the new scale a result of it or of several related phenomena? Polygenetic explanations point to the many variables that affect developments as complex as those leading to discoveries of human practical experiences that result in increased populations and diversified pragmatic interactions. The major families of languages are associated, as archaeological and linguistic data prove, with places where the new pragmatic context of agriculture was established. One well documented example is that of two areas in China: the Yellow River Basin, where foxtail millet is documented, and the Yangtzi River Basin, where rice was domesticated. The Austronesian languages spread from these areas over thousands of miles beyond. We have here an interesting correlation, even if only summarily illustrated, between the nature of human experience, the scale that makes it possible, and the spread of language. Similar research bears evidence from the area called New Guinea, where cultivation of taro tubers is identified with speakers of the Papuan languages, covering large areas of territory as they searched for suitable land and encountered the opposition of foragers.

Natural abilities (such as yelling, throwing, running, plucking, breaking, bending) dominated a humankind constituted in groups and communities of reduced scale. Abilities other than natural, such as planting, cooking, herding, singing, and using tools, emerge consciously, in knowledge of the cause, when the change of scale in population and effort required efficiency levels relative to the community, impossible to achieve at the natural level. Such abilities developed very quickly. They led to the diversified means generated in practical experiences involving elements of planning (as rudimentary as it was at its beginning), reductionist strategies of survival and well-being (break a bigger problem into smaller parts, what will become the divide-and-conquer strategy), and coalition building. These involved acts of substitution, insertion, and omission, and continued with combinations of these at progressively higher levels. At a certain scale of human activity, the experience of work and the cognitive experience of storing information pertinent to work differentiated.

Do structural changes bring about a new scale, or does scale effect structural changes? The process is complex in the sense that the underlying structure of human activity is adapted to exigencies of survival fine tuned to the many factors influencing both individual and communal experiences. That scale and underlying structure are not independent results from the fact that possibilities as well as needs are reflected in scale. More individuals, with complementary skills, have a better chance to succeed in practical endeavors of increased complexity. Their needs increase, too, since these individuals bring into the experience not only their person, but also commitments outside the experience. The underlying structure embodies elements characteristic of the human endowment-itself bound to change as the individual is challenged by new circumstances of life-and elements characteristic of the nature of human relations, affecting and being affected by scale. Dynamic tensions between scale and the elements defining the underlying structure lead to changes in the pragmatic framework. Language development is just one example of such changes. Articulated speech emerged in the context of initial agricultural praxis as an extension of communication means used in hunting and food gathering. Notation and more advanced tools emerged at a later juncture. Crafts resulted from practical experiences made possible by such tools as work started to become specialized. Writing was made possible by the cognitive experiences of notation and reading (no matter how primitive the reading was). Writing emerged as practical human constitution extended to trade, to beyond the here-and-now and beyond co-presence. The underlying structure of literacy was well suited to the sequentiality characteristic of practical experiences, expression of dependencies, and deterministic processes.

As already stated, successive forms of communication came about when the scale of interaction among humans expanded from one to several to many. Literacy corresponded to a qualitatively different moment. If language can be associated with the human scale characteristic of the transition from hunting and foraging for food to producing it by means of agriculture, literacy can be associated with the next level of human interconditioning-production of means of production. One can use here the metaphor of critical mass or threshold, not to overwrite scale, but to define a value, a level of complexity, or a new attractor (as this is called in chaos theory). Critical mass defines a lower threshold-until this value, interaction was still optimally carried out by means such as referential signs, representations based on likeness, or by speech. At the lower threshold, individuals and the groups they belong to can still identify themselves coherently. But a certain instability is noticeable: the same signs do not express similar or equivalent experiences. In this respect, critical mass refers to number or amount (of people, resources they share, interactions they are involved in, etc.) and to quality (differences in the result of the effort of self-constitution). Former means are rendered inadequate by practical experiences of a different nature. New strategies for dealing with inadequacies result from the experience itself, as the optimization of the sign systems involved (signals, speech, notation, writing) result from the same. Notation became necessary when the information to be stored (inventories, myths, genealogies) became more than what oral transmission could efficiently handle. Critical mass explains why some cultures never developed literacy, as well as why a dominant literacy proves inadequate in our days.

Signs and tools

Practical experiences involving nature led to the realization of differences: colors that change with seasons, flora and fauna in their variety, variations in sky and weather. Human need is externalized through hunting (maybe scavenging), fishing, finding shelter, and seeking one's own kind, either under sexual drive or for some collaborative effort. Thus, multiplicity of nature is met by multiplicity of elementary operations. What resulted was a language of actions, with elements relevant to the task at hand. There was no real dialogue. In nature, screeches and hoots, in finite sequences, signal danger. Otherwise, nature does not understand human signs, images, or sounds. For attracting and catching prey, or for avoiding danger, sounds, colors, and shapes can be involved. What qualifies them as signs is the infinity of variations and combinations required by the practical context. Against the background of differences, human practical experiences resulted also in the realization of similarities in appearance and actions. Awareness of similarities was embodied in means of interaction. They became signs once the experience stabilized in the constitution of a group coherently integrating the sign in its activity.

Elementary forms of praxis maintained individuals near the object upon which they acted, or upon which needs and plans for their fulfillment were projected. Extraction of what was common to many tasks at hand translated into accumulation of experience. With experience, a certain distance between the individual, or group, and the task was introduced. The language of actions changed continuously. Evaluation started as a comparison. It evolved into inclinations, repetitive patterns, and selections until it translated into a rule to be followed. Interpretation of natural patterns connected to weather (what we call change of season, storm, drought, etc.), to observations concerning hunted animals, or digging for tubers, or to agriculture (as we define it in retrospect) resulted in the constitution of a repertory of observed characteristics and, over time, in a method of observation. Once observed, phenomena were tested for relevancy and thus became signs. They integrated the observer, who memorized and associated them with successful patterns of action. In a way, this meant that reading- i.e., observation of all kinds of patterns and associations to tasks at hand-was in anticipation of notation and writing, and probably one of the major reasons for their progressive appearance. This reading filtered the relevant, that characteristic-of an animal, plant, weather pattern-which affected the attainment of desired goals. Consequently, the language of actions gained in coherence, progressively involving more signs. Rituals are a form of sharing and collective memory, a sui generis calendar, characteristic of an implicit sense of time. They are a training device in both understanding the signs pertaining to work and the strategy of action to follow when circumstances changed. In rituals, the unity between what is natural and what is human is continuously reaffirmed.

Tools are extensions of the physical reality of the human being. They are relevant as means for reaching a goal. Signs, however, are means of self-reflection, and thus by their nature means of communication. Tools, which can be interpreted as signs, too, are also an expression of the self-reflective nature of humans, but in a different way. What defines them is the function, not the meaning they might conjure in a communicational context. By their nature, tools require integration. In retrospect, tools appear to us as instances of self-constitution at a scale different from the natural scale of the physical world in which individuals created them. The difference is reflected in their efficiency in the first place, but also in the implicit correlations they embody. Some are tools for individual use; others require cooperation with other persons.

Sign activity at such primitive stages of humankind marked the transcendence from accidental to systematic. The use of tools and the relative uniform structure of the tasks performed contributed to a sense of method. Tools testify to the close and homogenous character of the pragmatic framework of primitive humans. The syncretic nature of the signs of practical experiences were reflected in the syncretism of tools and signs. What we today call religion, art, science, philosophy, and ethics were represented, in nuce, in the sign in an undifferentiated, syncretic manner. Observations of repetitive patterns and awareness of possible deviations blended. Externalized in these complex signs, individuals strove towards making them understandable, unequivocal, and easy to preserve over time.

Think about such categories as syncretism, understanding, repetitive patterns in practical terms. A sign can be a beat. It should be easily perceived even under adverse conditions (noise from thunder, the howl of animals). Humans should be able to associate it with the same consequences (Run! should not be confused with Halt!; Throw! should not be confused with Don't throw! or some other unrelated action). This univocal association must be maintained over time. As practical experiences diversified, so did the generation of signs. Rhythm, color, shape, body expression and movement, as experienced in daily life, were integrated in rituals. Things were shown as they are- animal heads, antlers and claws, tree branches and trunks, huge rocks split apart. Their transformation was performed through the use of fire, water, and stones shaped to cut, or to help in shaping other stones.

It is quite difficult for us today to understand that for the primitive mind, likeness produced and explained likeness, that there was no connotation, that everything had immediate practical implications. What was shared, here and now, or between one short-lived generation and the next, was an experience so undifferentiated that sometimes even the distinction between action and object of action (such as hunting and prey, plowing and soil, collecting and the collected fruit, etc.) was difficult to make.

The process of becoming a human being is one of constituting its own nature. Externalizing characteristics (predominantly biological, but progressively also spiritual) to be shared within the emergent human culture is part of the process We have come to understand that there is no such thing as the world on one side and a subject reflecting it on another. The appearance, which Descartes turned into the premise of the rational discourse adopted by Western civilization, makes us fall captive to representational explanations rather than to ontogenetic descriptions. Human beings identify themselves, and thus the species they belong to, by accounting for similarities and distinctions. These pertain to their existence, and sharing in the awareness of these similarities and distinctions is part of human interaction. As such, the world is constituted almost at the same time as it is discovered. This contradictory dynamics of identity and distinction makes it possible to see how language is something other than the "image of our thoughts," as Lamy once put it, obviously in the tradition of Descartes. Language is also something other than the act of using it. We make our language the way we continuously make ourselves. This making does not come about in a vacuum, but in the pragmatic framework of our interdependencies. The transition from directness and immediateness to indirectness and mediation, along with the notions of space and time appropriated in the process, is in many ways reflected in the process of language constitution. The emergence of signs, their functioning, the constitution of language, and the emergence of writing seem to point to both the self- definition and preservation of human nature, as these unfold in the practical act of the species' self-constitution.

From Orality to Writing

Tracing the origin of language to early nuclei of agriculture, as many authors do (Peter Bellwood, Paul K. Benedict, Colin Renfrew, Robert Blust, among them), is tantamount to acknowledging the pragmatic foundation of the practical experience of language of human beings. Language is not a passive witness to human dynamics. Diversity of practical experience is reflected in language and made possible through the practical experience of language. The origins of language, as much as the origins of writing, lie in the realm of the natural. This is why considerations regarding the biological condition of the individual interacting with the outside world are extremely important. Practical experiences of self-constitution in language are constitutive of culture. The act of writing, together with that of tool-making, is constitutive of a species increasingly defining its own nature. Considerations regarding culture are accordingly no less important than those concerning the biological identity of the human being.

Let us point to some implications of the biological factor. We know that the number of sounds, for instance, that humans can produce when they push air through their mouths is very high. However, out of this practically infinite number of sounds, only slightly more than forty are identifiable in the Indo-European languages, as opposed to the number of sounds produced in the Chinese and Japanese languages. While it is impossible to show how the biological make-up of individuals and the structure of their experience are projected onto the system of language, it would be unwise not to account for this projection as it occurs at every moment of our existence. When humans speak, muscles, vocal chords, and other anatomical components are activated and used according to the characteristics of each. People's voices differ in many ways and so subtly that to identify people through voice alone is difficult. When we speak, our hearing is also involved. In writing, as well as in reading, this participation extends to sight. Other dynamic features such as eye movement, breathing, heartbeat, and perspiration come into play as well. What we are, do, say, write, or read are related. The experience behind language use and the biological characteristics of people living in a language differ to such an extent that almost never will similar events, even the simplest, be similarly accounted for in language (or in any other sign system, for that matter) by different persons.

The first history, or the personal inquiry into the probable course of past events, rests upon orality, integrates myths, and ends up with the attempt to refer events to places, as well as to time. Logographers try to reconstruct genealogies of persons involved in real events (wars, founding of clans, tribes, or dynasties, for example) or in the dominant fiction of a period (e.g., the epics attributed to Homer, or the book of Genesis in the Bible). In the transition from remembrance (mnemai) to documented accounts (logoi), human beings acquired what we call today consciousness of time or of history. They became aware of differences in relating to the same events.

The entire encoding of social experience, from very naive forms (concerning family, religion, illness) to very complex rules (of ceremony, power, military conduct) is the result of human practice diversified with the participation of language. The tension between orality and writing is, respectively, an expression of the tension between a more homogeneous way of life and the ever diversifying new forms that broke through boundaries accepted for a very long time. In the universe of the many Chinese languages, this is more evident than in Western languages. Chinese ideographic writing, which unifies the many dialects used in spoken Chinese, preserves concreteness, and as such preserves tradition as an established way of relating to the world. Within the broader Chinese culture, every effort was made to preserve characteristics of orality. The philosophy derived from such a language defends, through the fundamental principle of Tao in Confucianism, an established and shared mechanism of transmitting knowledge.

Unlike spoken language, writing is fairly recent. Some scholars (especially Haarmann) consider that writing did not appear until 4,000 to 3,000 BCE; others extend the time span to 6,000 BCE and beyond. To repeat: It is not my intention to reconstitute the history of writing or literacy. It makes little sense to rekindle disputes over chronology, especially when new findings, or better interpretations of old findings, are not at hand or are not yet sufficiently convincing. The so-called boundaries between oral and post-oral cultures, as well as between non-literate, literate, and what are called post-literate, or illiterate, cultures are difficult to determine. It is highly unlikely that we shall ever be able to discover whether images (cave drawings or petroglyphs) antecede or come after spoken language. Probably languages involving notation, drawings, etchings, and rituals-with their vast repertory of articulated gestures-were relatively simultaneous. Some historians of writing ascertain that without the word, there could be no image. Others reject the logocratic model and suggest that images preceded the written and probably even the spoken. Many speculate on the emergence of rituals, placing them before or after drawing, before or after writing. I suggest that primitive human expression is syncretic and polymorphous, a direct consequence of a pragmatic framework of self-constitution that ascertains multiplicity.

Individual and collective memory

Anthropologists have tried to categorize the experience transmitted in order to understand how orality and, later, writing (primitive notation, in fact) refer to the particular categories. Researchers point to the material surroundings-resources, in the most general way-to successful action, and to words as pertaining to the more general framework (time, space, goals, etc.). Speculation goes as far as to suggest that these human beings became increasingly dependent on artifactual means of notation. As a consequence, they relied less on the functions of the brain's right hemisphere. In turn, this resulted in decreased acuteness of these functions. Some even go so far as to read here an incipient Weltanschauung, a perspective and horizon of the world. They are probably wrong because they apply an explanatory model already influenced by language (product of a civilization of literacy) on a very unsettled human condition. In order to achieve some stability and permanence, as dictated by the instinctive survival of the species, this human condition was projected in various sequences of signs still unsettled in a language. The very objects of direct experience were the signs. This experience eventually settled and became more uniform through the means and constraints of orality.

Language is not a direct expression of experience, as the same anthropologists think. In fact, language is also less comprehensive than the signs leading to it. Before any conversation can take place, something else-experience within the species-is shared and constitutes the background for future sharing. Face to face encounter, scavenging, hunting, fishing, finding natural forms of shelter, etc., became themselves signs when they no longer were related only to survival, but embodied practical rules and the need to share. Sharing is the ultimate qualifier for a sign, especially for a language.

Tools, cave paintings, primitive forms of notation, and rituals addressed collective memory, no matter how limited this collective was. Words addressed individual memory and became means of individual differentiation. Individual needs and motivations need to be understood in their relation to those of groups. Signs and tools are elements that were integrated in differentiation. To understand the interplay between them, we could probably benefit from modern cognitive research of distributed and centralized authority. Tools are of a distributed nature. They are endlessly changed and tested in individual or cooperative efforts. Signs, as they result from human interaction, seem to emanate from anything but the individual. As such, they are associated with incipient centralized authority. These remarks define a conceptual viewpoint rather than describe a reality to which none of us has or can have access. But in the absence of such a conceptual premise, inferences, mine or anybody else's, are meaningless.

The distinctions introduced above point to the need to consider at least three stages before we can refer to language: 1.

integration in the group of one's kind in direct forms of interaction: touching, passing objects from one to another, recognition through sounds, gestures, satisfying instinctual drives; 2.

awareness of differences and similarities expressed in direct ways: comparison by juxtaposition, equalization by physical adjustment; 3.

stabilization of expressions of sameness or difference, making them part of the practical act.

From the time same and different were perceived in their degree of generality, directness and immediateness was progressively lost. Layers of understanding, together with rules for generating coherent expressions, were accumulated, checked against an infinity of concrete situations, related to signs still used (objects, sounds, gestures, colors, etc.), and freed from the demand of unequivocal or univocal meaning. All these means of expression were socialized in the process of production (the making of artifacts, hunting, fishing, plowing, etc.) and self-reproduction until they became language. Once they became language-talked about things and actions-this language removed itself from the objects and the making or doing. This removal made it appear more and more as a given, an entity in itself, a reality to fear or enjoy, to use or compare one's actions to the actions of others. The time it took for this process to unfold was very long-hundreds of thousands of years (if we can imagine this in our age of the instant). The process is probably simultaneous to the formation of larger brains and upright posture. It included biological changes connected to the self- constitution of the species and its survival within a framework different from the natural. It nevertheless acknowledged the natural as the object of action and even change.

The functional need for distinctions explains morphological aspects; the pragmatic context suggests how the shift from the scale of one-to-one direct interaction to one-to-many by the intermediary of language takes place. Concreteness, i.e., closeness to the object, is also symptomatic of the limited shared universe. These languages are very localized because they result from localized experiences. They externalize a limited awareness, and make possible a very restricted development of both the experience and the language associated with it. As we shall see later on, a structurally similar situation can be identified in the world today, not on some island, as the reader might suspect, but on the islands of specialized work as we constitute them in our economies. Obsessed with (or driven by) efficiency, and oriented towards maximizing it, we use strategies of integration and coordination which were not possible in the ages of language constitution.

But let us get back to the place of the spoken (before the emergence of notation and the written) and its cultural function in the lives of human communities. The memory before the word was the memory of repeated actions, the memory of gestures, sounds, odors, and artifacts. Structuring was imposed from outside-natural cycle (of day and night, of seasons, of aging), and natural environment (riverside, mountainside, valley, wooded region, grassy plains). The outside world gave the cues. Participants acted according to them and to the cues of previous experience as this was directly passed from one person to another. Long before astrology, it was geomancy (association of topographical features to people or outcomes of activity) that inhabited people's reading of the environment and resulted in various glyphs (petroglyphs, geoglyphs). Initially remembering referred to a place, later on to a sequence of events. Only with language did time come into the picture. Remembrance was dictated minimally by instinct and was only slightly genetic in nature. With the word, whose appearance implied means for recognizing and eventually recording words, a fundamental shift occurred. The word entered human experience as a relational sign. It associated object and action. Together with tools, it constituted culture as the unity between who we are (identity), what our world is (object of work, contemplation, and questioning), and what we do (to survive, reproduce, change). At this moment, culture and awareness of it affected practical experiences of human self-constitution. Simultaneously, an important split occurred: genetic memory remained in charge of the human being's biological reality, while social memory took over cultural reality. Nevertheless, they were not independent of each other.

The nature of their interdependence is characteristic of each of the changes in the scale of humankind that interests us here. If we could describe what it takes for individuals to congregate, what they need to know or understand in order to hunt, to forage, to begin herding and agriculture, we would still not know how well they would have to perform. In retrospect, it seems that there was a predetermined path from the stage of primitive development to what we are today. Assuming the existence of such a path, we still do not know at what moment one type of activity no longer satisfied expectations of survival and other paths needed to be pursued. Once we involve the notion of scale in our cognitive modeling, we get some answers important for understanding not only orality and writing, but also the process leading to literacy and the post-literate.

Cultural memory

Memory, in its incipient stages (comparable to childhood, at the beginning of human culture), as well as in its new functions today, deserves our entire attention. For the time being, we can confidently assume that before cultural memory was established, genetic memory, from genetic code to the inner clock and homeostatic mechanisms, dominated the inheritance mechanisms related to survival, reproduction, and social interaction. The emphasis brought by words is from inheritance to transmission of experience. Rituals changed; they integrated verbal language and gained a new status-syncretic projections of the community. Language opened the possibility to describe efficient courses of action. It also described generic programs for such diverse activities as navigating, hunting, fire-making, producing tools, etc. Expressions in language were of a level of generality that direct action and the ritual could not reach.

In images preceding words, thought and action followed a circular sequence: one was embedded in the other. A circular relation corresponded to the reduced scale of the incipient species: no growth, input and output in balance. Only when the circle was opened was a sense of progression ascertained. The circular framework can be easily defined as corresponding to the identity between the result of the effort and the effort. Obviously, chasing and catching prey required a major physical effort. The reward at this stage was nothing more nor less than satisfied hunger. Let us divide the result by the effort. The outcome of this division is a very intuitive representation of efficiency or usefulness. The circular stage maintained the two variables close to each other, and the ratio around the value of 1:1.

The framework of linear relations started with awareness of how efforts could be reduced and usefulness increased. The linear sequence of activities was deterministically connected-the stronger the person, the more powerful in throwing, thrusting and hauling; the longer the legs, the faster the run, etc. Language was a product of the change from the circular framework, embodied in foraging, but also a factor affecting the dynamics and the direction followed, i.e., agriculture. In language the circle was opened in the sense that sequences were made possible and generality, once achieved, generated further levels of generality. From direct interaction coordinated by instinct, biological rhythm, etc., to interaction coordinated by melodic sound, movement, fire signals, to communication based on words, the human species ascertained its existence among other species. It also ascertained a sense of purpose and progression.

The pragmatics of myths is one of progression. It extends well into our age, in forms that suit the scale of humankind-progression from tribal life to the polis, ancient cities-and its activities. In today's terminology, we can look at myths as algorithms of practical life. In the ritual, giving birth, selecting a mate, fruitful sexual relations-all related to reproduction and death-could be approached within the implicit circularity of action-reaction. In myths, the word of the language conveys a relatively depersonalized experience available to each and all. Since it was objectified in language, it took on the semblance of rules. In language, things are remembered; but also forgotten, or made forgotten, for reasons having to do with new circumstances of work and social life. Change in experience was reflected in the change of everything pertinent to the experience as it was preserved in language. Quite often, in the act of transmitting experience, details were changed, myths were transmuted. They became new programs for new goals and new circumstances of work.

Generally speaking, the emergence and cultural acquisition of language and the change of status of the human being from Homo Faber (tool-using human) to Homo Sapiens (thinking human) were parallel processes within the pragmatic framework of linear relations between actions and results. The pre-language stage of relatively homogeneous activities, of directness and immediateness, of relative equality between the effort and the result progressively came to an end. The need to describe, categorize, store, and retrieve the content of diversified, indirect, mediated experience was projected into the reality of language, within the experience of human self- constitution. The relevance of experience to the task at hand was replaced by the anticipated relevancy of structuring future tasks in order to minimize effort and maximize outcome.

Frames of existence

The oral phase of language made it difficult, if not impossible, to account for past events. Testimony in communities researched while still in the oral phase (see Lévi- Strauss, among others) shows that they could not maintain the semantic integrity of the discourse. Words uttered in a never-ending now-the implicit notion of present-seem to automatically reinvent the past according to the exigencies of the immediate. The past, during the oral phase of language, was a form of present, and so was the future, since there are no instruments to project the word along the axis of time.

Orality is associated with fixed frames of existence and practical life. The culture of the written word resulted from the introduction of a variable frame of existence, within which a new pragmatic framework, corresponding to a growing scale of human activity, required a stable outline of language. This outline of language-over short time intervals it appears as a fixed frame of reference-can be associated with more mobile, more dynamic frames of existence and practical experiences, whose output follows the dynamic of the linear relations it embodies. Work and social interaction-in short, the pragmatic dimension of human existence-made the recording of language necessary and impressed linearity upon it.

A cuneiform notation, over 3,500 years old, testifies to a Sumerian who looked at the nightly skies and saw a lion, a bull, and a scorpion. More importantly, it demonstrates how a practical experience constitutes a cognitive filter: what people saw when they looked at something unknown and for which no name was constituted, and how disjoint worlds-the earthly environment and the sky-were put in relation at this phase of language constitution. This is even more important in view of the fact that as an isolated language, Sumerian survives only in writing, a product of that "budding flower" as A. and S. Sherrat described it, referring to the agricultural heartland of Southwest Asia where many language families originated.

Writing, which takes place in many respects at a higher cognitive level than the production and utterance of the word, or than in pictographic notation, is a multi- relational device. It makes possible relations between different words, between different sentences, between images and language. From its incipient phase, it also related disjoint worlds, but at a level other than that achieved in Sumerian cuneiform notation. Writing facilitates and further necessitates the next level of a language, which is the text, an entity in which its parts lose their individual meaning while the whole constitutes the message or is conjured into meaning. The experience already gained in visual records, such as drawing, rock engravings, and wood carvings, was taken over in the experience of the written word.

The pictorial was a highly complex notation with a vast number of components, some visible (the written), some invisible (the phonetics), and few rules of association. Within the pictorial, sequences are formed which narrate events or actions in their natural succession. What comes first in the sequence is also prior (in time) to everything else, or it has a more important place in a hierarchy. The male-female relation, or that between free individuals and slaves, between native and foreign was embedded here. Even the direction of writing (from left to right, right to left, top to bottom) encodes important information about the people constituting their identity in the practical experience of engraving letters on tablets or painting them on parchment. The very concrete nature of the pictograms prevents generalization. Expression was enormously rich, precision practically impossible to achieve.

The detailed history of writing makes up many chapters in the history of languages. It is also a useful introduction to the history of knowledge, aesthetics, and most likely cognitive science. This history also details processes characteristic of the beginning of literacy. Probably more than 30,000 years passed between the time of cave paintings and rock engravings and the first acknowledged attempt at writing. From the perspective of literacy, this time span comprised the liberation of the human being from the pictorially concrete and the establishment of the realm of conventions, of purposeful encoding. Abstract thinking is not possible without the cognitive support of abstract representations and the sharing of conventions (some implicit) they embody. The wedge-shaped letters of Sumerian cuneiform, the sacred engraved notations of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Chinese ideograms, the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman alphabets-all have in common the need to overcome concreteness. They offer a system of abstract notation for increasingly more complex languages.

Until writing, language was still close to its users and bore their mark. It was their voice, and their seeing, hearing, and touching. With writing, language was objectified, freed from the subject and the senses. The development towards written language, and from written language to initially limited and then generalized literacy, paralleled the evolution from satisfying immediate needs (the circular relation) to extending and increasing demand (the linear function) of a mediated nature. The difference between needs related to survival and needs that are no longer a matter of survival but of social status (power, ego, fear, pleasure, incipient forms of conviction, etc.) is represented through language, itself seen as part of the continuous self-constitution of the human being in a particular pragmatic framework.

The alienation of immediacy

The term alienation requires a short explanation. Generally, it is used to describe the estrangement, through work, of human beings from the object of their effort. Awareness of having one's life turned into products, which then appear to those who made them as entities in themselves, open to anybody to appropriate them in the market, is an expression of alienation. There are quite a number of other descriptions, but basically, alienation is a process of having something that is part of us (our bodies, thoughts, work, feelings, beliefs, etc.) revealed as foreign. Rooting the explanation of this very significant process of alienation (and of the concept representing it in language) in the establishment and use of signs, makes possible the understanding of its pragmatic implications.

Awareness of signs is awareness of the difference between who we are and how we express our identity. In the case of signs representing some object (the drawing of the object or of the person, the name, social security number, passport, etc.), the difference between what is represented and the representation is as much an issue of appropriateness (why we call a table table or a certain woman Mary) as it is one of alienation. The conscious use of signs most probably results from the observation people make that their thoughts, feelings, or questions are almost always imperfectly expressed. Two things happen, probably at the same time: 1.

No longer dealing directly with the object, or intended action, but with its representation, makes it more difficult to share with others experiences pertinent to the object. 2.

The interpretation being no longer one of the direct object, or the intended action, but of its representation, it leads to new experiences, and thus associations-some confusing, and others quite stimulating. The image was still close to the object; the confusion regarded actions. Writing is remote from objects, though actions can be better described since differentiation of time is much easier. We know by now that moving images, or sequences of photographs of the action, are even better for this purpose.

With the written word, even in the most primitive use of it, events become the object of record. Relations, as well as reciprocal commitments among community members, can also be put in the records. Norms can be established and imposed. A fundamental change, resulting from the increased productivity of the newly settled communities, is accounted for in writing. People no longer deal with work in order to live (in order to survive, actually), but with life dedicated to work. Writing, more than previously used signs (sounds, images, movements, colors), estranges human beings from the environment and from themselves. Some feelings (joy, sadness), some attitudes (anger, mistrust) become signs and, once expressed, can be written down (e.g., in letters, wills). In order to be shared, thoughts go through the same process, and so does everything else pertaining to life, activity, change, illness, love, and death.

It was stated many times that writing and the settlement of human beings are related. So are writing and the exchange of goods, as well as what will become known as labor division. While the use of verbal language makes possible the differentiation of human praxis, the use of written language requires the division between physical and non-physical work. Writing requires skills, such as those needed for using a stylus to engrave in wax or clay, quill on parchment, later the art of calligraphy. It implies knowledge of language and of its rules of grammar and spelling. There is a great difference between writing skills and the skills needed for processing animal skins, meat, various agricultural products, and raw materials. The social status of scribes proves only that this difference was duly acknowledged. It should be added here that the few who mastered writing were also the few who mastered reading. Nevertheless, some historic reference points to the contrary: in the 13th century, non-reading subjects were used as scribes because the accuracy of their undisturbed copying was better than that of those who read. This reference is echoed today in the use of non-English speaking operators to key-in texts, i.e., to transfer accumulated records into digital databases. And while the number of readers increased continuously, the number of writers, lending their hands as scribes to real writers, remained small for many centuries.

Literacy started as an elitist overhead expenditure in primitive economies, became an elitist occupation surrounded by prejudices and superstition, expanded after technological progress (however rudimentary) facilitated its dissemination, and was finally validated in the marketplace as a prerequisite for the higher efficiency of the industrial age. Primitive barter did not rely on and did not require the written word, although barter continued even after the place of written language became secure. In barter, people interact by exchanging whatever they produce in order to fulfill their immediate needs within a diversified production.

The alienation peculiar to barter and the alienation characteristic of a market relying on the mediating function of written language are far from being one and the same. In short, exchanging is fundamentally different from selling and buying. Products to be exchanged still bear the mark of those who sweat to produce them. Products to be sold become impersonal; their only identity is the need they might satisfy or sometimes generate. Myth, as a set of practical programs for a limited number of local human experiences, no longer satisfied exigencies of a community diversifying its experience and interacting with communities living in different environments. This contrast of market forms characteristic of orality and of incipient writing is related to the contrast between myth transmitted orally and mythology, associated with the experience of writing. Language in its written form appeared as a sui generis social memory, as potential history.

The obsession with genealogies (in China, India, Egypt, among the Hebrews, and in oral culture in general) was an obsession with human sequences stored in a memory with social dimensions. It was also an obsession with time, since each genealogical line is simultaneously a historic record-who did what, when and where; who followed; and how things changed. Most of these aspects are only implicit in genealogy. In oral culture, genealogies were turned into mnemonic devices, easily adjustable to new conditions of life, but still circular, and just as easily transformable from a record of the past into a command for the future. In its incipient phases as notation and record, genealogy still relied on images to a great extent (the family tree), but also on the spoken, maintaining a variability similar to that of the oral. Nevertheless, the possibility for more stabilized expression, for storing, for uniformity, and consistency was given in the very structure of writing. These were progressively reached in the first attempts to articulate ideas, concepts, and what would become the corpus of theoria- contemplation of things translated into language-on which the sciences and humanities of yesterday, and even some of today, are based. Theories are in some ways genealogies, with a root and branches representing hypotheses and various inferences. Written language extended the permanence of records (genealogies, ownership, theories, etc.) and facilitated access through relatively uniform codes.

In the city-states of ancient Greece, writing alerted people working within the pragmatic constraints of orality to the dangers involved in a new mechanism of expression and communication. Writing seemed to introduce its own inaccuracies, either because of a deliberate attitude towards certain experiences, or as a result of systematic avoidance of inconsistency, which ended up affecting the records of facts. As we know, facts are not intrinsically consistent in their succession. Therefore, we still use all kinds of strategies to align them, even if they are obliquely random. In the oral mode, as opposed to procedures later introduced through writing, consistency was maintained by a succession of adaptations in the sequence of conversations through which records were transmitted. Within oral communication, there is a direct form of criticism, i.e., the self-adjusting function of dialogue. Completeness and consistency are different in conversation (open-ended) than in written text, and even more different in formal languages.

Memory itself was also at issue. Reliance on the written might affect memory- which was the repository of a people's tradition and identity in the age of orality- because it provided an alternative medium for storage. The written has a different degree of expression and leaves a different impression than the oral. Writing, confined to those who read, could also affect constitution and sharing of knowledge. Writing was characterized as superficial, not reaching the soul (again, lacking expressiveness), interfering between the source of knowledge and the receiver of any lesson about knowledge. Spoken words are the words of the person speaking them. A written text seems to take on a life of its own and appears as external, alien. The written is given and does not account for differences among human beings; the spoken can be adapted or changed, its coherence dependent upon the circumstances of the dialogue. There are societies today (the Netsidik, the Nuer, the Bassari, to name a few) that still prefer the oral to the written. Within their pragmatic framework, the live expression of the human uttering the words in the presence of others conveys more information than the same words can in writing.

The memory of a literate society becomes more and more a repository of the various mediations in social life and loses its relation to direct experience. Things said (what the Greeks called legomena) are different from things done (dromena). The written word connects to other words, not to things done. And so does the sentence, when it acquires its status as a relatively complete unit of language. But the real change is brought about by the written, whether on papyrus, clay, scroll or tablet, or in stone or lead. Such a page connects to other written pages and to writing in general. Thus, things done disappear in the body of history, which becomes the collection of writings, eventually stored on bookshelves. The meaning of history is expressed in the variability of the connections ascertained from one text to another. When the here and now of dromena are expurgated, we remain only with the consciousness of sequences. This is a gain, but also a loss: the holistic meaning of experience vanishes.

How much of this kind of criticism, opposing the oral to the written, is relevant to the phenomena of our time cannot be evaluated in a simple statement. Language has changed so much that in order to understand texts originating at the time of this criticism, we have to translate and annotate them. Some are already reconstituted from writings of a later time (i.e., of a different pragmatic framework), or even from translations. There is no direct correspondence between the literacy of emergent writing and that of automated writing and reading. In some cases we have to define a contextual reference in the absence of which large parts of these recuperated texts make little sense, if any, to people constituted in literacy and in a pragmatic reality so different from that of thousands of years ago. Even written words are dependent on the context in which they are used. In other words, although it seems that written language is less alive than conversation, and less bound to change, it actually changes. We write today, using technologies for word processing, in ways different from any other practical experience of writing.

The criticism voiced in Plato's time cannot be entirely dismissed. Writing became the medium through which some human experiences were reified. It allowed for extreme subjectivity: In the absence of dialogue and of the influence of criticism through dialogue, the past was continuously reinvented according to goals and values of the writer's present. In orality-dominated social life, opinion (which Greeks called doxa) was the product of language activity, and it had to be immediate. In writing, truth is sought and preserved. What made Socrates sound so fierce (at least in Plato's dialogues) in his attacks against writing was his intuition of progressive removal from the source of thinking, hence the danger of unfaithful interpretation. Socrates, as well as Plato, feared indirectness and wrote conclusively about memory and wisdom.

Situated between Socrates and Aristotle, Plato could observe and express the consequences of writing: "I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence." As one of the first philosophers of writing, Plato could not yet observe that writing is not simply the transcription of thoughts (of the words through which and in which humans think), that ideas are formed differently in writing than in speech, that writing represents a qualitatively new sign system in which meanings are formed and communicated through a mechanism once more mediated in respect to practical reality. The subject of confidence in language became the central theme of the Sophists' exercise, of Medieval philosophy, of Romanticism, and of the literature of the absurd (symptomatically popular in the years following World War 2).

Moving from the past to the present, we notice that memory is an issue of extreme importance today, too. Literacy challenges the reliability of memory across the board, even when memory is the repository of facts through which people establish themselves in the world of work. Professionals ranging from doctors, lawyers, and military commanders to teachers, nurses, and office personnel rely more on memory than do factory workers on an assembly line. The paradox is that the more educated a professional is, the less he or she needs to rely on literacy in the exercise of his or her profession, except in the initial learning process, which is made through books. With the advent of video and cassette tapes or disks, with digital storage and networks, literacy loses its supremacy as transmitter of knowledge.

What makes language necessary is also what explains its history and its characteristics. Language came to life in a process through which humans projected themselves into the reality of their existence, identified themselves in respect to natural and social environments, and followed a path of linear growth. Orality testifies to limited, circular experiences but corresponds to an unsettled human being in search of well being and security. It relied on memory for the most part and was assimilated in ritual. The written appeared in the context of several fundamental changes: diversified human praxis, settlement, and a market that outgrew barter, each related and influencing the other. Its main result was the division between mental and physical labor. It made speaking, writing, and reading-characteristics of literacy, as we know it from the perspective of literate societies-logically possible. In fact, it represented only the possibility of literacy, not its beginning. Once we understand how language works and what were some of the functions of language that corresponded to the new stage made possible by writing, we shall also understand how writing contributed to the future ideal of literacy.

Orality and Writing Today: What Do People Understand When They
Understand Language?

Sitting before your computer, you connect to the World Wide Web. What is of interest today? How about something in neurosurgery? Somewhere on this planet, a neurosurgeon is operating. You can see individual neurons triggering right on your monitor. Or you can view how the surgeon tests the patient's pattern recognition abilities, allowing the surgeon to draw a map of the brain's cognitive functioning, a map essential for the outcome of the operation. Every now and then the dialogue between surgeon and assistants is complemented by the display of data coming from different monitoring devices. Can you understand the language they are using? Could a written report of the operation substitute for the real-time event? For a student in neurosurgery, or for a researcher, the issue of understanding is very different from what it would be for a lay-person.

Tired of science? A concert is taking place at another Internet address. Musical groups from all over the world are sending their live music to this address. As a multi- threaded performance, this concert enables its listeners to select from among the many simultaneously performing groups. They sing about love, hope, understanding…all the themes that each listener is familiar with. Still, understanding every word the musicians use, do you understand what is taking place?

Moving away from the Internet, one could visit a factory, a stock exchange, a store. One could find oneself in subway in any city, witness a first-grade class in session, or pursue business in a government office. All these scenarios embody the various forms of self-constitution through practical activity. It seems that everyone involved is talking the same language, but who understands what? In seemingly simpler contexts, what do individuals understand today when they understand a written instruction or conversations, casual or official? The context is our day, which is different from that of any previous time, and, in particular, different from that of a literacy- dominated pragmatics. The answers to the questions posed above do not come easily. A foundation has to be provided for addressing such questions from a perspective broader than that afforded by the examples given.

A feedback called confirmation

Understanding language is a process that extends far beyond knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. Where there is no sharing of experience beyond what a particular language sequence expresses, there is no understanding. This sounds like a difficult expectation. To be met, the non-expressed must be present in the listener, reader, or writer. Language must recreate the non-expressed, through the sequence heard, read, or written, and related to it, beyond the words recognized and the grammar used. Behind each word that people comprehend, there is either a common practical experience, or a shared pragmatic framework, or minimally some form of shared understanding, which constitute what is known as background knowledge. "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world," Wittgenstein promulgated. I would rephrase, in an attempt to connect knowledge and experience, "The limits of my experience are the limits of my world." Self-constitution in language is such an experience.

The first level of the indirect relation established between someone expressing something in language and someone else trying to understand it is concentrated in a semantic assumption: "I know that you know." But is it a sufficient condition to continue a conversation, let's say about a hunted animal, fire, or a tool, as long as the listener knows what the hunted animal or fire is? Many who study semantics think that it is, and accordingly devise strategies for establishing a shared semantic background. These strategies range from making sure that students in a class understand the same things when they use the same words, to publishing comprehensive dictionaries of what they perceive as the necessary shared knowledge in order to maintain cultural coherence at the appropriate scale of the group or community in question. In the final analysis, these strategies correspond to a semantically based model of cultural education driven by the Chomskyan distinction between competence and performance. They identify the problem in the incongruence of our individual dictionaries (vocabulary), not in the diversity of human practical experiences. The assumption is that once people understand what is in language, they apply it (pragmatics as "uses and effects of signs within the behavior in which they occur," according to J. Lyons). We know by now that after a certain stage of unifying influences corresponding to industrial society, this congruence becomes impossible when the scale of human experience changes. The examples given at the beginning of this chapter are evidence of this fact.

What I maintain throughout this book is that language is constituted in human experiences, not merely applied to them. Performance predates competence. Recognition, of an utterance, a written word, a sentence, is itself an experience through which individuals define each one of themselves. Within a limited scale of existence and experience, the homogeneity of the circumstance guaranteed the coherence of language use. As the number of people increases, and as they are involved in increasingly varied experiences, they no longer share a homogeneous pragmatic framework. Consequently, they can no longer assume the coherence of language. Progressively, ever diversifying practical experiences cause words, phrases, and sentences to mean more and different things at the same time. Instantiation of meaning is always in the experience through which individuals constitute their identity.

Examination of the various elements affecting the status of literacy in the contemporary world of fragmented practical experiences opens a new perspective on language. Within this perspective, we acknowledge how and when similar experiences make the unifying framework of literacy possible and necessary. We also acknowledge from which point literacy is complemented by literacies and what, if anything, bridges among such literacies. Direct experience and mediated experience are the two stages to be considered. In particular, we are interested in language at the level where direct experience is affected by the insertion of gestures, sounds, and initial words.

Indirectness implies awareness of a shared reference-the gesture, the sound, the word-that is simultaneously shared experience. At this level, there is no generality. Patterns of activity are patterns of self-constitution: in the act of hunting, the hunter projects physical abilities (running, seeing, ability to use the terrain, to grab stones, to target). In relation to other hunters, he projects abilities pertinent to coordination, planning, and reciprocal understanding. Within this pragmatic framework, a level of indirectness is constituted: confirmation, or what cybernetics identifies as feedback, in all biological processes. Along this line, the initial (unuttered and obviously unwritten) "I know that you know" becomes subsequently "I know that you know that I know." Coordination and hierarchy within the given task come into the picture. Indeed, if we consider the experience as the origin of meaning in language, the sequence of assumptions is even larger: "I know that you know that I know that you know." It corresponds to a cognitive level totally different from that of direct practical experiences.

In a way, this threefold sequence shows how syntax is enveloped in semantics, and both in the pragmatics that determines them. Applied to the hunting scene, it says, "I know that you know that I am over here, opposite you, we are both closing in on a hunted animal, and I know that you are aware that you might throw your spear in my direction; but the fact that we share in the knowledge of who is placed where will help us get the animal and not kill each other by accident." At a very small scale of human experiences, the sequence was realized without language. Patterns of activity captured its essence. At a larger scale, words replaced signs used for coordination. Writing established frames of reference and a medium for planning more complex activities. The language of drawings, for what eventually became artifacts, confirmed the sequence in the built-in knowledge. The Internet browser, a graphic interface to an infinity of simultaneous experiences of sharing information, frees participants from saying to each other, "Hello. I am here." It facilitates a virtual community of individuals who constitute the experience of real-time neurosurgery, or the virtual concert mentioned at the beginning of this section. In similar ways, new patterns of work in the civilization of illiteracy constitute our work-place, school, or government, based on the same pragmatic assumptions.

Between the primitive hunters and those who in our days identify their presence by all kinds of devices-a badge, a pager, a mobile phone, an access card, a password-there is a difference in the means and forms used to acknowledge the shared awareness that affects the outcome of the experience. Even the simple act of greeting someone we think we know implies the whole sequence of feedback (double confirmation, each participant's awareness, and shared awareness). This says, probably in too many words: 1.

To understand language means to understand all the others with whom we share practical experiences of self-constitution. 2.

All the others must realize this implicit expectation of communication. 3.

Each new pragmatic context brings about new experiences and new forms of awareness. This understanding can go something along the line of, "I know that you know that I know that you know" what the hunted animal is, what fire is, which tool can be used and how; or in today's context, what surgery is, what a brain is, what a virtual concert is, what a certain activity in a production cycle affects, what the function of a particular government office is. Otherwise, the conversation would stop, or another means of expression (such as recreating fire, or demonstrating a tool) would have to be used, as happened in the past and as frequently happens today: "I know that you know how to drive a car (or use a computer), but let me show you how."

Confirmation in language, gestures, and facial expression signals the understanding. Whenever this understanding fails, it fails on account of the missing confirmation. When this confirmation is no longer uniquely provided by means characteristic of literacy-let us recall modern warfare, technology controlling nuclear reactors, electronic transactions-the need for literacy is subject to doubt. Since the majority of instruction conveyed today is through images (drawings), or image and sound (videotapes), or some combination of media, it is not surprising that literacy is met with skepticism, if not by those who teach, at least by those who are taught. In the pragmatics of their existence they already live beyond the literate understanding. This applies not only to the Internet, but just as well to places of work, schools, government, and other instances of pragmatic activity.

Primitive orality and incipient writing

In addition to the general background of understanding, there are many levels, represented by the clues present in speech or writing, or in other forms of expression and communication. For example, a question is identified by some vocal expression accepted as interrogation. In writing, the question is denoted by a particular sign, depending on the particular language. But other clues, no less important, are more deeply seated. They refer to such things as intention, who is talking-man, woman, child, policeman, priest-the context of the talk, hierarchies-social, sexual, moral-and many other clues. Much extra-language background knowledge goes into human language and directs understanding from experience to language use. Dialogue is more than two persons throwing sentences at each other. It is a pragmatic situation requiring as much language as understanding of the context of the conversation because each partner in the dialogue constitutes himself or herself for the other. Dialogue is the elementary cell of communication experience. Within dialogue, language is transcended by the many other sign systems through which human self-constitution takes place. Dialogues make it clear that understanding language becomes a supra- (or para-) linguistic endeavor. It requires the discovery of the clues, in and outside language, and of their relationship. But more importantly, it requires the reconstruction of experience as it is embodied in background knowledge.

By contrasting primitive orality to incipient writing, we can understand that the process of establishing conventions is motivated by the need to overrule concreteness and to access a new cognitive realm that a different pragmatic context necessitates. By understanding how experience affects their relation, we can consider orality and writing in successive moments of human pragmatics, i.e., within a concrete scale of humankind. Indeed, when writing emerged, elements of orality corresponding to a reduced scale of experience were reproduced in its structure because they were continued at the cognitive level. In our days, there is a far less pressing need to mimic orality in written signs. Some will argue that 4 Sale, 4-Runner, While-U-Wait, and Toys 'R' Us, among other such expressions, are examples to the contrary. These attempts to compress language represent ways of establishing visual icons, of achieving a synthetic level better adapted to fast exchange of information. We see many more examples in interactive multimedia, or in the heavy traffic of Internet-based communication. There is no literacy involved here, and no literacy is expected in decoding the message. There is a strong new orality, with characteristics reminiscent of previous orality. But the dominant element is the visual as it becomes a new icon. The international depiction of a valentine-shaped heart to represent the word love is one example in this sense; the icons used in Europe on clothing care labels are others.

Time reference in texts today is made difficult by the nature of processes characteristic of our age: numerous simultaneous transactions, distributed activity, interconnection, rapid change of rules. These cannot be appropriately expressed in a written text. In the global world, Now means quite a different thing for individuals connected over many time zones. Sunrise experienced on the Web page of the city of Santa Monica can be immediately associated to poetic text through a link. But the implicit experience of time (and space) carried by language and made instrumental in literacy does not automatically refresh itself.

It took thousands of years before humans became acquainted with the conventions of writing. It is possible that some of these conventions were assimilated in the hardware (brain) supporting cognitive activity and progressively projected in new forms of self-constitution. The practice of writing and the awareness of the avenues it opened led to new conventions. Practical endeavors, originating in the conventions of space and time, implicit in the written (and the subsequent reading), resulted in changed conventions. For instance, the discovery that time and space could be fragmented, a major realization probably not possible in the culture of orality, resulted in new practical experiences and new theories of space and time.

Once writing became a practical experience and constituted a legitimate reality, at a level of generality characteristic of its difference from gestures, sounds, uttered words or sentences, associations became possible at several levels of the text. Some were so unexpected or unusual that understanding such associations turned into a real challenge for the reader. This challenge regarding understanding is obviously characteristic of new levels, such as the self-referential, omnipresent in the wired world of home pages. In some ways, language is becoming a medium for witnessing the relation between the conscious, unconscious, or subconscious, and language itself. The brain surgery mentioned some pages ago suppressed the patient's conscious recognition of objects or actions by inhibiting certain neurons.

The unnatural, nonlinguistic use of language is studied by psychologists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers in order to understand the relation between language and intelligence. This need to touch upon the biological aspects of the practical experiences of speaking, writing, or reading results from the premise pursued. Self-constitution of the human being takes place while the biological endowment is projected into the experience. Important work on what are called split- brain patients-persons who, in order to suppress epileptic attack, have had the connection between the two brain hemispheres severed-shows that even the neat distinction left-right (the left part of the brain is in charge of language) is problematic. Researchers learned that in each practical experience, our biological endowment is at work and at the same time subject to self-reflection. Projecting a word like laugh in the right field of vision results in the patients' laughing, although in principle they could not have processed the word. When asked, such patients explain their laughter through unrelated causes. If a text says "Scratch yourself," they actually scratch themselves, stating that it is because something itches. Virtual reality practical experiences take full advantage of these and other clinical observations. The absent in a virtual reality environment is very often as important as the present. On the back channels of virtual reality interactions, not only words but also data describing human reactions (turning one's head, closing the eyes, gesturing with the hand) can be transmitted. Once fed back, such data becomes part of the virtual world, adapted to the condition of the person experiencing it. This is why interest in cognitive characteristics of oral communication-of the primitive stages or of the present-remains important.

Background information is more readily available in oral communication. In orality, things people refer to are closer to the words they use. Human co-presence in conversation results in the possibility to read and translate the word under the guise of a willingness by others to show what a particular word stands for. In orality, the experience pertinent to the word is shared in its entirety. This is possible because the appropriate world of experience (corresponding to the circular scale of human praxis) is so limited that the language is in a one-to-one relation with what it describes. In some ways, the parent-child relation is representative of this stage in the childhood of humankind.

In the new orality of the civilization of illiteracy the same one-to-one relation is established through strategies of segmentation. The speaker and listener(s) share space and time-and hence past, present, and, to a certain degree, future. And even if the subject is not related to that particular space and moment, it already sets a reference mechanism in place by virtue of the fact that people in dialogue are people sharing a similar experience of self-constitution. Far is far from where they speak; a long time ago is a long time ago from the moment of the verbal exchange. The acquisition of far, long (or short) time ago is in itself the result of practical circumstances leading to a more evolved being. We now take these distinctions for granted, surprised when children ask for tighter qualifiers, or when computer programs fail because we input information with insufficient levels of distinction.

The realization of the frame of time and space occurred quite late in the development of the species, within the scale of linear relationships, and only as a result of repeated practical experiences, of sequences constituting patterns. Once the reference mechanism for both time and space was acknowledged and integrated in new experiences, it became so powerful that it allowed people to simplify their language and to assume much more than what was actually said. In today's world, space and time are constituted in experiences affected by the experience of relativity. Accordingly, the orality of the civilization of illiteracy is not a return to primitive orality, but to a referential structure that helps us better cope with dynamism. The space and time of virtual experiences are an example of effective freedom from language, but not from the experiences through which we acquired our understanding of time and space. Computers able to perform in the space of human assumptions are not yet on the horizon of current technological possibilities.


Assumptions are a component of the functioning of sign systems. A mark left can make sense if it is noticed. The assumption of perception is the minimum at which expression is acknowledged. Assumptions of writing are different from those of orality. They entail the structural characteristics of the practical experiences in which the people writing constitute their identity. Literate assumptions, unlike any other assumptions in language, are extensions of linear, sequential experience in all its constitutive parts. They are evinced in vocabulary, but even more strongly in grammar. In many ways, the final test of any sign system is that of its built-in assumptions. Illiteracy is an experience outside the realm defined by the means and methods of literacy. The civilization of illiteracy challenges the need and justification of literate assumptions, especially in view of the way these affect human effectiveness.

The very fine qualifiers of time and space that we take for granted today were acknowledged only slowly, and initially at a rather coarse level of distinction. Despite the tremendous progress made, even today our experience with time and space requires some of the repertory of the primitive human. Movements of hands, head, other body parts (body language), changes in facial expression and skin color (e.g., blushing), breathing rhythm, and voice variations (e.g., intonation, pause, lilt)-all account for the resurrection in dialogue of an experience much richer than language alone can convey. Such para-linguistic elements are no less meaningful in new practical experiences, such as interaction with and inside virtual environments.

Para-linguistic elements consciously used in primitive communities, or unconsciously present, still escape our scrutiny. Their presence in communication among members of communities sharing a certain genetic endowment takes different forms. They are not reducible to language, although they are connected to its experience. Examples of this are the strong sense of rhythm among Blacks in America and Africa, the sense of holistic perception among Chinese and Japanese. We can only conjecture, from words reconstituted in the main language strand (proto-languages), or in the mother tongue of humankind (proto-world), that words were used in conjunction with non-linguistic entities. Whether a mother-tongue or a pre-Babel language existed is a different issue. The hypothesis mimics the notion of a common ancestor of the species and obviously looks for the language of this possible ancestor. More important, however, is the observation that the practical experience of language constitution does not eliminate everything that is not linguistic in nature. Moreover, the para-linguistic, even when language becomes as dominant as it does under the reign of literacy, remains significant for the effectiveness of human activity. The civilization of illiteracy does not necessarily dig for para-linguistic remnants of previous practical endeavors. It rather constitutes a framework for their participation in a more effective pragmatics, in the process involving technological means capable of processing all kinds of cues.

In a given frame of time and space, para-linguistic signs acquire a strong conventional nature. The way the word for I evolved (quite differently than equivalents in different languages of the world: ich, je, yo, eu, én, ani, etc.), and the way words relating to two evolved (hands, legs, eyes, ears, parents), and so forth, gives useful leads. It seems, for instance, that the pair entered language as a modifier (i.e., a grammatical category), marked by non-linguistic signs (clasp, repetition, pointing). Some of the signs are still in use. The grammatical category and the distinction between one and two are related. The Aranda population (in Australia) combine the words for one and two in order to handle their arithmetic. Also, the distinction singular- plural begins with two. We take this for granted, but in some languages (e.g., Japanese), there is no distinction between singular and plural. In addition, it should be pointed out here that the same signs (e.g., use of a finger to point, hand signals) can be understood in different ways in different cultures. Bulgarians shake their head up and down to signal no, and side to side to signal yes.

Within a given culture, each sign eventually becomes a very strong background component because it embodies the shared experience through which it was constituted. In direct speech, we either know each other, or shall know each other to a certain extent, represented by the cumulative degrees of "I know that you know that I know that you know," defining a vague notion of knowledge within a multivalued logic. This makes speaking and listening an experience in reciprocal understanding, if indeed the conversation takes place in a non-linear, vague context impossible to emulate in writing. Dialogues in the wired world, as well as in transactional situations of extreme speed (stock market transactions, space research, military actions), belong to such experiences, impossible to pursue within the limitations of literacy.

Orality can be assertive (declarative), interrogative, and imperative (a great deal more so than writing). In the course of time, and due to very extended experience with language and its assumptions in oral form, humans acquired an intrinsic interactive quality. This resulted from a change in their condition: on the natural level there was the limited interactivity of action-reaction. In the human realm, the nucleus action-reaction led to subsequent sequences through which areas of common interest were defined. The progressive cognitive realization that speaking to someone involves their understanding of what we say, as well as the acknowledged responsibility to explain, whenever this understanding is incomplete or partial, is also a source of our interactive bent. Questions take over part of the role played by the more direct para-linguistic signs and add to the interactive quality of dialogue, so long as there is a common ground. This common ground is assumed by everyone who maintains the idea of literacy-how else to establish it?-as a necessity, but understood in many different ways: the common ground as embodied in vocabulary and grammar, in logic, spelling, phonetics, cultural heritage. Granted that a common language is a necessary condition for communication, such a common language is not simultaneously a sufficient condition, or at least not one of most efficient, for communication. Interactivity, as it evolved beyond the literate model, is based on the probability, and indeed necessity, to transcend the common language expectation and replace it with variable common codes, such as those we establish in the experience of multimedia or in networked interactions. Even the ability to interact with our own representation as an avatar in the Internet world becomes plausible beyond the constraining borders of literate identity.

Taking literacy for granted

In preceding paragraphs, we examined what is required, in addition to a common language, for a conversation to make sense. Scale is another factor. The scale that defines a dialogue is very different from the scale at which human self-constitution, language acquisition and use included, take place. Scale by itself is not enough to define either dialogue or the more encompassing language-oriented, or language- based, practical activity through which people ascertain their biological endowment and their human characteristics. There is sufficient proof that at the early stage of humankind, individuals could be involved only in homogeneous tasks. Within such a framework of quasi-homogeneous activity, dialogues were instances of cooperation and confirmation, or of conflict. Diversification made them progressively gain a heuristic dimension-choosing the useful from among many possibilities, sometimes against the logical odds of maintaining consistency or achieving completeness. A generalized language-supported practical activity involved not only heuristics ("If it seems useful, do it"), but also logic ("If it is right/If it makes sense"), through the intermediary of which truth and falsehood take occupancy of language experiences. Thus an integrative influence is exercised. This influence increases when orality is progressively superseded by the limited literacy of writing and reading.

The quasi-generalized literacy of industrial society reflected the need for unified and centralized frameworks of practical experience, within a scale optimally served by the linearity of language. In our days, people constitute themselves and their language through experiences more diverse than ever. These experiences are shorter and relatively partial. They are only an instant in the more encompassing process they make possible. The result is social fragmentation, even within the assumed boundaries of a common language, which nations are supposed to be, and paradoxically survive their own predicted end. In reality, this common language ceases to exist, or at least to function as it used to. What exists are provisional commitments making up a framework for activities impossible to carry out as a practical experience defined by literacy. Within each of these fast-changing commitments, partial languages, of limited duration and scope, come into existence. Sub-literacies accompany their lives. Experience as such opens avenues to more orality, under post-literate conditions-in particular, conditions of increased efficiency made possible by technology that negates the pragmatics of literacy. The most favorable case for the functioning of language-direct verbal communication-becomes a test case for what it really means to speak the same language, and not what we assume a common language accomplishes when written or read by everyone.

Instances of direct verbal communication today (in the family and community, when visiting foreign countries, at work, shopping, at church, at a football stadium, answering opinion polls or marketing inquiries, in social life) are also instances of taking for granted that others speak our own language. Many researchers have attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of communication in these contexts. Their observations are nevertheless not independent of the assumed premise of literacy as a necessity and as a shared pragmatic framework. Some recent research on the cognitive dimension of understanding language does not realize how deep the understanding goes. One example given is the terse instruction on a bottle of shampoo: "Lather. Rinse. Repeat." It is not a matter of an individual's ability to read the instructions in order to know how to proceed. One does not need to be literate, moreover, one does not even need to create language in order to use shampoo, if one is familiar with the purpose and use of shampoo (i.e., with the act). Indeed, for most individuals, the word shampoo on a bottle suffices for them to use it correctly with no written instructions at all. Icons or hieroglyphics can convey the instructions just as well, even better, than literacy can. These, by the way, are coming more into use in our global economy. It is even doubtful that most individuals read the instructions because they are familiar not just with the conventions that go into using shampoo, but, deeper still, the conventions behind the words of the instructions. Should an adult, even a literate adult, who was totally unfamiliar with the concept of washing his or her hair be presented with a bottle of shampoo, the entire experience of washing the hair with shampoo would have to be demonstrated and inculcated until it became part of that adult's self-constitutive repertory. Such analyses of language only scrape the surface of how humans constitute themselves in language.

Literacy forces certain assumptions upon us: Literate parents educate literate children. A sense of community requires that its members share in the functionality of literacy. Literate people communicate better beyond the borders of their respective languages. Literacy maintains religious faith. People can participate in social life only if they are literate. Considering such assumptions, we should realize that the abstract concept of literacy, resulting from the assumption that a common language automatically means a common experience, only maintains false hope. Children of literate parents are not necessarily literate. Chances are that they are already integrated in the illiterate structures of work and life to the same degree children of illiterate parents are. This is not a matter of individual choice, or of parental authority. On the digital highway, on which a growing number of people define their coordinates, with the prevalent sign @ taking over any other identification, communities emerge independent of location. Participation in such communities is different in nature from literate congregations maintained by a set of reciprocal dependencies that involved spelling as much as it involved accepting authority or working according to industrial production cycles.

In all of today's communication, not only is the literate component no longer dominant, it is undergoing the steepest percentile fall in comparison to any other form of communication. In this framework, states and bureaucracies are putting up a good fight for their own survival. But the methods and means of literacy on which their entire activity-regulation, control, self-preservation-is based have many times over proven inefficient. These statements do not remove the need to deal with how people understand writing, to which literacy is more closely connected than it is to speech. To discover what makes the task of understanding language more difficult as language frees itself from the constraints of literacy within the new pragmatic framework is yet another goal we pursue.

To understand understanding

Incipient writing was pictorial. This was an advantage in that it regarded the world directly, immediately perceived and shared, and a disadvantage in that it did not support more than a potential generality of expression. It maintained notation very close to things, not to speech. Image-dominated language came along with a simplified frame of space and time reference. Things were presented as close or far apart, as successive events or as distant, interrupted events. Anyone with a minimal visual culture can read Chinese or Japanese ideograms, i.e., see mountain, sky, or bird in the writing. But this is not reading the language; it is reading the natural world from which the notation was extracted, reconstituting the reference based on the iconic convention.

Alphabetic writing annihilates this frame of experience based on resemblance. Unless time is specifically given, or coordinates in space intentionally expressed, time and space tend to be assimilated in the text, and more deeply in the grammar. It is a different communication, mediated by abstract entities whose relation to experience is, in turn, the result of numerous substitutions, the record of which is not at the disposal of the reader. Between tell in English and the root tal (or dal) in proto-language (with the literal meaning of tongue), there is a whole experiential sequence available only implicitly in the language. In the nostratic phylum (root of many languages, the Indo- European among them), luba stands for thirst; the English love and the German Liebe seem to derive from it, although when we think of love we do not associate it with the physical experience of thirst.

Clues in written language are clues to language first of all, and only afterwards clues to human experience. Accordingly, reading a text requires an elaborate cognitive reconstruction of the experience expressed, and probably a never-ending questioning of the appropriateness of its understanding. When a text is read, there is nobody to be questioned, nobody to actively understand the understanding, to challenge it. The author exists in the text, as a projection, to the extent that the author exists in the manufactured objects we buy in order to use (glasses to drink water, chairs to sit on), or in whose production we participate in some way. After all, each text is a reality on paper, or on other means of storage and display. Clues can be derived from names of writers and from historic knowledge. What cannot be derived is the reciprocal exchange which goes on during conversation, the cooperative effort under circumstances of co- presence.

Regardless of the degree of complexity, the interactive component of orality cannot be maintained in writing. This points to an intrinsic limitation relevant to our attempt to find out why literacy does not satisfy expectations characteristic of practical experiences requiring interactivity. The metaphoric use of interactivity, as it is practiced to express an animistic attitude according to which, for instance, the text is alive, and we interact with it in reading, interpreting, and understanding it, addresses a different issue. Difficulties in language understanding can be overcome, but not in the mechanical effort of improving language skills by learning 50 more words or studying a chapter in grammar. Rather, one has to build background knowledge through extending the experience (practical, emotional, theoretical, etc.) on which the knowledge to be shared relies.

But once we proceed in this direction, we step out from the unifying framework of literacy, within which the diversity of experiences is reduced to the experience of writing, reading, and speaking. When this reduction is no longer possible-as we experience more and more under the new conditions of existence-understanding language becomes more and more difficult. At the same time, the result of understanding becomes less and less significant for our self-constitution in human experiences. If no other example comes to mind, the reader should reflect upon the many volumes that accompany the software you've bought in recent years. Their language is kept simple, but they are still difficult to comprehend. Once comprehended, the pay-off is slim. This is why the illiterate strategy of integrating on-line the instructions one needs to work with software is replacing literate documentation. These instructions can be reduced to graphic representations or simple animations. The framework is specialization, for instance, in providing instructions in a form adequate to the task. Within specialized experience, even writing and reading are subject to specialization. Literacy turns into yet another distinct form of human praxis instead of remaining its common denominator.

Writing, in this context, makes it clear that language is not enough for understanding a text. Under our own scrutiny, writing becomes a form of praxis in itself, contributing to the general fragmentation of society, not to its unification. This happens insofar as specialized writing becomes part of the general trend towards specialization and generates specialized reading. Some explanation is necessary.

Even when writers strive to adapt their language to a specific readership, the result is only partially successful, precisely because the experiences constituted in writing are disjoint. Indeed, the practical experience to be shared, and the subsequent practical experience of writing are different, pertinent to domains not reducible to each other. Sometimes the writer falls captive to the language (that very specialized subset of language adapted to a specific field of knowledge) and mimics natural discourse by observing grammar and rhetoric devices. Other times, the writer translates, or explains, as in popular magazines on physics, genetics, arts, psychology. Within this type of interpretive discourse either details are left out, or more details are added, with the intention of broadening the common base. Expressive devices, from simple comparisons (which should bridge different backgrounds) to metaphors, expose readers to a new level of experiences. Even if readers know what comparisons are and how metaphors work, they still cannot compensate for the unshared part of experience, with whose help a text makes sense. A legal brief, a military text, an investment analysis, the evaluation of a computer program are examples in this sense. The language they are written in looks like English. But they refer to experiences that a lawyer, or military officer, or broker, or computer programmer is likely to be familiar with.

Writers, speakers, readers, and listeners are aware of the adjustments required to comprehend these and many other types of documents. While a direct conversation, for which time spent with others is required, can be a frame for adjustment, a printed page is definitely less so. The reader can, at best, transmit a reaction in writing, or write to request supplementary explanation, that is, to maintain the spirit of conversation. The experience of writing and reading is becoming less a general experience or cultural identifier, and more a specialized activity. Writing can be read by machines. In order to serve the blind, such machines read instructions, newspaper articles, and captions accompanying video images. The synthetic voice, as much as a synthetic eye or nose, a syntactic touch-sensitive device, or taste translator, operates in a realm devoid of the life that went into the text (image, odor, texture, taste) and which was supposed to be contributed by the reader (viewer, smeller, toucher, taster).

Literacy, projected as a universal and permanent medium for expression, communication, and signification, nourished a certain romanticism or democracy of art, politics, and science. It embodied an axiomatic system: since everybody should speak, write, and read, everybody can and should speak, write, and read; everybody can and should appreciate poetry, participate in political life, understand science. This was indeed relatively true when poetry, politics, and science were, to a certain degree, direct forms of human praxis with levels of efficiency appropriate to the scale of human activity constituted in linear, homogeneous practical experiences. Now that the scale changed, dynamics accelerated, mediation increased, and non-linearity is accepted, we face a new situation. Paradoxically, the poet, the speech-writer, and the science-writer not only fail to address everybody, but they, as part and result of the mechanism of labor division, also contribute to the generation of partially literate human beings. In other words, they contribute to the fragmentation of society, although they are all devoted (some passionately) to the cause of its unity. In reaction to claims that literacy carried through time, a general deconstructionist attitude challenges the permanency of philosophical tractate, of scientific systems, of mathematics, political discourse and, probably more than anything else, of literature. The method applied is coherent: make evident the mechanisms used to create the illusion of permanence and truth. Texts thus appear as means to an end that does not directly count. What results is an account of the technology of expression, embraced by all who grew skeptical of the universality of science, politics and literature. When each sign (independent of the subject) becomes its own reference, and the experience it embodies is, strictly speaking, that of its making, the deconstructionist project reaches the climax. Nike's advertisement is not about sneakers, even less about the celebrities who wear them. It is a rather hermetic self-referential experience. Its understanding, however, is based on the fast-changing experience of revealing one's illiterate identity.

Words about images

The written, as we know, almost constantly appeared together with other referential systems, especially images. In this respect, a question regarding what we understand when we understand language is whether images can be used as an aid to understanding texts. Doubtless, pictures (at least some of them) are, by their cognitive attributes, better bearers of interpretation clues than are some words or writing devices. Images, more so than texts, can stand in for the absent writer. To the extent that they follow conventions of reality, pictures can help the individual reconstitute, at least partially, the frame of time and space, or one of the two. However, this represents only one side of the issue. The other side reveals that images are not always the best conveyors of information, and that what we gain by using them comes at a cost in understanding, clarity, or context dependence.

First of all, what is gained through the abstraction of the words is almost entirely lost through the concreteness of the image. The very dense medium of writing stands in sharp contrast to the diluted medium of images. To download text on the network is quite different from displaying images. If this were the only reason, we would be alert to the differences between images and texts. When the complexity of the image reaches high levels, decoding the image becomes as tedious as decoding texts, and the result less precise. All this explains why people try to use a combination of images and words. It also helps in understanding strategies for their combination. As a strategy of relating text and image, redundancy helps in focusing interpretation. The strategy of complementing helps in broadening the interpretation. Other strategies, ranging from contrasting texts and images to paraphrasing texts through images, or substituting texts for images, or images for text, result in forceful ways of influencing interpretation by introducing explanatory contexts. A very large portion of today's culture-from the comic strip to picture novels and advertisements, to soap operas on the Internet-is embodied in works using such and similar strategies.

What interests us here is whether images can replace the experience required to understand a text. If the answer is affirmative, such images would be almost like the partner in conversation. As products of human experience, images, just like language, embody that particular experience. This automatically makes the problem of understanding images more involved than just seeing them. But we knew this from written language. Seeing words or sentences or texts on paper (in script or in print) is only preliminary to understanding. The naturalness of images (especially those resembling the physical universe of our existence) makes access to them sometimes easier than access to written language. But this access is never automatic, and should never be taken for granted. In addition, while the written word does not invite to imitation, images play a more active role, triggering reactions different from those triggered by words. The code of language and visual codes are not reducible to each other; neither is their pragmatic function the same.

Research reports are quasi-unanimous in emphasizing that the usefulness of pictures in increasing text comprehension seems not to depend on the mere presence of the image, but on the specific characteristics of the reader. These make clear the role played by what was defined as background knowledge, without which texts, images, and other forms of expression stabilized as languages make little sense, if any, to their readers, viewers, or listeners. In order to arrive at such conclusions, researchers went through real-time measurements of the so-called processing of texts, in comparison to picture-text processing. The paradigm employed uses eye movement recordings and comprehension measures to study picture-text interactions. Pictures helped what the researchers defined as poor readers. For skilled readers, pictures were neutral when the information was important. The presence of pictures interfered with reading when the information in the text was less important. Researchers also established that the type of text-expository or narrative-is not a factor and that pictures can help in recall of text details. This has been known for at least 300 years, if not longer. Actors in Shakespeare's time were prompted to recall their lines through visual cues embodied in the architecture of the theater. After all was measured and analyzed, the only dependable conclusion was that the effects of images on comprehension of written language are not easy to explain. Again, this should not come as a surprise as long as we use literacy-based quantifiers to understand the limits of literacy. Whether images are accidental or forced upon the reader, whether the text is quasi-linear or very sophisticated (i.e., results from practical experiences of high complexity), the relation does not seem to follow any pattern. Such experiments, along with many others based on a literacy premise, proved unsuitable for discovering the sources and nature of reading difficulties.

Eye movement and comprehension measures used to study picture-text interactions only confirmed that today there are fewer commonalties, even among young students (not to mention among adults already absorbed in life and work) than at the time of the emergence of writing and reading. The diversification of forms of human experience, seen against the background of a relatively stable language adopted as a standard of culture, hints at the need to look at this relation as one of the possible explanations for the data, even for the questions that prompted the experiments in the first place. These questions have bearing on the general issue of literacy. Why reading, comprehension, and recall of written language have become more uncertain in recent years, despite efforts made by schools, parents, employers, and governments to improve instruction, remains unanswered. Regardless of how much we are willing to help the understanding of a text through the use of images, the necessity of the text, as an expression of a literate practical experience, is not enhanced. Conclusions like these are not easy to draw because we are still conditioned by literacy. Experiences outside the frame of literacy come much more naturally together because their necessity is beyond the conditioning of our rational discourse. This is how I can explain why on the Internet, the tenor of social and political dialogue is infinitely more free of prejudice than the information provided through books, newspapers, or TV. These observations should not be misconstrued as yet another form of technological determinism. The emphasis here, as elsewhere in the book, is on new pragmatic circumstances themselves, not on the means involved.

The research reported above, as any research we hear about in our days, was carried out on a sample. A sample, as representative as it can be, is after all a scaled- down model of society. The issue critical to literacy being the scale of human practical existence, scaled-down models are simply not suited for our attempt to understand language changes when the complexity of our pragmatic self-constitution increases. We need to consider language, images, sounds, textures, odors, taste, motion, not to mention sub-verbal levels, where survival strategies are encoded, and beliefs and emotions are internalized, as they pertain to the pragmatic context of our existence. Literacy is not adequate for satisfactorily encoding the complexity and dynamics of practical experiences corresponding to the new scale that humankind has reached. The corresponding expectations of efficiency are also beyond the potential of literacy-based productivity. Ill-suited to address the mediated nature of human experience at this scale, literacy has to be integrated with other literacies. Its privileged status in our civilization can no longer be maintained.

Korzybski was probably right in stating that language is a "map for charting what is happening both inside and outside of our skins." At the new stage that civilization has reached, it turns out that none of the maps previously drawn is accurate. If we really want details essential to the current and future development of our species, we have to recognize the change in metrics, i.e., in the scale of the charted entity, as well as in dynamics. The world is changing because we change, and as a result we introduce new dimensions in this world.

Even when we notice similarities to some past moment-let us take orality as an example-they are only apparent and meaningless if not put in proper context. Technology made talking to each other at long distances (tele-communication) quite easy, because we found ways to overcome the constraints resulting from the limited speed of sound. The most people could do when living on two close hills was to visit, or to yell, or to signal with fire or lights. Now we can talk to somebody flying on an airplane, to people driving or walking, or climbing Mount Everest. Cellular telephony places us on the map of the world as precisely as the global positioning system (GPS) deployed on satellites. The telephone, in its generalized reality as a medium for orality, defies co- presence and can be accessed virtually from anywhere. Telephony as a practical experience in modern communication revived orality under circumstances of highly integrated, parallel, and distributed forms of human activity on a global scale. On the digital networks that increasingly represent the medium of self-constitution, we are goal and destination at the same time. In one click we are wherever we want to be, and to a great extent what we want to be or are able to do. With another click, we are only the instantiation of someone else's interest, acts, knowledge, or questioning. The use of images belongs to the same broad framework. So does television, omnipresent and, at times, seemingly omnipotent. We became connected to the world, but disconnected from ourselves. As bandwidth available for interacting through a variety of backchannels expands from copper wire to new fiberglass data highways, a structure is put in place that effectively resets our coordinates in the world of global activity. Defying the laws of physics, we can be in more than one place at the same time. And we can be more than one person at the same time. Understanding language under such circumstances becomes a totally new experience of self-constitution.

Still, understanding language is understanding those who express themselves through language, regardless of the medium or the carrier. Literacy brought to culture the means for effectively understanding language in a civilization whose scale was well adapted to the linear nature of writing and reading, and to the logic of truth embodied in language. However, literacy lacks heuristic dimensions, is slow, and of limited interactivity. It rationalizes even the irrational, taking into bureaucratic custody all there is to our life. Common experience, in a limited framework characteristic of the beginning of language notation, is bound to facilitate interpretation and support conflicting choices. Divergent experiences, many driven by the search for the useful, the efficient, the mediating, experiences having less in common among themselves, make language less adapted to our self-constitution, and thus less easy to understand. In such a context, literacy can be perceived only as a phenomenon that makes all things it encomapsses uniform; therefore literacy is resisted. Far from being only a matter of skill, literacy is an issue of shared knowledge formed in work and social life. Changes in the pragmatic framework brought about the realization that literacy today might be better suited to bridging various fragmented bodies of knowledge or experiences, than to actually embodying them. Literacy might still affect the manner in which we use specialized languages as tools adapted to the various ways we see the world, the manner in which we try to change it and report on what happens as a result. But even under these charitable assumptions, it does not follow that literacy will, or should, continue to remain the panacea for all human expression, communication, and signification.

The Functioning of Language

To function is a verb derived from experiences involving machines. We expect from machines uniform performance within a defined domain. In adopting the metaphor of functioning to refer to language, we should be aware that it entails understandings originating from human interaction involving sign systems, in particular those eventually embodied in literacy. The argument we want to pursue is straightforward: identify language functions as they are defined through various pragmatic contexts; compare processes through which these functions are accomplished; and describe pragmatic circumstances in which a certain functioning mechanism no longer supports practical experiences at the efficiency level required by the scale of the pragmatic framework.

Expression, communication, signification

Traditionally, language functions either are associated with the workings of the brain or defined in the realm of human interaction. In the first case, comprehension, speech production, the ability to read, spell, write, and similar are investigated. Through non-invasive methods, neuropsychologists attempt to establish how memory and language functions relate to the brain. In the second case, the focus is on social and communicative functions, with an increasing interest in underlying aspects (often computationally modeled). My approach is different in that it bases language functions in the practical experience, i.e., pragmatics, of the species. Language functions are, in the final analysis, sign processes.

Preceding language, signs functioned based on their ontogenetic condition. As marks left behind-footprints, blood from an open wound, teethmarks-signs facilitated associations only to the extent that individuals directly experienced their coming into being. Cognitive awareness of such marks led to associations of patterns, such as action and reaction, cause and effect. Biting that leaves behind teethmarks is an example. Pointers to objects-broken branches along a path, obsidian flakes where stones had been processed, ashes where a fire had burned-and, even more so, symptoms-strength or weakness-are less immediate, but still free of intentionality. Imitation brought the unintentional phase of sign experience to an end. In imitative signs, which are supposed to resemble whatever they stand for, the mark is not left, but produced with the express desire to share.

The function best describing signs that are marks of the originator is expression. Communication is the function of bringing individuals together through shared experiences. Signification corresponds to an experience that has signs as its object and relies on the symbolic level. It is the function of endowing signs with the memory of their constitution in practical experiences. Signification expresses the self-reflective dimension of signs. Expression and communication, moreover signification, vary dramatically from one pragmatic framework to another.

Expressions, as simili of individual characteristics and personal experience, can be seen as translations of these characteristics and of the experience through which they come into being. A very large footprint is a mark associated with a large foot, human or animal. It is important insofar as it defines, within a limited scale of experience, a possible outcome essential to the survival of those involved. Expressions in speech are marked by co-presence. The functioning of language within orality rested upon a shared experience of time and space, expressed through here and now. In writing, expression hides itself in the physical characteristics of the skill. This is how we come, for example, to graphology-an exercise in associating patterns of the marks somebody wrote on paper to psychological characteristics. Literacy is not concerned with this kind of expression, although literacy is conducive to it and eventually serves as a medium for graphology. Rather, literacy stipulates norms and expectations of correct writing. People adopting them know well that within the pragmatics based on literacy, the efficiency of practical experiences of self-constitution is enhanced by uniform performance. As we search in our days for the fingerprints of terrorists, we experience the function of expression in almost the reverse of previous pragmatic contexts. Their marks-identifiers of parts used to trigger explosions, or of manufacturers of explosives-are accidental. Terrorists would prefer to leave none.

The analysis can be repeated for communication and signification. What they have in common is the progressive scale: expression for kin, expression for larger groups, collective expression, forceful expression as the scale of activity increases and individuals are gradually being negated in their characteristics. Communication makes the process even more evident. To bring together members of a family is different from achieving the togetherness of a tribe, community, city, province, nation, continent, or globe. But as available resources do not necessarily keep up with increased populations, and even less with the growth in need and expectations, it is critical to integrate cognitive resources in experiences of self-constitution. Communication, as a function performed through sign systems, reached through the means of literacy higher levels than during any previous pragmatic phase. Another increase in scale will bring even higher expectations of efficiency and, implicitly, the need for means to meet such expectations. Only as practical experiences become more complex and integrate additional cognitive resources do changes-such as from pre-verbal to verbal sign systems, from orality to writing, and from writing to literacy, or from literacy to post- literacy-take place. In other words, once the functioning of language no longer adequately supports human pragmatics in terms of achieving the efficiency that corresponds to the actual scale of that pragmatics, new forms of expression, communication, and signification become necessary.

These remarks concern our subject, i.e., the transitional nature of any sign system, and in particular that of orality or that of literacy, in two ways: 1.

They make us aware of fundamental functions (expression, communication, signification) and their dependence on pragmatic contexts. 2.

They point to conditions under which new means and methods pertinent to effective functioning complement or override those of transcended pragmatic contexts.

As we have seen, prior to language experiences, people constituted their identity in a phase of circular and self-referential reflection. This was followed by a pragmatics leading to sequential, linear practice of language and language notation. With writing, and especially with literacy, sequentiality, linearity, hierarchy, and centralism became characteristics of the entire practical experience. Writing was stamped by these characteristics at its inception, as were other practical activities. With its unfolding in literacy, it actively shaped further practical experiences. The potential of experiences sharing in these characteristics was reached in productive activities, in social life, in politics, in the arts, in commerce, in education and in leisure.

The advent of higher-level languages and of means for visualization, expanding into animation, modeling, and simulation in our day, entails new changes. Their meaning, however, will forever escape us if we are not prepared to see what makes them necessary. Ultimately, this means to return to human beings and their dynamic unfolding within a broader genetic script. To make sense of any explanatory models advanced, here or elsewhere, we need to understand the relation between cultural structure-in which sign systems, literacy, and post-literate means are identified-and social structure, which comprises the interaction of the individuals constituting society. The premise of this enterprise is as follows: Since not even the originators of the behaviorist model believed that we are the source of our behavior (Skinner went on record with this in an interview shortly before his death), we can look at the individuals constituting a human community as the locus of human interactions. Language is only one agent of integration among many. The shift from the natural to the cultural-with its climax in literacy-was actually from immediacy, circularity, discreteness, and the physical realm to indirectness, sequentiality, linearity, and metaphysics. What we experience in our time is a change of course, to the civilization of illiteracy, characterized by msny mediating layers, configuration, non-linearity, distribution of tasks, and meta-language. In the process, the functioning of language is as much subject to change as the human beings constituted in succeeding practical experiences of a fundamentally new nature.

The idea machine

Functioning of language cannot be expressed in rotations per second (of a motor) or units of processed raw materials (of a processing machine). It cannot even be expressed in our new measurement of bits and bytes and all kinds of flops. Expressions, opportunities for exchange of information, and evaluations are the output of language (to keep to the machine model and terminology). But more important is another output, definitive of the cognitive aspect of human self-constitution: thoughts and ideas.

We encounter language as we continuously externalize our biological and cultural identities in the act of living as human beings. Attempts within primitive practical experiences to capture language in some notation eventually freed language from the individual experience through sharing with the entire group practicing such notation. Even in the absence of the originator of whatever the notation conveyed, as long as the experience was shared, the notation remained viable. Constituted in human praxis, notation became a reality with an apparent life of its own. It affected interactions as well as a course of action, to the degree that notation could describe it. Notation predates writing, addressing small-scale groups involved in relatively homogenous practical experiences. As the scale grew and endeavors required different forms of interaction, the written evolved from various co-existing notations based on constitutive experiences with their own characteristics. Together with the experience of writing, an entire body of linear conventions was established.

Circumstances that made possible the constitution of ideas and their understanding deserve attention because they relate to a form of activity that singles out the human being from the entire realm of known creatures. Ideas, no matter how complex, pertain to states of affairs in the world: physical, biological, or spatial reality embodied in an individual's self-constitution. They also pertain to the states of mind of those expressing them. Ideas are symptomatic of human self-constitution, and thus of the languages people have developed in their praxis. What we want to find out is whether there is an intrinsic relation between literacy and the formation and understanding of ideas. We want to know if ideas can be constituted and/or understood in forms of expression other than verbal language, such as in drawings, or in the more current multimedia.

Humans not only express themselves to (enter into contact with) one another through their sign systems, but also listen to themselves, and look at themselves. They are at once originators (emitters, as the information theory model considers them) and receivers. In speech, signs succeed themselves in a series of self-controlled sequences. Synthesis, as the generation of new expression by assembling what is known in new ways appropriate to new practical experiences, is continuously controlled by self-analysis.

Pre-verbal and sub-verbal unarticulated languages (at the signal level of smell, touch, taste, or language of kinesic or proxemic type) participate in defining sensations directly, as well as through rudimentary specification of context. The relationship of articulated language and unarticulated sub-verbal languages is demonstrated at the level of predominantly natural activities as well as at the level of predominantly socio- cultural activities. One example: Under the pragmatic conditions leading to language, olfaction played a role comparable to sight and hearing, effectively controlling taste. This changed as experience mediated through language replaced direct experience. Within the pragmatics of higher efficiency associated with literacy, the sense of smell, for example, ended up being done away with. The decrease of the weight of biological communication, in this case of chemo-physical nature, is paralleled by the increase of importance of the immaterial, not substance-bound, communication. Granted, there are no ideas, in the true definition of the word, that can be expressed in smell. But practical experiences involving the olfactory and the gustatory, as well as other senses, affect areas of human practical experiences beyond literacy. Identification of kin, awareness of reproduction cycles, and alarm can all be simulated in language, which slowly assumed or substituted some of the functions of natural languages.

Writing and the expression of ideas

When the sign of speech became a sign of language (alphabets, words, sentences), the process described above deepened. The concrete (written, stabilized) sign participated in capturing generality via the abstraction of lines, shapes, intersections, in wax, in clay, on parchment, or on another medium. The succession of individual signs (letters, words) was metamorphosed into the sign of the general. For centuries, writing was only a container for speech, not operational language. This observation does not contradict the still controversial Saphir-Whorf hypothesis that language influences thinking. Rather, the observation makes clearer the fact that active influence did not originate from language itself, but is a result of succeeding practical experiences. Had a recorder of spoken language, let us imagine, been invented before writing, a need or use for literacy would have taken very different forms.

Humans did not dispose of a system of signs as a person disposes of a machine or of elements to be assembled. They were their own scripts, always re-constituting in notation an experience they had or might have had. In other words, the functioning of languages is essentially a record of the functioning of human beings. The Hebrew alphabet started as shorthand notation reduced to consonants by scribes who retained only the root of the word before recording its marks on parchment. Due to the small scale and shared pragmatics of readers, this shorthand sufficed. In Mayan hieroglyphics, and in Mesopotamian ideographs, as well as in other known forms of notation, the intention was the same: to give clues so that another person could give life to the language, could resuscitate it. Increased scale and consequently less homogenous practical experiences forced the Hebrew scribes to add diacritical marks indicating vowels. The written language of the Sumerians and Mesopotamians also changed as the pragmatic framework changed.

That writing is an experience of self-constitution, reflected in the structure of ideas, might not sound convincing enough unless the biological component is at least brought up. Derrick de Kerkhove noticed that all languages written from right to left use only consonants. The cognitive reading mechanism involved in deciphering them differs from that of languages using vowels, too, and written from left to right. Once the Greeks took over the initially consonantal alphabet of the Phoenicians and Hebrews, they added vowels and changed the direction of writing-at the beginning using the Bustrophedon (how the oxen plow), i.e., both directions. Afterwards, the direction corresponding to a cognitive structure associated with sequentiality was adopted. Consequently, the functioning of the Greek language changed as well. Ideas resulting in the context of pre-Socratic and Socratic dialogue have a more pronounced deductive, speculative nuance than those expressed in the analytic discourse of written Greek philosophy.

One can further this thought by noticing the so-called bias against the left-hand that is deeply rooted in many languages and the beliefs they express. It seems that the right (hand and direction) is favored in ways ranging from calling things right, or calling servants of justice Herr Richter (Master Right, the German form of address for a judge), or favoring things done with the right hand, on the right side, etc. The very idea of what is right, what is just, human rights, originates from this preference. The left hand is associated, in a pragmatic and cognitive mode dominated by the right, with weakness, incompetence, even sin. (In the New Testament, sinners are told to go to the left side of God after judgment.) While the implicit symbolism is worth more than this passing remark, it is worthwhile noticing that in our days, the domination of the right in writing and in literacy expectations is coming to an end. The efficiency of a right-biased praxis is not high enough to satisfy expectations peculiar to globality. The process is part of the broader experience through which literacy itself is replaced by the many partial literacies defining the civilization of illiteracy.

Since ideas come into being in the experience of language, their dissemination and validation, critical to the efficiency of human effort at any given scale, depends on the portability of the medium in which they are expressed. Through writing, the portability of language was no longer reducible to the mobility of those speaking it. Ideas expressed in writing could be tested outside the context in which they originated. This associated the function of dissemination through language to the function of validation in the pragmatic context. A tablet, a papyrus scroll, a codex, a book, or a digital simile have in common their condition as a record resulting from practical experiences; but it is not what they have in common that explains their efficiency. Portability is telling of pragmatic requirements so different that nothing before the digital record could be as pervasive and globally present. Except for a password, we need nothing with us in order to access knowledge distributed today through networks. We are freeing ourselves from space and time coordinates. Literacy cannot function within such broad parameters. The domain of alternatives constitutes the civilization of illiteracy.

Future and past

Do we need to be literate in order to deal with the future? Reciprocally: Is history, as many believe, the offspring of writing? Moreover, is it a prerequisite for understanding the present? These are questions that resonate loudly in today's political discourse and in the beliefs of very many people. Let us start with the future, as the question raises the issue of what it takes to deal with it.

Pre-sensing (premonition) is the natural form of diffuse perception of time. This perception can be immediate or less immediate. It is extended not from now to what was (stored in one's memory or not), but to what might be (a sign of danger in the natural environment, for instance). The indexical signs participating in these representations are footprints, feathers, bloodstains. Speech makes premonition and feeling explicit, but not wholly so. It transforms accumulated signs (past) into the language of the possible (future). In fact, in the practical experience of re-constituting the past we realize that each past was once a future.

Still, as we want to establish some understanding of the unfolding of the present into the future, we come to realize that while possibilities expand, the future becomes less and less determined in its details. Try to tell this to the champions of technology who predicted the paperless office and who now predict the networked world. Alternatively, tell this to those who still constitute their identity in literacy-dependent practical experiences: politicians, bureaucrats and educators. Neither of the two categories mentioned seems to understand the relation between language and the future expressed in it, or in any sign system, as plans, prophecies, or anticipations.

An idea is always representative of the practical experience and of the cognitive effort to transcend immediate affection. Monoarticulated speech (signaling), as well as ideographic writing, result from experiences involving the pragmatic-affective level of existence. One cries or shouts, one captures resemblance in an image when choices are made and feelings evoked. There are no ideas here, as there is very little that reaches beyond the immediate. Ideas extend from experiences involving the pragmatic- rational level. Speech can serve as the medium for making plans explicit. Drawings, diagrams, models, and simulations can be described through what we say. Indeed, before writing the future, human beings expressed it as speech, undoubtedly in conjunction with other signs: body movement, objects known to relate to danger and thus to fear, or successful actions associated with satisfaction. When finally set in clay tablets or papyrus, the language regarding the future acquired a different status-it no longer vanished, as the sounds or gestures used before. Writing accompanies action, and even lasts past the experience. This permanency gave the written word an aura that sounds, gestures, even artifacts, could not achieve. Even repetition, a major structural characteristic of rituals, could not project the same expectation of permanency as writing. Probably this is what prompted Gordon Childe to remark that "The immortalization of a word in writing must have seemed a supernatural process; it was surely magical that a man long vanished from the land of the living could still speak from a clay tablet or a papyrus roll."

Within the context of religion, the aura shifts from the mytho-magical- transmitted clues for successful action-to the mystical-the source of the successful clues is a higher authority. Even social organization, which became necessary when the scale of humankind changed, was not very effective in the absence of documents with a prescriptive function. Recognized in ancient Chinese society, this practical need was expressed in its first documents, as it was in Hindu civilization, in the Hebrew and the Greek, and by the civilizations to follow, many taking an obvious cue from the Roman Empire.

Language use for prescriptive purposes does not necessitate or even imply literacy. This holds true as much for the past as for the present. There was a time, corresponding to increased mobility of people, when only those foreign to a land were supposed to learn how to write and read. The requirement was pragmatic: in order to get used to the customs by which the native population lived, they had to gain access to their expression in language. Nevertheless, once promises are made-a promise relates structurally to the future-the record becomes more and more written, although quite often sealed by the oral, as we know from oath formulae and from oath gestures that survived even in our days. In all these, linear relations of cause-and-effect were preserved and projected as the measure, i.e. rationality, for the future.

In contemporary society, the language characteristic of the past is used as a decorum. Global scale and social complexity are no longer efficiently served by linear relations. Subsequently, means for formulating ideas regarding the future make literacy not only one of the many languages of the time to come, but probably an obstacle in the attempt to more efficiently articulate ideas for the future. Keep in mind that almost all people dedicated to the study of the future work on computational models. The outcome of their effort is shorter and shorter on text, which is replaced with dynamic models, always global in nature. Linearity is effectively supplanted by non-linear descriptions of the many interlocking factors at work. Moreover, self-configuration, parallelism, and distributive strategies are brought to expression in simulations of the future.

As far as history is concerned, it is, whether we like it or not, the offspring of writing. Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders state bluntly: "The historian's house is on the island of writing…. Where no words are left behind, the historian finds no foundations for his reconstructions." Indeed, history results from concern with records that are universally accessible, hence within the universe of those sharing in literacy. We never know whether a grammar is a summary of the history of a language, or its program for the future. Grammars appear in various contexts because people recognize the need to verify the voices within a language. Histories appear also, motivated by the same stimulus, not so much to do justice to some army, general, king or party, but to maintain coherent records, make them speak in one and only one voice, and probably link the records to recreate the continuum from which they emerge.

While the future and the self-constitution of the human being in new pragmatic contexts are directly related, the past is connected to human practical experiences in indirect ways. The unifying element of the various perspectives of the future is in the new experience. In the absence of such a unifying perspective, writing history becomes an end in itself, notwithstanding the power exercised by examples. From the beginning of the Middle Ages, the written record and the analytic power of language sufficed for constituting history and shaping historic experience. But once the methods of historic research diversified, probably as much as the pragmatics of human existence did, new perspectives were introduced. Some of these have practical implications: What were the plants used in primitive societies? How was water supply handled? How were the dead disposed of? Other perspectives had ideological, political, or cultural ramifications. In each of these pragmatically determined instances, history started escaping the prison of literacy.

Linguistic archaeology, anthropological and especially paleoanthropological history, computational history, are only some of the post-literate forms of practical experiences constituting a new domain of history. This domain is characterized by the use of non-traditional tools, such as genetics, electronic microscopy, computational simulation, artificial life modeling, and inferences supported by artificial intelligence. Memetics, or the life of ideas and awareness of them, pertains no less to the past than to the present and future. It sprang from genetics and bears the mark of an implicit Darwinian mechanism. Its focus on ideas made it the catch phrase of a generation feeling dangerously severed from its relation to history, and no less endangered by a future falling too fast upon this generation. Technological extensions of memetics (the so-called memetic engineering) testify to expectations of efficiency which history of the literate age never seemed to care about or even to acknowledge.

Based on the awareness thus gained, we would have to agree that the relative dissolution of literacy and the associated ideals of universality, permanency, hierarchy, and determinism, as well as the emergence of literacies, with the resulting attitudes of parochialness, transitoriness, decentralization, and indeterminacy are paralleled by the dissolution of history and the emergence of specialized histories. Hypertext replaces sequential text, and thus a universe of connections is established. The new links among carefully defined fields in the historic record point to a reality that escapes the story (in history), but are relevant to the present. The specialized historian reports not so much about the past, but about particular aspects of human self-constitution from the past that are significant in the new frame of current experience. It sometimes seems that we reinvent the past in patches, only to accommodate the present pragmatics and to enforce awareness of the present. The immanent sequentiality and linearity of the pragmatic framework within which languages emerged and which made, at a later juncture, literacy and history necessary, is replaced by non-sequentiality and non-linear relations better adapted to the scale of humankind's existence today. They are also better adapted to the complexity of the practical process of humankind's continuous self-constitution. In addition, primitive, deterministic inferences are debunked, and a better image of complexity, as it pertains to the living subject, becomes available.

As an entry in a database (huge by all means), the past sheds its romantic aura, only to align itself with the present and the future. The illiterate attitude, reflected, for instance, in the ignorance of the story of the past, results not from lack of writing and reading skills. It is not caused by bad history teachers or books, as some claim. Decisive is the fact that our pragmatic framework, i.e. our new practical experiences of self-constitution, is disconnected from the experiences of the past.

Knowing and understanding

Probably one of the most important aspects of current pragmatics is the connection between knowing and understanding. We are involved in many activities without really understanding how they take place. Our e-mail reaches us as it reaches those to whom we send messages, even though most people have no idea how. The postal system is easier to understand. We know what happens: letters are delivered to the post office, sorted, and sent to their destinations by bus, train, plane, or boat. Determining the paths of an e-mail message is trivial for a machine, but almost impossible for a human being. As the complexity of an endeavor increases, chances that individuals constituting themselves in the activity know how everything works and understand the various mechanisms involved decrease. Still, the efficiency of the experience is not diminished. Moreover, it seems that knowledge and understanding do not necessarily affect efficiency.

This statement is valid for an increasing number of practical experiences in the pragmatics of the civilization of illiteracy-not for all of them. We can conceive of complex diagnostic machines; but there is something in the practical experience of medicine, for example, that makes one physician better than another. We can automate a great deal of other activities-accounting, tax preparation, design, architecture-but there is something implicit in the activity that will qualify a certain individual's performance as above and beyond our most advanced science and technology. There are managers who know close to nothing about what their company produces but who understand market mechanisms to such an extent that they end up winners regardless of whether they head a bank, a cracker-producing factory, or a giant computer company. These managers constitute themselves within the experience of language- the language of the market more than the language of the product. Therefore, it is useful to examine the evolution of knowledge and understanding within succeeding pragmatic frameworks, and the role language as a mediating element in each of these frameworks.

The sign of language represents the contradictory unity of the phonetic and semantic units. Within a limited scale of experience, literacy meant to know what is behind the written word, to be able to resuscitate it, and to even give the word new life. As the scale increases, literacy means to take for granted what is behind the written word. This implies that dictionaries, including personal dictionaries, as they are formed in constituting our language, are congruent. Learning language is not reducible to the memorization of expressions. The only way to learn is to live the language. With knowledge acquired and expressed in language comes understanding.

Humans are not born free of experience. Important parts of it are passed along in the biological endowment. Others are transmitted through ever new human interactions, including those of reciprocal understanding. Neither are humans born free of the evolutionary cycle of the species. The relative decline of the olfactory in humans was mentioned some pages ago. With the relative loss of sensory experience, knowledge corresponding to the respective sensorial perception diminishes. Linguistic performance is the result of living and practicing language, of existence as language. Relating oneself to the world in language experience is a condition for knowing and understanding it. The language of the natural surrounding world is not verbal, but it is articulated at the level of the elementary sensations (Merleau-Ponty's participative perception) that the world occasions, when human beings are engaged in the practical attempt to constitute themselves, or instance, by trying to change or to master their world. They perceive this world, after the experience, as stabilized meanings: clouds offer the hope of rain; thunder can produce fire; running deer are probably pursued by predators; eggs in a nest testify to birds. The complexity of the effort to master the world surrounding us increases over time. Tasks originating in the context leading to literacy are of a different degree of complexity than those faced in industrial society and than those we assume today.

Between the senses and speech-hence between nonverbal and verbal languages-numerous influences play a role. Words obviously have a cognitive condition different from perceptions and are processed differently. Speech adds intellectual information to the sensorial information, mainly in the form of associations, capable of reflecting the present and the absent. Interestingly enough, we do not know everything that we understand; and we do not understand everything that we know. For instance, we might know that in non-Euclidean geometries, parallels meet. Or that water, a liquid, is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, two gases. Or that the use of drugs can lead to addiction. Nevertheless, we do not necessarily understand how and why and when.

Within the civilization of literacy the expectation is that once we know how to write something, we automatically know and understand it. And if by some chance the knowledge is incomplete, inconsistent, or not maintained, if it loses its integrity through some corruption, it can be resuscitated through reading or can be made consistent by comparing it to knowledge accumulated by others, and eventually redeemed. As writing has failed us repeatedly within practical experiences that transcend its characteristics and necessity, we have learned that the relative stability of the written is a blessing in disguise. Compared to the variability of the speech, it is more stable. But this stability turns out to be a shortcoming, exactly because knowledge and understanding are context dependent. Within relatively stable contexts this shortcoming is noticed only at rare intervals. But with the expectation of higher efficiency, cycles of human activity get shorter. Increased intensity, the variability of structures of interaction, the distributed nature of practical involvement, all require variable frames of reference for knowledge and understanding. As a result of these pragmatic characteristics, we witnessed progressive use of language in equivocal and ambiguous ways. Acceptable, and even adequate, in the practical experience of poetry, drama and fiction, of disputable relevance in political and diplomatic usage, ambiguity affects the literate formulation of ideas and plans pertinent to moral values, political programs, or scientific and technological purposes.

The same pragmatic characteristics mentioned above make necessary the integration of means other than language and its literate functioning in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. This addresses concerns raised in the opening lines of this section. Fast-changing knowledge can be acquired through means adapted to its dynamics. As these means, such as interactive multimedia, virtual reality programs, and genetic computation, change, the experience of accessing knowledge becomes, in addition, one of understanding the transitory means involved in storing and presenting it. Many practical experiences are based on knowledge that no other means, literacy- based means included, could effectively make available. From advanced brain surgery at neuronal levels to the deployment of vast networks, which support not only e-mail but also many other meaningful human interactions-from space exploration to memetic engineering-focused understanding and a whole new gamut of highly efficient practical experiences, involving knowledge never before available, make up the pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy.

Univocal, equivocal, ambiguous

At least 700 artificial languages are on record. Behind each of these there is a practical experience in respect to which natural language functions in a less than desirable manner. There is a language on record that addresses left-hand/right-hand biases. There is one, authored by S. H. Elgin, in which gender biases are reversed (Láadan). And there is Inda, a language constructed like a work of art. There are exotic languages written for certain fictional worlds: J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish, or the language of the Klingons of Star Trek fame, or Anthony Burgess's Nadsat, the language of the yobbs in A Clockwork Orange. And there are scientifically oriented attempts to structure a language: James Cooke Brown invented Loglan to be a logic language. Sotos Ochado (almost 100 years before Brown) invented a language based on the classifications of science. Some artificial languages of the past correspond to obvious pragmatic functions. Ars Magna, designed by Ramon Llul (celebrated in history books dedicated to precursors of the digital age), was to be a language of missionaries. Lingua Ignota, attributed to the legendary Abbess Hildegard, is a language of practical monastic experiences extended well beyond the performance of the liturgy.

When we acknowledge these languages we implicitly acknowledge attempts to improve the performance of language functions. In some cases, the effort is driven by the goal of transcending barriers among languages; in others, of getting a better description of the world, with the implicit hope that this would facilitate mastery of it. Awareness of the fact that language is not a neutral means of expression, communication, and signification, but comes loaded with all the characteristics of our practical endeavors, prejudices included, motivated attempts to generate languages reflecting an improved view of the world. Regardless of the intention, and especially of the success they had, such languages allow us a closer look at their cognitive condition, and hence at their contribution to increases in the efficiency of human practical activities.

Increased expressive power, as in the artificial languages invented by Tolkien and Burgess, or in the language of the Klingons, is an objective relatively easy to comprehend. Propagated by means of literacy and within the literate experience, such languages are accepted primarily as artistic conventions. Precision is the last quality they aim for; expressive richness is their goal. These are languages of sublime ambiguity. Those seeking precision will find it in Loglan, or better yet in the languages of computer programming. Disseminated by means contradicting and transcending the assumptions of literacy, and within a pragmatics requiring means of higher efficiency, programming languages, from Cobol and Fortran to C, C++, Lisp, or Java, are accepted for their functionality. They are not for poetry writing, as the family of expressive artificial languages are not for driving a computer or its peripherals. These are languages of never-failing univocality. With such languages, we can control the function, and even the logic of the language. These languages are conceived in a modular fashion and can be designed to optimally serve the task at hand. Among the functions pursued are provability, optimization, and precision. Among the logics that can be used are classical propositonal logic, intuitionistic propositional logic, modal logic, temporal logic, and others.

Reflecting human obsession with a universal language, some artificial constructs advance hypotheses regarding the nature of universality. Dedicated, like many before him, to the idea of a universal language, François Sondre (1827) invented a language based on the assumption that music comes the closest to transcending boundaries among various groups of people. Imagine a theory expressed as a melody, communication accomplished by music, or the music of the law and law enforcement. There is in such a language enough room for expression and precision, but almost no connection to the pragmatic dimension of human self-constitution. If time is, as we know, encoded in music, the experience of space is only indirectly present. Accordingly, its functioning might address the universality of harmony and rhythm, but not aspects of pragmatics which are of a different nature.

A category of so-called controlled languages is also establishing itself. A controlled language is a subset (constrained in its vocabulary, grammar, and style) of a natural language adapted to a certain activity. Artificial languages are products inspired and motivated by the functioning of our so-called natural language. Their authors wanted to fix something, or at least improve performance of the language machine in some respect. In order to understand the meaning of their effort, we should look into how language relates the people constituted in the language to the world in which they live. Let's start with the evolution of the word and its relation to the expression of thoughts and ideas, that is, from the univocal (one-to-one relation to what is expressed) to the ambiguous (one-to-many relation).

Systems of univocal signs participate in the production of ideas only to a small degree. As an outgrowth of signals, initial signs are univocal. Feathers are definitely not from fish or mammals; blood stains are from wounds; four-legged animals leave different marks than biped humans. Polysemy (more than one meaning assignable to the sign) is a gradual acquisition and reflects the principle of retroaction of meaning on the carrier: words, drawings, sounds, etc. A drawing of an animal points to what is depicted, or to things associated with the animal: the softness of fur, savage behavior, meat, etc.

Philosophy and literature (and the arts, in general) became possible only at a certain level of language development brought about by the practical experience of society confronted with new tasks related to its survival and further evolution. The philosopher, for example, resorts to common speech (verbal language) but uses it in an uncommon way: metasemically, metaphorically, metaphysically. Ancient philosophy, important here for its testimony regarding language and literacy, is still so metaphoric that it can be read as literature, and actually was enjoyed as such. Modern philosophy (post-Heidegger) shows how relations (which it points out and dwells upon) have absorbed the related. As a formalized argumentation, freed of restrictions characteristic of literacy, but also so much less expressive than the philosophy of the written word and the endless interpretations it makes possible, philosophy generates its own motivations and justifications. Its practical consequences, within a pragmatics based on different forms of semiotic functioning than those of literacy, diminish constantly.

The distance between the verbal and the significance of the idea is itself a parameter of the evolution from nature to culture. Words such as space, time, matter, motion, become possible only after experience in writing. But once written, there is nothing left of the direct, probably intuitive, human experience of space and time, of experience with matter in its various concrete forms, or of the experience of motion (of the human body or other bodies, some flying, some swimming, running, falling). Visual representations-other forms of writing-are closer to what they report about: the Cartesian coordinates for space, the clock for a cyclical perception of time, etc. They express particular instances of relations in space or time, or particular aspects of matter or motion.

The word is arbitrary in relation to the idea it embodies. The idea itself, getting its life in instances of activity, is knowledge practically revealed in the order of nature or thought. In expressing the idea, rational rigor and expressiveness collide. Synthesizing ideas is an instance of the self-constitution of the human being. Ideas express the implicit will of the human being to externalize them (what Marcuse called "the imperative quality" of thought). Once written, words not only defy the ephemerality of the sounds of speech, but also enter the realm of potentially conflicting interpretations. These interpretations result from the conversion of the way we use words in different pragmatic contexts.

To be literate means to be in control of language, but it also means acceptance and awareness of being hostage to the experiences of the past in which its rules were shaped. When spelling, for instance, is disassociated from the origin of the word, a totally arbitrary new realm of language is established, one in which transitory conventions replace permanency (or the illusion of permanency), and the appearance of super-temporality of ideas is questioned. Each idea is the result of choices in a certain paradigm of existence. Its concrete determination, i.e., realization as meaning, comes through its insertion in a pragmatic context. When the context changes, the idea might be confirmed, contradicted (it becomes equivocal), or open to many interpretations (it becomes ambiguous). To give an example, the idea of democracy went through all these stages from its early embodiment in Greek society to its liberal application, and even self-negation, in the civilization of illiteracy. It means one thing- the power of people-but in different contexts, depending on how people was defined and how power was exercised. It means so many things in its new contexts that some people really wonder if it actually means anything at all anymore.

Literacy made communication of ideas possible within a scale of humankind well served by linear relations and in search of proportional growth. But when ideas come to expression in a faster rhythm, and turn in shorter cycles from the univocal to the ambiguous stage, the medium of literacy no longer does justice either to their practical function or to the dynamics of an individual's continuous self-constitution. Moreover, it seems that ideas themselves, as forms of human projection, are less necessary under the new projection of pragmatic circumstances we examine. What once seemed almost as the human's highest contribution impacts today's society less and less. We live in a world dominated by methods and products, within which previous ideas have, so it seems, cultural significance, at most. Knowledge is reduced to information; understanding is only operational. Artificial languages, which keep multiplying, are more and more geared towards methods and products. In the interconnected world of digitally disseminated information, we do not need Esperanto, but rather languages that unify the increasing variety of machines and programs we use in our new experiences on the World Wide Web. Efficiency in this world refers to transactions which do not necessarily involve human beings. Independent agents, active in business transactions of what emerges as the Netconomy, act towards maximizing outcome. Such agents are endowed with rules of reproduction, movement, fair trade, and can even be culturally identified. Even so, the Netconomy is more a promise than a reality. The functioning of such agents allows us to see how the metaphor of language functioning reverts to its literal meaning in the civilization of illiteracy.

Making thoughts visible

At a minimum, the object for which the written sign-the word, sentence, or text-stands is the sign of speech. But writing came a relatively long way before reaching this condition. In prelinguistic forms, graphic representation had its object in reality-the re-presentation of the absent. What is present need not be represented. The direction impressed on visual representation is from past to present. What must be retained is the originating tendency of distancing in respect to the present and the direct, what I called the alienation of immediacy. Initial representations, part of a rather primitive repertory, have only an expressive function. They retain information about the absent that is not seen (or heard, felt, smelled) for future relationships between human beings and their environment. The image belongs to nature. That which is communicated is the way of seeing or perceiving it, not what is actually seen. The execution of the written sign is not its realization as information, as is the case with pictographic representations, some leading to the making of things (tools, artifacts). What matters is not how something is written, but what it means. A relatively small number of signs-the alphabet, punctuation and diacritical marks-participate in the infinite competence of writing.

No matter how we conceive of human thought, its stabilization comes about with that of writing. The present captured in writing loses its impact of immediate action. No written word has ever reached the surface without being uttered and heard, that is, without being sensed. The possibility of meaning (intended, assigned) stems from the establishment of language within human praxis. It is not accidental (cf. Leroi-Gourhan) that spatial establishment (in village-type settlements) and the establishment of language in writing (also spatial in nature) are synchronous. But here a third component, the language of drawings, no matter how primitive, helping in the making of things related to shelter and to work, needs to be acknowledged, too.

This is the broader context leading to the great moment of Greek philosophy in the temporal context of alphabetization, and the cultural context of all kinds of forms of craftsmanship, architecture probably in the lead. Socrates, as the philosopher of thinking and discovering truth through dialogue, defended oral culture. Or at least that is what Plato wanted us to believe when he mentioned Socrates' opposition to writing. The great artisans of Socrates' time shared this attitude. For building temples, conceiving tools, creating all kinds of useful objects, writing is not a prerequisite. Heuristics and maieutics, as methods of questioning human choices, those of craftsmen included, and generating new options, are essentially oral. They presuppose the philosopher's, or the architect's, physical presence. Not too much has changed since, if we consider how the disciplines of design and engineering are taught and exercised. But a lot is changing, as design and engineering practical activities rely more and more on digital processing. Computational practical experiences, as well as genetic engineering or memetics, are no longer in continuation of those founded on literacy.

Alphabet cultures and a lesson from aphasia

The history of culture has recorded numerous attacks against writing, culminating, probably, in Marshall McLuhan's philosophy (1964): alphabetic cultures have uniformized, fragmented, and sequentialized the world, generating an excessive rationalism, nationalism, and individualism. Here we have, in a succinct list, the indictment made of Gutenberg's Galaxy. Commenting on E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, McLuhan remarked: "Rational, of course, has for the West long meant uniform and continuous and sequential. In other words, we have confused reason with literacy, and rationalism with a single technology." That McLuhan failed to acknowledge the complementary language of design and engineering, with its own rationality, is a shortcoming, but does not change the validity of the argument. The consequences of these attacks-as much as they can be judged from the historical perspective we have since gained-have nevertheless not been the abatement of writing or of its influence. In the same vein, the need to proceed to an oral-visual culture has been idealistically suggested (Barthes' well known plea of 1970 can be cited).

There is no doubt that all the plans devised by architects, artisans, and designers of artifacts belong to a praxis uniting oral (instructions to those transposing the plan into a product) and visual cultures. Many such plans, embodying ideas and concepts probably as daring as those we read in manuscripts and later in books, vanished. Some of the artifacts they created did withstand the test of time. Even if the domination of the written word somehow resulted in a relatively low awareness of the role drawings played over time, experiences were shaped by them and knowledge transmitted through them. Drawings are holistic units of a complexity difficult to compare to that of a text.

The meaning conferred by the intermediary of writing is brought about through a process of generalization, or re-individualization: What is it for the individual reading and understanding it? It inversely travels the route that led from speech to writing, from the concrete to the abstract, from the analytic to the synthetic function of language. At any given time, it looks as though we have, on the one hand, the finite reality of signs (alphabet, words, idiomatic expressions) and, on the other, the practically infinite reality embodied in the language sequences or ideas expressed. In view of this, the question arises regarding the source of ideas and the relation between signs (words, in particular) and their assigned meanings, or the content that can be communicated using the language. Meaning is conjured in Western culture through additive mechanisms, similar to those of mixing pigments. In Eastern culture, meaning is based on subtractive mechanisms, similar to those of mixing light.

Alphabetic writing, although more simple and stabilized, is really more difficult than ideographic writing. The experience from which it results is one of abstraction. Henceforth, it subjects the readers of the alphabetic text to the task of filling the enormous gap separating the graphic sign from its referent with their own experience. The assumption of the literate practical experience is that literacy can substitute for the reference through history or culture. Readers of ideographic texts have the advantage of the concreteness of the representation. Even if Chinese characters stand for specific Chinese words, as John DeFrancis convincingly showed, the experience of that writing system remains different from that of Western alphabets. Since every language integrates its own history as the summary of the practical activity in which it was constituted, reading in a language of a foreign experience means that one must step- by-step invent this writing.

Research undertaken in the last 15 years shows that at a certain stage, aphasia brings on a regression from alphabet to image reading as design, as pictographic, iconic reading. Letters lose their linguistic identity. The aphasic reader sees only lines, intersections, and shapes. Ideas expressed in writing crumble like buildings shaken by an earthquake. What is still perceived is the similarity to concrete things. The decline from the abstract to the concrete can be seen as a socio-cultural accident taking place against the background of a natural (biological) accident.

In our days we encounter symptoms similar to those described above, testifying to a sort of collective aphasia in reverse. Indeed, writing is deconstructed and becomes graffiti notation, shorthand statements freed of language, and defying literacy. For a while, graffiti was criminalized. Later on it was framed as art, and the market absorbed the new product among the many others it negotiates. What we probably refused to see is how deep the literacy of graffiti goes, where its roots are, how wide the extensions, and how much aphasia in its writing and reading. After all, it was not only in the New York subway that trains were literally turned into moving papers or moving books, issued as often as authority was circumvented. Much of the public hated graffiti because it obliterated legitimate communication and a sense of neatness and order that literacy continuously reinforced. But many also enjoyed it. Rap music is the musical equivalent of graffiti. Gang rituals and fights are a continuation of these. Messages exchanged on the data highways-from e-mail to Web communication-often display the same characteristics of aphasia. Concreteness is obsessively pursued. :) (the smiley) renders expressions of pleasure useless, while (: (the grince) warns of being flamed. On the digital networks of today's furious exchange of information, collective aphasia is symptomatic of many changes in the cognitive condition of the people involved in its practical experiences. Neither opportunistic excitement nor dogmatic rejection of this far-reaching experience can replace the need to understand what makes it necessary and how to best benefit from it. More private languages and more codes than ever circulate as kilo- and megabytes among individuals escaping any form of regulation.

On the increasingly rewarding practical experiences of networking, literacy is challenged by transitory, partial literacies. Literacy is exposed in its infatuation and emptiness, although not discarded from among the means of expression and communication defining the human being. It is often ridiculed for not being appropriate to the new circumstances of the practical and spiritual experience of a humankind that has outgrown all its clothes, toys, books, stories, tools, and even conflicts.

A legitimate follow-up question is whether the literate experience of the word contributes to its progressive lack of determination, or the change of context affects the interpretation, i.e., the semantic shift from determinate to vague. Probably both factors play a role in the process. On the one hand, literacy progressively exhausts its potential. On the other, new contexts make it simultaneously less suited as the dominant medium for expression, communication, and signification of ideas. For instance, the establishment of a vague meaning of democracy in political discourse leads to the need for strong contexts, such as armed conflicts, for ascertaining it. In the last 10 years we have experienced many such conflicts, but we were not prepared to see them in conjunction with the forces at work in facilitating higher levels of efficiency according to the new scale that humankind has reached.

There is also the attempt to use language as context free as possible-the generalities of all demagogy (liberal, conservative, left or right, religious or emancipated) can serve as examples. But so can all the crystal ball readings, palm readings, horoscopes, and tarot cards, revived in recent years against the background of illiteracy. None of these is new, but the relative flourishing of the market of vagueness and ambiguity, reflective of a deviant functioning of language, is. Together with illiteracy, they are other symptoms of the change in pragmatics discussed in this book.

These and other examples require a few more words of explanation regarding changes in the functions of language. It is known that the oldest preserved cave drawings are marks (indexical signs) of an oral context rather than representations of hunting scenes (even though they are often interpreted as such). They testify more to those who drew them than to what the drawing is about. The decadent literacy of mystified messages does the same. It speaks about their writers more than about their subject, be this history, sociology, or anthropology. And the increased oral and visual communication, supported by technology, defines the post-literate condition of the human cognitive dimension. The transition from speech to writing corresponds to the shift from the pragmatic-affective level of human praxis to the pragmatic-rational level of linear relations among people and their environment. It takes place in the context of the evolution from the syncretic to the analytic. The transition from literacy to literacies corresponds to the pragmatics of non-linear relations, and results from the evolution from analytic to synthetic. These affirmations, at least as far as the civilization of literacy is concerned, apply to the universe of European cultures and their later extensions. The cultures of the Far East are characterized by language's tendency to present, not to explain. The analytical structure of logical thought (which will be discussed in another chapter) is actually formed in the sentence structure of speech, which is fundamentally different in the two cultures mentioned. The imperative energy of the act of expressing confers on the Chinese language, for example, a continuous state of birth (speech in the act). The preeminence of the act in Oriental culture is reflected by the central position the verb occupies. Concentration around the verb guides thought towards the relationship between condition and conditioned.

The experience of logic characteristic of European cultures (under the distinctive mark of classical Greek philosophy) shows that the main instrument of thinking is the noun. It is freer than the verb (tied to the forms it specifies), more stable, capable of reflecting identity, invariance, and the universal. The logic founded on this premise is oriented toward the search for unity between species and genus. European writing and Oriental ideographic writing have each participated in this process of defining logic, rhetoric, heuristics, and dialectics. From a historic perspective, they are complementary. Recalling the history of knowledge and history per se, we can say that the European Occident achieved the meaning of knowledge and world control, while the Orient achieved self-knowledge and self-control. It would seem utopian (and with vast historical, social, ideological, and political implications) to imagine a world harmoniously uniting these meanings. However, this would imply, as the reader can easily surmise, changes in the status of literacy in both cultures. This is exactly the direction of the changes we witness, as languages function towards convergence in the two cultures mentioned.

Literacy is not only a medium of exchange between cultures; it also sets boundaries among them. This holds true for both Western and Far Eastern (and any other) civilization. Japan, for instance, despite the spectacular effort of assimilation and development of new technologies, maintains inside its national boundaries a framework quite well suited to its traditional literacy. Outside, it assimilates other literacies. In different ways, this holds true for China. It is willing to build its internal network (Intranet) without connecting it to the all-encompassing net (Internet) through which we experience some aspects of globality.

The organization of hierarchy, which made the object of many studies telling the West why Japan succeeds better in economic terms, is centered around the unity semmai-kohai, i.e., senior-junior. Within the pragmatic framework of a literacy different from that of the Western world, a logic and ethics pertinent to the distinction mentioned evolved. The moral basis of the precedence of the senior over the junior is pragmatic in nature. The Chinese formula (cho-jo-no-jo) results from a practical experience encoded not only in language but also in the system of ranking. In fact, what is acknowledged is both experience and performance, expressed by the Japanese in the categories of kyu, referring to proficiency, and dau, referring to cumulative results. The system applies to economic life, calligraphy, wrestling (sumo), and flower arrangement (ikebana), as well as to social rank. In the dynamics of current changes, such systems are also affected.

From the viewpoint of language functions, we notice that national language can serve for insulation, while adopted language-English, in particular-can serve as a bridge to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Japanese society, like all contemporary societies, is more and more confronted with the world in its globality, and with the need to constitute appropriate means for expression, communication and signification pertinent to the global world. While Japan is an example of many literate prejudices at work, rigidly hierarchic, discriminating against women and foreigners, dogmatic, it also exemplifies the understanding of changing circumstances for human practical experiences of self-constitution as Japanese, and as members of the integrated world community as well. Consequently, new literacies emerge within its homogeneous cultural environment, as they emerge in countries such as China, Korea, and Indonesia, and in the Arab nations. As a result, we experience changes in the nature of the relations between the cultures of the Far East, Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the West. The process expands, probably more slowly than one might expect, to the African and South American continents.

Global economy requires new types of relations among nations and cultures, and these relations need to correspond to the dynamics of the new pragmatic framework that has emerged against the background of the new scale of human activity. The identity urge expressed in the multiculturalism trend of our days will find in the past its most unreliable arguments. The point is proven by the naive misrepresentation of past events, facts, and figures through the activists of the movement. Multiculturalism corresponds to the dynamics of the civilization of illiteracy: from the uniqueness and universality of one dominating mode to plurality, not limited to race, lifestyle, or cultures. Whoever sees multiculturalism as an issue of race, or feminism as one of gender (against the background of history), will not be able to design a course of action to best serve those whose different condition is now acknowledged. A different condition results in different abilities, and thus different ways of projecting one's identity in the practical experience of self-constitution. The past is irrelevant; emphasis is always on the future.

Language and Logic

Around the time computers entered public life, a relatively unknown writer of science fiction described the world of non A (A). It is our planet Earth in the year 2560, and what non A denotes is the non-Aristotelian logic embodied in a super-computer game machine that rules the planet. Gilbert Gosseyn (pronounced Go Sane, with an obvious pun intended) finds out that he is more than just one person.

Anyone even marginally educated in the history of logic will spontaneously associate the experience described here with Levy-Bruhl's controversial law of participation. According to this law, "In the collective representations of primitive mentality, objects, beings, phenomena can be, in a way we cannot understand, themselves and something different at the same time." The relatively undifferentiated, syncretic human experience at the time of the inception of notation and writing testifies to awareness of very unusual connections. Research of artifacts originating with primitive tribes makes clear the relative dominance of visual thinking and functioning of human beings along the line of what we would today call multi-valued logics.

The world of non A, although placed by its author in some fictional future, seems to describe a logic prevalent in a remote time. Even today, as anthropologists report, there are tribes in the Amazon jungles and in remote Eskimo territories whose members claim to be not only the beings they are, but also something else, such as a bird, plant, or even a past event. This is not a way of speaking, but a different way of ascertaining identity. Inferences in this pragmatic context go beyond those possible in the logical world of truth and falsehood that Aristotle described. Multi-valued logic is probably a good name for describing the production of such inferences, but not necessarily the explanation we seek for why it is that self-constitution involves such mechanisms, and how they work. Moreover, even if we could get both questions answered, we would still wonder-because our own self-constitution involves a different logic-what the relation is between the language experience and the logical framework of those living in the non A world of ancient times. Practical experiences with images, dominant in such tribes, explains why there is a logical continuum, instead of a clear-cut association with truth and falsehood, or with present and absent. Multi-valued logics of different types, corresponding to different pragmatic contexts, were actually tamed when language was experienced in its written form and thinking was stabilized in written expressions. Awareness of connections distinctly integrated in human experience and quantified in a body of intelligible knowledge progressively clears the logical horizon. As many-valued logics were subdued, entities were constituted only as what the experience made them to be, and no longer simultaneously many different things.

The change from orality to the practical experience of written language affected many aspects of human interaction. Writing introduced a frame of reference, ways to compare and evaluate, and thus a sense of value associated with limited choices. Orality was controlled by those exercising it. The written, stabilized in marks on a surface, gave rise to a new type of questioning, based on its implicit analyticity. Over time written language led to associations. Some were in relation to its visual aspect. Other associations were made to writing patterns, a kind of repetition. Integrative by its nature, writing stimulates the quest for comparing experiences of self-constitution by comparing what was recorded. The expectation of accurate recording is implicit in the experience of writing. The rather skeletal incipient written language makes visible connections which within orality faded away.

A very raw definition of logic can be the discipline of connections-"if something, then something else"-that can be expressed in many ways, including formal expressions. Connections established in orality are spontaneous. With writing, the experience is stabilized and a promise for method is established. This method leads to inferences from connections. What I am trying to suggest is that although there is logic in orality, it is a natural logic, reflecting natural connections, as opposed to connections established in writing. Writing provides the X-ray of the elusive body of experience in whose depths awareness of connections and their practical implications was starting to take shape.

Time and space awareness are gained relatively slowly. In parallel, connections to experiences in time and space are expressed in an incipient awareness of how they affect the outcome of any practical experience. No less than signs, logic is rooted also in the pragmatics of human self-constitution, and probably comes into existence together with them. Co-presence, of what is different or what is alike, incompatibilities, exclusions, and similar time or space situations bcome disassociated from actions, objects, and persons and form a well-defined layer of experience. Mechanisms of inference, from objects, actions, persons, situations, etc., evolve from simpler configurations or sequences of connections. Writing is more effective than rituals or oral expression in capturing inferences, although not necessarily in providing a mechanism for sharing. What is gained in breadth is lost in depth.

As human practical experiences get more effective they also become more complex. The cognitive effort substitutes more and more for the physical. Stabilized in inferences based on increasingly more encompassing cycles of activity-agriculture is definitely more extensive than hunting or food gathering-experience is transmitted more and more in its skeletal form, deprived of the richness of the individual characteristics of those identified through it. Less information and more sequences of successful action-this is how from the richness of connections logic of actions takes shape. The accent is on time and space, or better yet on what we call, in retrospect, references. As writing supplants time-based means of expression and communication (rituals, first of all), temporal logic begins to lose in importance.

Once the pragmatic horizon of human life changes, literacy, in conjunction with the logic it houses, constitutes its invisible grid, its implicit metrics. The understanding of anything that is not related to our literate self-constitution remains outside this understanding. Literate language is a reductionist machine, which we use to look at the world from the perspective of our own experience. Aware of experiences different from ours, at least of their possibility, we would like to understand them, knowing perfectly well that once captured in our experience of language, their own condition is negated. Oral education maintained the parent-child continuum, and memory, i.e., experience, was directly transmitted. Literacy introduced means for handling discontinuity and, above all, differences. It stored, in some form of record, everything pertaining to the experience. But as record, it constituted a new experience, with its own inherent values.

As a reductionist device, writing reduces language to a body of accepted ways of speaking, recording, and reading governed by two kinds of rules: pertinent to connections (logic), and pertinent to grammar. The process was obviously more elaborate and less focused. In retrospect, we can understand how writing affected the experience of human self-constitution through language. It is therefore understandable why those who, following the young Wittgenstein, take the logic of language for granted, seeing only the need to bring to light what is concealed in the signs of language, are wrong. Language does not have an intrinsic logic; each practical experience extracts logic from the experience and contaminates all means of human expression by the inference from what is possible to what is necessary.

Logics behind the logic

The function of coordination resulting from the use of language evolved over time. What did not change is the structure of the coordinating mechanism. Logic as we know it, i.e., a discipline legitimized by literate use of language, is concerned with structural aspects of various languages. The attempt to explain how and why conditions leading to literacy were created, after the writing entered the realm of human experience, can only benefit from an understanding of the coordinating mechanism of writing and literacy, which includes logic but is not reducible to it. This mechanism consisted of rules for correct language use (grammar), awareness of connections specific to the pragmatic framework (logic), means of persuasion (rhetoric), selection of choices (heuristics), and argumentation (dialectics). Together, they give us an image of how complex the process of self-constitution is. Separately, they give us insight into the fragmented experiences of language use, rationality, conviction, selection, actions, and beliefs. There is a logic behind the (relative) normal course of events, and also behind any crisis, if we want to extend the concept of logic so as to include the rational description or explanation of whatever might have led to the crisis. And there are logics behind the logic, as Descartes, the authors of the Port Royale Logic (actually The Art of Thinking), Locke, and many others saw it. The logic of religion, the logic of art, of morality, of science, of logic itself, the logic of literacy, are examples of the variety people consider and establish as their object of interest, subjecting such logic to the test of completeness (does it apply to everything?), consistency (is it contradictory?), and sometimes transitivity.

Independent of the subject (religion, art, ethics, a precise science, literacy, etc.), human beings establish the particular logic as a network of reciprocal relations and functional dependencies according to which truth (religious, artistic, ethical, etc.), relevant to the practical experience in more than one way, can and should be pursued. This logic, an extension of the incipient awareness of connections, became a formal system, which some researchers in philosophy and psychology still believe is somehow attached to the brain (or to the mind), ensuring its correct functioning. Indeed, successful action was seen as a result of logic, hard-wired as part of the biological endowment. Other researchers perceived logic as a product of our experience, in particular thinking, as this applies to our self-constitution in the natural world and the world we ourselves created. As a corpus of rules and criteria, logic applies to language, but there is a logic of human actions, a logic of art, a logic of morals, etc., described by rules for preserving consistency, maintaining integrity, facilitating causal inference and other relevant cognitive operations, such as articulating a hypothesis or drawing conclusions.

An old question sneaks in: Is there a universal logic, something that in its purity transcends differences in language, in biological characteristics, in differences, period? The answer depends on whom one asks. From the perspective assumed so far, the answer is definitely no. Differences are emphasized, even celebrated here, precisely because they extend to the different logics that pertain to various practical experiences. Formulated as such, the answer is elusive because, after all, logic is expressed through language, and once expressed, it constitutes a body of knowledge which in turn participates in practical human experiences. No stronger proof of this can be given than the Boolean logic embedded in computer hardware and programming languages. A more appropriate answer can be given once we notice that major language systems embody different logical mechanisms that pertain to language's coordinating function.

The main logical systems require our attention because they are related to what makes literacy necessary and, under new pragmatic conditions, less necessary, if not superfluous. Since the civilization of illiteracy is viewed also from the perspective of the changes resulting in a new scale of human praxis, it becomes necessary to see whether in the global world forces of uniformity or forces of heterogeneity and diversity, embodied in various literacies and the logic attached to them, or associated with their use, are at work. As almost all scholars agree, Aristotle is the father of the logic that applies to the Western language system. Writing helped to encode his logic of proper inference from premises expressed in sentences. Literacy gave this logic a house, and a sense of validity and permanency that scholars accept almost as religion. For Eastern systems, contributions of equal value and relevance can be found in the major writings of ancient China and Japan, as well as in Hindu documents. Instead of a superficial overview of the subject, I prefer to quote Fung-Yu-lan's precise observation regarding the particular focus of Chinese philosophy (which is also representative of the Far East): "Philosophy must not be simply the object of cognition, it must also be the object of an experience." The resulting expression of this endeavor differs from the Indian, in search of a certain state of mind, not formulations of truth, and from Western philosophical statements. It takes the form of concise, often enigmatic, and usually paradoxical statements or aphorisms. A very good presentation of this experience is given in a famous text by Chuang-tzu: "The words serve to fix the ideas, but once the idea is grasped, there is no need to think about words. I wish I could find somebody who has ceased to think of words and have him with me to talk to."

The logic of the Indo-European languages is based on the recognition of the object-action distinction, expressed in language through the noun and the verb. For over 2,000 years, this logic has dominated and maintained the structure of society, of the polis, to use Aristotle's term. Indeed, he defined the human as zoon politikon- community (polis), animal (zoon)-and his logic is an attempt to discover what was the cognitive structure that ensured proper inference from premises expressed in sentences. Probably as much as some who today hope for a similar achievement through formal languages, he wanted logic to be as independent as possible of the language used, as well as independent of the particular language spoken by people belonging to different communities.

Parallel to the language housing Aristotle's logic was a different system in which the verb (referring to action) was assimilated in the object, as in the Chinese and Japanese languages. Every action became a noun (hunting, running, talking), and a non-predicative language mode was achieved. Aristotle's construction goes like this: If a is b (The sky is covered), and if b is c (the cover are clouds), then a is c (cloudy sky). Non-predicative constructions do not come to a conclusion but continue from one condition to another, as in approximately: Being covered, covers being clouds, clouding being associated with rain, rain…and so on. That is, they are open-ended connections in status nascendi. We notice that Aristotelian logic derives the truth of the inference from the truth of the premise, based on a formal relation independent of both. In non- predicative logic, language only points to possible chains of relations, implicitly acknowledging that others are simultaneously possible without deriving knowledge, or without subjecting conclusions to a formal test of their truth or falsehood. To the abstract and formal representation of knowledge inference, it opposes a model of concrete and natural representation in which distinctions regarding quality are more important than quantity distinctions.

Based on observations already accumulated, first of all that ideographic writing keeps the means of expression very close to the object represented in language, we can understand why languages expressed in ideographic writing are not adapted to the kind of thinking Aristotle and his followers developed and which culminated in the Western notion of science, as well as in the Western system of values. The successive rediscovery of Far Eastern modes of representation and of the philosophy growing out of this very different way of thinking, as well as of the interest in subtleties rather uncommon to our culture, resulted in the many attempts we witness to transcend the boundaries between these fundamentally different language structures. The purpose is to endow our language, and thus our thinking and emotional life, with dimensions structurally impossible within the Western framework of existence.

The logic of dependency-the Japanese amé-is one of embedded relations and many conjectures resulting in a logic of actions, a different way of thinking, and a different system of values. These are partially reflected in the periodic misunderstandings between the Western world and Japan. Of course, it can be simplified as to mean that if a company and an employee accept it, and they do so since amé is structurally embedded in the life of people, both parties will be faithful to each other no matter what. Amé can also be simplified to mean a mutual relationship within families (all prejudices included), or among friends. But as we get closer to the practical experience of amé (Takeo Doi's writing on the "anatomy of dependence" helps us a great deal in this attempt), we realize that it constitutes a framework, marking not only distinct decisions (logically justified), but an entire context of thinking, feeling, acting, evaluating. It is reflected in the attitude towards language and in the education system, inculcating dependency as a logic that takes priority over the individual. Evidently, the only way to integrate the logic of amé into our logic-if indeed we think that this is right, moreover that it is possible-is through practical experience. Although amé seems to point to some limits inherent in our language, it actually reveals limits in our self-constitution, as part of establishing a network of generalized mutual relationships as part of our experience.

It should be added that practically a mirrored phenomenon occurs in the Far East, where what can be perceived as the limitations of the language system and the logic it supports (or embodies), triggered an ever-growing interest in Western culture and many attempts to copy or to quickly assimilate it in vocabulary and behavior. From the Indian universe comes not only the mysticism of the Vedic texts, but also the stubborn preoccupation with the human condition (both the aspect of conditioning and of what Mircea Eliade called de-conditioning). This resulted in the attraction it exercises on many people looking for an alternative to what they perceive as an over-conditioned existence, usually translated as pressure of performance and competitive attitudes. Some opted out of literacy, and generally out of their culture, in search of liberation (mukti), a practical experience of lower preoccupation with the useful and higher spiritual goals, and of obstinate refusal of logic. (Some really never fully appropriated or internalized the philosophy, but adopted a lifestyle emulating commercialized models, the exotic syntax of escapism.)

In short, and trying not to preclude future discussion of these phenomena, the historic development of language and logic within the many cultures we know of-more than the Western and Far Eastern mentioned-bears witness to the very complex relation between who and what people are: their language and the logic that the language makes possible and later embodies. The hunter in the West, and the hunter in the Far East, in Africa, India, Papua, the fishermen, the forager, etc. relate in different ways to their environment and to their peers in the community. The way their relatively similar experiences are embodied in language and other means of expression plays an important role in forms of sharing, religion, art, in the establishment of a value system, and later on education and identity preservation. There are common points, however, and the most relevant refer to relations established in the work process, as these affect efficiency. These commonalties prove relevant to understanding the role language, in conjunction with logic, exercises on various stages of social and economic development.

A plurality of intellectual structures

Since scale (of humankind, of groups performing coherent activities, of activities themselves) plays such an important role in the dynamics of human self-constitution through practical activities involving language, it is only fair to question whether logic is affected by scale. Again, the answer will depend upon who is asked. Logic as we study it has nothing to do with scale. An inference remains preserved no matter how many people make it, or study it, for that matter. But this reflects the universalistic viewpoint. Once we question the constitution of logic itself, and trace it to practical experiences resulting in the awareness of connections, it becomes less obvious that logic is independent of scale. Actually, some experiences are not even possible without having reached a critical mass, and the relation between simple and complex is not one of progression. But it is certainly a multi-valued relation, granted with elements of progression.

The practical experience of a tribe (in Africa, North America, or South America) is defined at the scale of relations inside the tribe, and between the tribe and the relatively limited environment of existence. The logic (or pre-logic, to adapt the jargon of some anthropologists) specific to this scale corresponds to the dominance of instincts and intuitions, and is expressed within the visually dominant means of expression and communication characteristic of what is called the primitive mentality. From all we know, memory plays a major role in shaping patterns of activity. The power of discrimination (through vision, hearing, smell, etc.) is extraordinary; adaptability is much higher than that of humans in modern societies. These tribe members live in a phase of disjoint groups, unaware even of biological commonalties among such groups, focused on themselves in pursuing survival strategies not much different from those of other living creatures who share the same environment. Once these groups start relating to each other, the practical experiences of self-constitution diversify. Cooperation and exchange increase, and language, in many varieties, becomes part of the self-constitution of various human types.

Languages originate in areas associated with the early nuclei of agriculture. These are places where the population could increase, since in some ways the pragmatics was effective enough to provide for a greater number of people. Probably primitive agriculture is the first activity in which a scale threshold was reached and a new quality, constituted in the practical experience of language, emerged. It is also an activity with a precise logic embodied in the awareness of a multitude of levels where connections are critical for the outcome of the activity, i.e., for the well being of those practicing it. The sacredness of place, to which the Latin root of the word culture (cultus) refers, is embodied in the practical activity with everything pertinent to human experience. Logic captures the connection between the place and the activity. In a variety of embodiments-from ways to sequence an action to the use of available resources, how to pursue a plan, craft tools, etc.-logic is integrated in culture and, in turn, participates in shaping it. It is a two-way dependency which increases over time and results in today's logical machines that define a culture radically different from the culture of the mechanical contraption. There are differences in the type of intelligence, which need to be acknowledged. And there are differences resulting from the variety of natural contexts of practical life, which we need to consider. Commonalties of the survival experience and further development should also be placed in the equation of human self-constitution.

Within the pragmatics of the post-industrial, the logic extracted from practical experiences of self-constitution in the world and the logic constituted in experiences defining the world of the human are increasingly different. We no longer read the logic of language and infer from it to the experience, but project our own logic (itself a practical result of self-constitution) upon the experience in the world. The algebra of thought, a cross section of rational thinking that Boole submitted with his calculus of logics, is a good example, but by no means the only one. Languages are created in order to support a variety of logical systems, e.g., autoepistemic, temporal and tense propositional, modal, intuitionist.

One would almost expect the emergence of a universal logic and a universal language (attempts were and are made to facilitate such a universalism). Leibniz had visions of an ideal language, a characteristica universalis and a calculus ratiocinator. So did many others, from the 17th century on, not realizing that in the process of diversification of human experiences, their dream became progressively less attainable. In parallel, we gave up the logical inheritance of the past: logic embedded in a variety of autarchic primitive practical experiences that various groups (in Africa, Asia, Europe, etc.) had up to our time is rapidly becoming a cultural reference. The scale that such experiences embody and the logic appropriate to that scale are simply absorbed in the larger scale of the global economy. We are simply no longer in the position to effectively unveil the logic of magical experiences, not even of those rational or rationalizable aspects that refer to the plants, animals, and various minerals used by the peoples preceding us for avoiding disease or treating illness.

In our days, the cultures swinging from the sacred to the profane, from the primitive to the over-developed, come closer together. This happens not because everyone wants this to happen, not even because all benefit (in fact, many give up an identity-their own way of life-for a condition of non-identity that characterizes a certain style of living). The process is driven by the need to achieve levels of efficiency appropriate to the scale humankind reached. The various groups of people are integrated as humans in the first place (not as tribes, nations, or religions), and consequently a pragmatic framework of increasing integration is progressively put in place.

The Euro-centrist (or Western) notion that all types of intelligence develop towards the Western type (and thus the Western practice of language culminating in literacy) has been discredited many times. The plurality of intellectual structures has been acknowledged, unfortunately either demagogically or in lip-service to the past, but never as an opening to the future. Literacy eradicated, for valid practical reasons- those of the Industrial Revolution-heterogeneity, and thus variety from among the experiences through which people constitute themselves in the universe of their experience. When those reasons are exhausted, because new circumstances of existence and work require a new logic, literacy becomes a hindrance, without necessarily affecting the role of the logic inhabiting it.

The scale of human life and activity, and the associated projection of expectations beyond human survival and preservation, lead less to the need for universal literacy than to the need for several literacies and for a rich variety of logical horizons. Since the coordinating mechanism consists of logic, rhetoric, heuristics, and dialectics, the new scale prompts the emergence of new rhetorical devices, among other things. It suffices to think about persuasion at the level of the global village, or about persuasion at the level of the individual, as the individual can be filtered in this global village through mechanisms of networking and multimedia interactivity. Logical mechanisms of mass communication are replaced by logical considerations of increased individual communication. Think about new heuristic procedures at work on the World Wide Web, as well as in market research and in Netconomy transactions. Consider a new dialectic, definitely that of the infertile opposition between what is proclaimed as very good and excellent, as we try to convince ourselves that mediocrity is eradicated by consensus. Fascinating work in multi-valued logic, fuzzy logic, temporal logic, and many areas of logical focus pertinent to computation, artificial intelligence, memetics, and networking allow progress well beyond what the science fiction of the world of non A presented us with.

The logics of actions

Between the relatively monolithic and uniform ideal of a literate society convinced of the virtues of logic, and the pluralistic and heterogeneous reality of partial literacies that transfer logic to machines, one can easily distinguish a change in direction. Persons with a rather adequate literate culture, educated in the spirit of rationality guarded by classic or formal logic, are at a loss when facing the sub-literacies of specialized practical endeavors, or the illogical inferences made within new fields of human self-constitution. Let us put their attitude in some perspective. At various stages in human evolution-for instance, transition from scavenging to hunting, or from hunting and foraging to herding and agriculture-people experienced the effects of the erosion of some behavioral codes and projected their new condition in new practical patterns. One type of cohesion represented in the declining behavioral code was replaced by another; one logic, deferring the code, was followed by others. When interaction among groups of different types of cohesion occurred, logic was severely challenged. Sometimes, as a result, one logic dominated; other times, compromise was established. Primitive stages are remarkably adaptive to the environment.

Our stage, remote in many ways from the wellspring (Ursprung), consists of an appropriated environment within which the effort is to provide a pragmatic framework for high efficiency. Logic, rhetoric, heuristics, and dialectics interact inside this framework. In other words, human evolution goes from sensorial anchoring in the natural world to an artificial (human crafted) world superimposed on the concrete reality-and eventually extended into artificial life, one from among the most recently established fields of scientific inquiry. Within this world, humans no longer restrict the projection of their natural and intellectual condition through one (or very few) comprehensive sign systems. Quite to the contrary, the effort is towards segmentation, with the aim of reaching not global cohesion, but local cohesiveness, corresponding to local optima. The complexity and the nature of the changes within this system result in the need for a strategy of segmentation, and a logic, or several, supporting it. In the interaction between a language and the humans constituted in it, as the embodiment of their biological characteristics and of their experience, logical conflicts are not excluded. After all, the logic of actions, influenced by heuristics as well, and the logic inherent to literacy are not identical.

Actions bring to mind agents of action and thus the logic integrated in tools and artifacts. The assumption that the same logic housed in language is involved in the expression leading to the making of tools and other objects related to people's activity went unchallenged for a long time. Even today, designers and engineers are educated according to an ideal of literacy that is expected to reflect in their work the rationality exemplified in the literate use of language. Complementing most of the development of humankind's language, drawings have expressed ideas about how to make things and how to perform some operations that are part of our continuous experience of self- constitution in practical activity. Each drawing embodies the logic of the future artifact, no matter how useful or even how ephemeral. There is a large record of literate work from which logical aspects of thinking can be derived. There is a rather small record of drawing, and not too many surviving artifacts. They were conceived for precise practical experiences and usually did not outlast the experience, or the person who embodied it. Roads, houses, tools, and other objects indeed survived, but it is not until better tools for drawing itself and better paper became available that a library of engineering was established.

As a hybrid between art and science, engineering accepts the logic of scientific discovery only in order to balance it against the logic of aesthetic expectations. In the pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy, engineering definitely has a dominant position in respect to the self-constitution of the human being in language- based practical experiences. This is due to the impact it has on the efficiency of human practical experiences and on their almost endless diversification.

There is a phase of conflict, a phase of accommodation, and a phase of complementarity when some means (such as language and the means for visualization used by designers and engineers) replace others, if they do not render them useless. In our time of experiences involving many more people than ever, of distributive transactions, of heterogeneity, and of interactions that go beyond the linearity of the sequence, the structural characteristics of literacy interfere with the new dynamics of human development as this is supported by very powerful technologies embodying a variety of logical possibilities. At this time, the implicit logic of literacy and the new logics (in the plural) collide in the pragmatic framework.

Within the logic of the literate discourse, followed volens nolens in this book, it should be clear that the attempt to salvage literacy is the attempt to maintain linear relations, determinism, hierarchy (of values), centralization-which fostered literacy-in a framework requiring non-linearity, decentralization, distributed modes of practical experiences, and unstable value (among others). The two frameworks are logically incompatible. This does not mean that literacy has to be discarded altogether, or that it will disappear, as cuneiform notation and pictographic writing did, or that it will be replaced by drawing or by computer-based language processing. The linear will definitely satisfy a vast number of practical activities; so will deterministic explanations and centralism (political, religious, technological, etc.), and even an elitist sense of value. But instead of being a universal standard, or even a goal (to linearize everything that is not linear, to ascertain sequences of cause and effect, to find a center and practice centrality), it will become part of a complex system of relations, free of hierarchy-or at least with fast changing hierarchies-valueless, adaptive, extremely distributed.

Of no less significance is the type of logic (and for that matter, rhetoric, heuristics, and dialectics) housed in language, i.e., projected from the universe of human self-constitution in the system of inferences, knowledge, and awareness of the being characteristic of literate frameworks of practical experiences. Language successfully captured a dualistic logic indebted to the values of truth and falsehood, and supported experiences embodied in the abstract character of logical rationality. It was complemented by logical symbolism and logical calculus, very successful in formalizing dualism, and in eliminating logical models not fitting the dualistic structure.

Literacy instilled bivalent logic as another of its invisible layers-something is written or not, the written is right or wrong-allowing only quite late, and actually in the realm of logical formalism, the appearance of multi-valued schemes. The non-linearity, vagueness, and fuzziness characteristic of the post-industrial pragmatic framework opened avenues of high human efficiency, better adapted to the scale of humankind that required efficiency and eventually made efficiency its major goal. Literacy is ill endowed for supporting multi-valued logic, although it was always tempted to step in its vast territories. Even some of the disciplines built around and in extension of literacy (such as history, philosophy, sociology) are not able to integrate a logic different from the one seated in the practical experience of reading and writing. This explains, for instance, computationalism as a new horizon for science, within which multi-valued logic can be simulated even if the computer's underlying structure is that of Boolean logic. The literate argument of science and multimedia's non-linear heuristic path to science are fundamentally different. Each requires a different logic and results in a different interaction between those who constitute their identity in the practical experience of scientific experiments and those who constitute their identity in co- participation.

It took longer in the world of predicative logic and in the science based on analytic power to accept fuzzy logic and to integrate it in new artifacts, than it took in the world of non-predicative logic and in the science based on the power of synthesis. Within the universe of non-predicative language, fuzzy logic made it into the design of control mechanisms for high-speed trains, as well as into new efficient toasters. It was accepted in Japan while it was still debated among experts in the Western world, until 1993, when a washing machine integrating fuzzy logic was introduced in the market. This fact can go on record as more than a mere example in a discussion regarding the implications of the global economy for the various language systems and the logical coordinating mechanisms specific to each.

Progress in understanding and emulating human thinking shows a progression from a literacy-based model to a model rooted in the new pragmatic framework. Rule- based, pattern-matching systems generalize predicate calculus; neural networking is devoted to mimicking the way minds work, in a synthetic neuron-plex array; fuzzy logic addresses the limitations of Boolean calculus and the nondeterminism of neural networks, and concentrates on modeling imprecision, ambiguity, and undecidability as these are embodied in new human practical experiences.


Within the civilization of literacy, recollection and the logic attached to it are predominantly made through quoting. In the literate framework, to know something means to be able to write about it, thus reconfirming the logic of writing. Lives are subject to memories, and diaries are our interpreted life, written with some reader in mind: the beloved, one's children, a posterity willing to acknowledge or understand. The literate means of sharing in successive practical experiences contain the expected logic and affect both the experience and its communication. Everything seems to originate in the same context: to know means to re-live the experience. The literate gnoseology, with its implicit logic, is based on continuously remaking, reconstituting the experience as a language experience. This is why every form of writing based on the structure embodied in literacy-literary or philosophic, religious, scientific, journalistic, or political-is actually rewriting.

The civilization of illiteracy is one of sampling, a concept originating in genetics. To understand what this means, it is useful to contrast quotation and sampling. Literate appropriation in the form of quotation takes place in the structure of literacy. Sequences are designed to accept someone else's words. A quote introduces the hierarchy desired or acknowledged by invoking authority or questioning it. Authorship is exercised by producing a context for interpretation and maintaining literate rules for their expression. Interpretations are determined by the implicit expectation of reproducing the deterministic structure of literacy, i.e., its inner logic. The quote embodies centralism by establishing centers of interest and understanding around the quoted.

Illiterate appropriation corresponds to a dissolution of hierarchy, to an experience of dissolving it and doing away with sequence, authorship, and the rules of logical inference. It questions the notion of elementary meaningful units, extending choices beyond well formed sentences, beyond words, beyond morphemes or phonemes (which always mean a lot to linguists, but almost nothing to the people constituting themselves in literate language experiences), and beyond formal logic. These techniques of sampling lead to actual undoing. Rhythms of words can be appropriated, as writers did long before the technology of musical sampling became available. So can the structure of a sentence be appropriated, the feel of a text, or of many other forms of expression that are not literacy-based (the visual arts, for instance). Anything pertaining to a written sentence-and for that matter to music, painting, odor, texture, movement (of a person, of images, leaves on a tree, stars, rivers, etc.)-can be selected, decomposed into units as small as one desires, and appropriated as an echo of the experience it embodies. Genetic configurations, as they apply to plants and other living entities, can be sampled as well. Genetic splicing maintains the relations to the broader genetic texture of plants or animals. Spliced, a word, a sentence, or a text still maintains relations to the experience in which it was constituted.

These relations are enormously relativized, subjected to a logic of vagueness. When they relate to what we write, they are empowered by emotional components that the literate experience expelled from literate expression. There is room for variation, for spontaneity, for the accidental, where before the rigor and logic of good writing stood guard against anything that might disturb. When they relate to a biological structure, they concern specific characteristics, such as composition or perisability. Within the culture of sampling, the expectation of a shared body of literacy and its attached logic are quite out of touch with the dynamics of discarding the past as having no other significance than as an extended alphabet from which one can choose, at random or with some system, letters fitting the act. The letters are part of a sui generis alphabet, changing as practical experiences change, interacting with many logical rules for using them or for understanding how they work. In this new perspective, interpretation is always another instance of constituting the language, not only using it. Biological sampling, along with the associated splicing, also regards the living as a text. Its purpose is to affect some components in order to achieve desired qualities related to taste, look, nutritional value, etc. This is the core of genetic engineering, a practical experience in which the logic of life, expressed in DNA sequences and configurations, takes precedence over the logic of language and literacy, even if the text metaphor, so prominent in genetics, plays such a major role. It is worth recalling that the word text derives from the Latin word for to weave, which was later applied to coherent collections of written sentences.

Sampling does not necessarily transform everything into the gray mass of information. In their practical experiences, people sample emotions and feelings as they sample foods in supermarkets, sample entertainment programs (television sampling included), sample clothing, and even partners (for special occasions or as potential spouses, partners in business, or whatever else). As opposed to quoting, sampling- periodic, random, or sequential-results in the severing from what literacy celebrated as tradition and continuity. And it challenges authorship. With increased sampling as a practical experience of diversification, the human being acquires a very specific freedom not possible within boundaries of the literate experience. Tradition is complemented by forms of innovation impossible within a pragmatic framework of progression and dualistic (true-false) experience. This becomes even more clear when we understand that sampling is followed by synthesis, which might be neither true nor false, but appropriate (to some degree). In the case of music, a device called a sequencer is used for this purpose. The composite is synthetic. A new experience, significant in itself at formal levels corresponding to the constitution of ad hoc languages and their consumption in the act, becomes possible. The mixmaster is a machine for recycling arbitrarily defined constitutive units such as notes, rhythms, or melodic patterns freed from their pragmatic identity. What is significant is that the same applies to the biological text, including the biology of the human being. In some ways, genetic mutation acquires the status of a new means for synthesizing new plants and animals, and even new materials.

The artistic technique of collage is based on a logic of choices beyond those of realistic representations. Logical rules of perspective are negated by rules of juxtaposition. Collage, as a technique, anticipates the generalized stage of sampling and compositing. It changes our notion of intellectual property, trademark, and copyright, all expressions of a logic firmly attached to the literate experience. The famous case of Dr. Martin Luther King's plagiarism reflected aspects of primitive culture carried over to the civilization of illiteracy: there is no authorship; once something becomes public, it is free to be shared. In the same vein, there is no Malcolm X left in the poetry resulting from sampling his speeches, or anyone else's for that matter.

Post-modern literature and painting result from sampling exercises governed by an ear or eye keen to our day's vernacular of machines and alienation. The same applies to plants, fruits, and microbes insofar as sampling does not preserve previous identities, but constitutes new ones, which we integrate in new experiences of our own self-constitution. From the perspective of logic, the procedure is of interest to the extent that it establishes domains of logical appropriateness. Logical identity is redefined from a dynamic perspective. From a pragmatic viewpoint, certain experiences might be maximized by applying a certain logic to them. Moreover, within some experiences, complementary logics-each logic assigned to a precise aspect of the system-can be used together in strategies of layered management of the process, or in parallel processes, checked against each other at defined instances. Strategies for maximizing market transactions, for instance, integrate various decision-making layers, each characterized by a different logical assumption. We experience a process of replacing the rigid logical framework of literate condition with many logical frameworks, adapted to diversity.

In conclusion, one more aspect should be approached. Is it enough to say that language expresses the biological and the social identity of the human being? To deal with language, and more specifically with the embodiment of language in literacy, means to deal with everything that makes the human being the bio-socio-politico- cultural entity that defines our species. The logical appears to be an underlying element: bio-logical, socio-logical, etc. The hierarchy will probably bother some, since it seems that language assumes a higher place among the many factors participating in the process of human self-constitution. Indeed, in order for the human being to qualify as zoon politikon, as Homo Sapiens, or Homo Ludens (playful man) or Homo Faber, he or she must first qualify for the interactions which each designation describes: on the biological level, with other human beings, within structures of common interest, in the realm of a human being's own nature. This is why humans define themselves through practical experiences involving signs.

At the various levels at which such signs are generated, interpreted, comprehended, and used to conceive new signs, human identity is ascertained. This is what prompted Felix Hausdorf to define the human being as zoon semeiotikon- semiotic animal, sign-using animal. Moreover, Charles Sanders Peirce considered semiotics as being the logic of vagueness. Signs-whether pictures, sounds, odors, textures, words (or combinations), belonging to a language, diagram, mathematical or chemical formalism, new language (as in art, political power, or programming), genetic code, etc.-relate to human beings, not in their abstraction but in the concreteness of their participation in our lives and work.

Memetic optimism

John Locke knew that all knowledge is derived from experience. But he was not sure that the same applies to logic or mathematics. If we define experience as self- constitutive practical activity, whose output is the ever-changing identity of the individual or individuals carrying out the experience, logic derives from it, as do all knowledge and language. This places logic not outside thought, but in experience, and raises the question of logical replication. Dawkins defined the replicator as a biological molecule that "has the extraordinary property of being able to make copies of itself." Such an entity is supposed to have fecundity, fidelity, longevity. Language is a replicator; or better yet, it is a replicative medium. The question is whether duplication can take place only by virtue of its own structural characteristics, or whether one has to consider logic, for instance, as the rule of replication. Moreover, maybe logic itself is replicative in nature.

This discussion belongs to the broader subject of memetics. Its implicit assumption is that memes, the spiritual equivalent of genes, are subject to mechanisms of evolution. As opposed to natural evolution, memetic evolution is through more efficient orders of magnitude, and faster by far.

In experiences of cultural transfer (sharing of experience as a practical experience itself) or of inheritance-genetic or memetic, or a combination of both- something like a gene of meaning was suspected to exist. Were it to exist, that would not mean, within our pragmatic system, that signification is carried over through memetic replication, but that practical experiences of human self-constitution involve the act of conjuring meaning under the guise of various logics pertinent to sign processes. Replication is, then, not of information, but of fundamental processes, conjuring of meaning being one of them. Evolution of language, as well as of logic, belongs to cultural evolution. Meme mutation and spread of a reduced scale, such as the scale of finite artificial languages and limited logical rules, can be described in equations similar to those of genetics. But once the scale changes, it is doubtful that we could encode the resulting complexity in such formalizations.

Be this as it may, expression, communication, and signification, the fundamental functions of any sign system, regardless of its logic, are endowed with replicative qualities. Logic prevents corruption, or at least provides means for identifying it. The easiest way to understand this statement is to relate it to the many replications involved in the manipulation of data in a computer. The Error message announcing corruption of data corresponds to a replication process that went astray. Like all analogies, this one is not infallible: a certain logic, against whose rules the replication is tested, might simply prove to be inadequate to processes of replication that are different in nature. Indeed, if the logic implicit in the experience of literacy were to authenticate semiotic processes characteristic of the civilization of illiteracy, the Error message of corruption would overrun the monitor. All that occurs in the experience of networking and all that defines virtuality pertain to a logical framework that is by no means a memetic replication of the Aristotelian or some other logical system intrinsic to the experience of literacy. Memes residing in the brain's neuronal structure, as a pattern of pits on a CD- ROM, or in an HTML (hypertext markup language) Web format can be replicated. Interactions among minds correspond to a different dynamic realm, the realm of their reciprocal identification.

Book Three

Language as Mediating Mechanism

Mention the word mediation today, or post it on the Internet. Swarms of lawyers will come after you. From the many meanings mediation has acquired over time, dispute resolution is the practical activity that has appropriated the word. Nevertheless, in its etymology, mediation attests to experiences that pre-date lawyers as they pre- date the earliest attempt to introduce laws.

Mediation, along with heuristics, is definitory of the human species. From all we know, nature is a realm of action and reaction. The realm of human activity implies a third element, an in-between, be this a tool, a word, a plan. This applies to primitive experiences of self-constitution, as well as to current embedded mediating activities: mediation of mediation ad infinitum. In each mediation there is the potential for further mediation. That is, the inserted third can be divided in turn. A lever used to move a very heavy object can be supplemented by another one, or two or more, all applied to the task at hand. Each tool can progressively evolve into a series of tools. Each individual called upon to mediate can call upon others to perform a chain of related or unrelated mediations.

The same holds true for signs and language. Mediation is the practical experience of reducing to manageable size a task that is beyond the abilities of an individual or individuals identified through the task. Mediation is a mapping from a higher scale of complexity to a scale that the persons involved in a task can handle. This chapter will examine various phases of mediated human experiences. We shall examine at which pragmatic junctures language and, subsequently, literacy provide mediating functions. More important, we will define the conditions that require mediations for which literacy is no longer adequate.

Since tools, in their mediating function, will be frequently brought into the argument, a distinction needs to be made from the outset: Signs, language, artificial languages, and programs (for computers and other devices) are all mediating entities. What distinguishes these from tools is their caoability for self-replication. They are, as much as humans constituting their identity in semiotic processes, subject to evolutionary cycles structurally similar to those of nature. Their evolution is, as we know, much faster than genetic evolution. The genetic make-up of the human species has changed relatively little, while the mediating elements that substantially contributed to the increase in human efficiency underwent many transformations. Some of these are no longer evolutionary, but revolutionary, and mark discontinuities. Genetic continuity is a background for pragmatic discontinuity. The moments of discontinuity correspond to threshold values in the scale of human activity. They regard mediating devices and strategies as dynamic components of the pragmatic framework.

The power of insertion

Self-constitution in mediating and mediated practical experiences is different from self-constitution in direct forms of praxis. In direct praxis, the wholeness of the being is externalized. But it is the partial being-partial in respect to the human's biological and intellectual reality-that is projected in mediated practical experiences. The narrow, limited, and immediate scope of direct human activity explains why no mediation, or only accidental mediation (unintended mediation), characterizes the pragmatic framework. In the long run, mediation results in the severed relation between individuals and their social and natural environments. As we shall see, this fact has implications for literacy. A long chain of mediations separates the working individual from the object to be worked upon, be this object raw material, processed goods, thoughts, or other experiences.

It is not easy to immediately realize the pervasiveness of mediation and its effects on human activity and self-constitution. People introduce all the intermediaries they need in order to maintain efficiency. Because we notice only the immediate layer with which we come into contact-the tool we use or the object we act upon-we have difficulty in recognizing the pervasiveness of mediation. The multitude of intermediaries involved in fabricating one finished product is far beyond our direct involvement.

Division, in the context of labor, means to break a task into smaller parts that are easier to rationalize, understand, and execute. Division engenders the specialization of each mediating element. To specialize means to be involved in practical experiences through which skills and knowledge pertinent to activity segmented through labor division are acquired. Whether division of physical work or of intellectual activity, at the end of the process there is a large number of components which have to be assembled. Even more important, the quantity of pieces, the order in which various pieces come together, and the intermediary sequences of checks and balances (if something does not work, it is better to find out before the entire product is assembled) are essential. All these constitute the integration aspect, which requires the element of coordination through tools and methods.

The segmentation of work in order to reach higher efficiency is not arbitrary. The goal is to arrive at coherent units of simpler work, which in some ways are like the letters of an alphabet. In this model, production resembles writing different words by combining available letters. Segmentation of work takes place concomitant with the effort to conceive of tools appropriate to each segment in order to ensure the desired efficiency. In effect, to specialize means to be aware of and to master tools that correspond to a step in the sequence leading to the desired result-the final word, in keeping with our example. Conversely, what sometimes looks like excessive specialization in our day-e.g., in medicine, physics, mathematics, electronics, computer science, transportation-is the result of the propensity of each mediating element to engender a need for further mediations, which reflect expectations for efficiency. Simultaneously with the differentiation of work, language changed, becoming itself more differentiated.

The efficiency reached in specialization is higher than that of direct action and of low levels of labor division. With each new specialization of a mediating element, humans constitute a body of practical knowledge, in the form of experience, that can be used again and again. This body of knowledge reflects the complexity of the task and the scale in which it is exercised. For instance, stones (the Latin calcula) were used to represent quantities (just as the early English used stone as a measure of weight). Over the centuries, this practice led to the body of knowledge known as calculus and to coherent applications in various human endeavors. The physical presence of stones gave way to easier methods of calculation: the abacus, as well as to marks recorded on bone, shell, leather, and paper, to a number system, and to symbols for numbers. The vector of change starts at the materiality and heads towards the abstract-that is, from objects to signs.

Computers were invented as a tool for calculation, as well as for other activities. They are the result of the labor of philosophers, logicians, mathematicians, and finally technologists, who changed calculation from a physical to a cognitive practical experience. Boolean logic, binary numbers, and electronic gates are mediating elements that enhance the effectiveness of calculation by high orders of magnitude. As things stand today, computer technology has led to myriad specialties: design and production of chips; information processing at various levels; manufacture of components and their integration as machines; networking; visualization techniques; the creation of machine languages for rendering the illiterate input, and on and on. This development exemplifies the active character of each mediation, especially the open- endedness of the mediation process.

As an insertion, mediation proves powerful also in terms of the cognitive awareness it stimulates. Through mediating elements, such as signs, language, tools, and even ideas, the individual gets a different perspective on the practical experience. The distance introduced through mediation, between actions and results, is one of space-the lever, not the hand, touches the stone to be moved-and duration-the time it takes to execute an action. With each inserted third, i.e., with each mediation, seeds are planted for what will eventually result in a totally new category of practical experiences: the conception of plans. The power of insertion is actually that of acquiring a sense and a direction for the future.

Myth as mediating pre-text

Among the mediating elements mentioned so far, language performs its role in a particular way. Tools (such as pulleys, levers, gears, etc.) extend the arms or the legs, that is, the human body; language extends the coordinating capability of humans. Words, no matter how well articulated, will not turn the stone or lift the trunk of the fallen tree. They can be used to describe the problem, to enlist help, to discuss how the task can be accomplished, to render intelligible the sequence of accomplishing it. Once writing was developed, coordination was extended to apply from those physically present to people who could read, or to whom a text could be read if one did not have reading skills.

Language is in extension and succession of the pragmatic phase of immediate and direct appropriation of objects. As Leonard Bloomfield-probably a bit hasty in his generalization-observed, "…the division of labor (…) is due to language." Although different in nature from physical tools, language is instrumental: It is applied on something and embodies characteristics of human beings constituted in a practical experience that made language possible and necessary.

The mediating nature of early words and early articulated thoughts derived from their practical condition: medium for self-constitution (the voice externalizes the anatomy pertinent to producing and hearing sounds), and medium of exchange of experience (pertinent to nature or to others in the group). Early words are a record of the self-awareness of the human, denoting body parts and elementary actions. They also reflect the relational nature of the practical experience of those constituting viable groups. Researchers infer this from words, identified in proto-languages, that point to an other, or to coalitions, or to danger. What distinguished words from animal sounds was their coherence in extending the practical experience of appropriating a uniform survival strategy.

Cave paintings, always regarded as a sequence of animal representations, constitute what can be called a coherent image of a small universe of human life. They are an inventory of a sort-of fauna as opposed to humans, and as a reference to animals different from humans-and a statement regarding the importance of each kind of animal to human beings. By relating animals and drawings of man and woman, they also show that there is a third element to be considered: incipient implied symbolism. This is not to say that we have language, even less a visual language, articulated in the Paleolithic. But at Lascaux, Niaux, Altamira, and at the caves in northern China, in images preserved in the caves along the Lena River in Russia, there are some patterns, such as the co-presence of bison and horses, and the hinted association with male and female, for example, which show that the visual can go beyond the immediate and suggest a frame of work with mytho-magical elements.

Indeed, myths are singular mediating entities. They convey experience and preserve it in oral societies. Magic is also a mediating element, metaphysical in nature. Magic, in the pre-literacy context, inserts, between humans and everything they cannot understand, control, or tame, something (actions, words, objects) that stands for the practical implications of this failure. An amulet, for example, stands for the lack of understanding of what it takes to be protected from evil forces. Spells and gestures intended to scare away demons belong to the same phenomenon. Though not without purpose, magic is action with no immediate practical purpose, triggered by events language could not account for. Myth is a pre-text for action with a practical, experiential purpose. Each myth contains rules for successful activity.

The context in which language, as a complex sign system, was structured was also the context of social mediation: division of social functions and integration in a cohesive social structure. In syncretic forms of social life, with low efficiency, and limited self-consciousness, there is little need for or possibility of mediation. Once human nature was constituted in the reality of practical, mytho-magical relations, both labor division and mediation became part of the new human experience. Tools for plowing, processing skins, and sharing experience (in visual or verbal form) kept the human subject close to the object of work or human relation. It is probably more in respect to the unknown and unpredictable that mediation, via priests and shamans in various rituals, was used in forms of magical practice. Cave paintings, no less than cuneiform, and later phonetic writing, constituted intermediaries inserted in the world in which human beings asserted their presence or questioned the presence of others.

The centralized state, which is a late form of social organization, the church, and schools are all expressions of the same need to introduce in a world of differences elements with uniformizing and integrating power. What we today call politics simply belongs to the self-constitution of the individual as member of the politeia, the community. By extension, politics means to effectively participate in the life of the community. The nature of this participation changed enormously over time. It started as participation in magic and ritual, and it evolved in participation in symbolic forms, such as mancipatio, conventions embodied in normative acts. In the framework of participation, we can mention goal determination and forms of organization and representation, as well as the payment of taxes to support the mediators of this activity. At the beginning, participation was an issue of survival; and survival, of natural condition, remained the unwritten rule of social life for a very long time. While in oral language there is no mediating element to preserve the good and the right, in written language, law mediates and justice, as much as God (actually a plurality of gods and goddesses) or wisdom, are inserted in community affairs.

Differentiation and coordination

Mediation also implies breaking the immediate connection, to escape the domination of the present-shared time and space-and to discover relations characteristic of adjacency, i.e., neighboring in time and space. Adjacency can be in respect to the past, as expressed through the practice of keeping burial records. It can also be in respect to the future. The magic dimension of the ritual focused on desired things-weather, game, children-exemplifies this aspect. The notion of adjacency can pertain also to neighboring territories, inhabited by others involved in similar or slightly different practical forms of experience. Regardless of the type of adjacency, what is significant is the element that separates the immediate from the mediated. The expanding horizon of life required means to assimilate adjacency in the experience of continuous human self-constitution. Language was among such means and became even more effective when a medium for storing and disseminating-writing-was established. In orality-dominated social life, opinion was the product of language activity, and it had to be immediate. In writing, truth was sought and preserved. Accordingly, logic centered around the true-false distinction.

Literate societies are societies which accept the value of speaking, writing, and reading, and which operate under the assumption that literacy can accomplish a unifying function. Mediation and the associated strategy of integration relied on language for differentiation of tasks and for coordination of resulting activities and products. Language projects both a sense of belonging to and living in a context of life. It embodies characteristics of the individuals sharing perceptions of space and time integrated in their practical experiences and expressed in vocabulary, grammar, and idioms, and in the logic that language houses.

Language is simultaneously a medium of uniformity and a means of differentiation. Within continuously constituted language, individual expression and various non-standard uses of language (literary and poetic, probably the most notorious of these) are a fact of life. In the practical constitution of language for religious or judicial purposes, or in order to give historic accounts of scientific phenomena, expression is not uniform. Neither is interpretation. As we know from early attempts at history, there is little difference between languages used to describe relations of ownership (of animals, land, shelter) and texts on astronomy or navigation, for instance. The lunar calendar and the practical experience of navigation determined the coherence of writings on the subject. There is very little difference in the work of people who accounted for numbers of animals and numbers of stars. Once differentiation of work took place, language allowed for expressions of differences. Behind this change of language is the change of the people involved in various aspects of social life, i.e., their projection into a world appropriated through practical experiences based on the human ability to differentiate-between useful and harmful, pleasant and unpleasant, similar and dissimilar.

In order to distinguish the level at which a language is practiced, people become aware of language's practical consequences, of its pragmatic context. Plato's dialogues can be read as poetry, as philosophy, or as testimony to the state of language-based practical experiences in use at the time and place in which he was active. What is not clear is how a person operating in and constituting himself in the language identifies the level of an oral or written text, and how the person interprets it according to the context in which it was written. The question is of more than marginal importance to our understanding of how Plato related to language or how people today relate to language: either by overstating its importance or by ignoring it to the extent of consciously discarding language, or certain aspects of it.

Here is where the issue of mediation becomes critical. The inserted third- person, text, image, theory-should understand both the language of the reader and the language of the text. More generally, the third should at any instance understand the language of the entities it mediates between. States, as political entities, are constituted on this assumption; so are legal systems, religion, and education. Each such mediating entity introduces elements into the social structure that will finally be expressed in language and assimilated as accepted value. They will become the norm. The process is sometimes extremely tight. Retroaction from mediating function to language and back to action entails progressive fine-tuning, never-ending in fact, since human beings are in continuous biological and social change.

Mediations lead to segmentation. The coordination of mediations is necessary in order to recover the integrality (wholeness) of the human being in the output of the practical experience. Mediations, although coordinated by language or other mediating means, and subject to integration in the outcome of activity, introduce elements of tension, which in turn require new mediation and thus progressive specialization. When the sequence of mediations expands, the complexity of integration can easily exceed the degree of complexity of the initial task. The efficiency reached is higher than that of direct action or of low levels of labor division. With each new mediation, the human being constitutes a body of practical knowledge that can be used again and again. The necessary integrative dimension of mediations makes the strategy of using mediating entities, along with the appropriate coordination mechanism, socially relevant and economically rewarding. One can speak of mediation between rational and emotional aspects of human life, between thought and language, language and images, thought and means of expression, communication and signification. Regardless of its particular aspect, mediation is an experience of cognitive leverage.

Integration and coordination revisited

From the entire subject of mediation, two questions seem more relevant to our understanding of literacy and of its dynamics: 1.

Why, at a certain moment in human evolution, does literacy become the main mediating instrument? 2.

Under which circumstances is language's mediating function assumed by other sign systems? Let us answer the questions in the order they are posed.

Language is not the only mediating instrument people use. In the short account given so far, other mediating entities, such as images, movements, odors, gestures, objects (stones, twigs, bones, artifacts) were mentioned. Also mentioned was the fact that these are quite close to what they actually refer to (as indexical signs), or to what they depict based on a relation of similarity (as iconic signs). However, even at this level of reduced generality and limited coherence and consistency, human beings can express themselves beyond the immediate and direct.

The cave paintings of the Paleolithic age should be mentioned again in this respect. The immediate is the cave itself. It is shelter, and its physical characteristics are perceived in direct relation to its function. The surprise comes in noticing how these characteristics become part of the practical experience of sharing what is not present by involving a mediating element. The drawings are completions, continuations, extensions of the ridges of the stone walls of the cave. This is not a way of speaking. A better quality photograph, not to mention the actual drawings in the caves, reveals how the lines of the relief are extended into the drawing and made part of them. The first layer of exchange of information among people is comparison, focused on similarities, then on differences. We infer from here that, before drawing-a practical experience involving a major cognitive step-the human beings seeking shelter in the cave noticed how a certain natural configuration-cloud, plant, rock formation, the trail left by erosion-looked like the head or tail of an animal, or like the human head, for example.

The completion of this look-alike form-when such a completion was physically possible-was an instance of practical self-definition and of shared experience. When the act of completion was physically performed, probably by accident at the beginning, the immediate natural (the cave) was appropriated for a new function, something other than merely shelter. The shape of the wings of galleries in the Altamira or Niaux caves suggests analogies to the male-female distinction, a sexual identifier but also a first step towards distinctions based on perceived differences. The selection of a certain cave from among others was the result of an effort, no matter how primitive, to express. Together, this selected physical structure and the added elements became a statement regarding a very limited universe of existence and its shared distinctions. Further on, the animals depicted, the sequence, the addition of mytho-magical signs (identification of more general notions such as hand, wound, or different animals) make the painted cave an expression of an inserted thought about the world, that is, about the limited environment constituting the world. In the case of Egyptian pictographic writing, we know that images were used as mediating devices in such sophisticated instances as the burial of pharaohs and in their life after death. In the universe of ideographic languages (such as Chinese and Japanese), the mediating function of images constituting the written is different. Combinations of ideograms constitute new ideograms. Accordingly, self-constitution in language takes over experiences of combining different things in order to obtain something different from each of the combined ingredients. In some ways, the added efficiency facilitated by mediations was augmented by formal qualities that would eventually establish the realm of aesthetic practical experiences. This should come as no surprise, since we know from many practical experiences or the remote past that formal qualities often translate into higher functionality.

Language use, which opened access to generality and abstraction, allowed humans to insert elements supporting an optimized exchange of information in the structure of social relations, and to participate in the conventions of social life. There is not only the trace of the immediate experience in a word, there is also the shared convention of mediated interactions. Language, in its development over time, is thus a very difficult-to-decode dynamic history of common praxis. We understand this from the way the use of the ax, millstone, or animal sacrifice expanded, along with the appropriate vocabulary and linguistic expression, from the universe of the Semites to the Indo-Europeans. Reconstructed vocabulary from the region of the Hittite kingdom testifies to the landscape (there are many words for mountains), to trees (the Hittites distinguished various species), to animals (leopard, lion, monkey), and to tools (wheel- based means of transportation).

Language is not only a reflection of the past, but also a program for future work. The nuclei of agriculture where language emerged (in China, Africa, southeastern Europe) were also centers of dissemination of practical experience. Writing, even when it only records the past, does it for the future. Progress in writing resulted in better histories, but moreover in new avenues for future praxis. In the ideal of literacy, the individual states a program of unifying scope in a social reality of diverse means and diverse goals. Literacy as such is an insertion between a rather complex social structure, nature, and among the members of society. Within a culture, it is a generic code which facilitates dialogue among the members of the literate community and among communities of different languages. Its scope is multidimensional. Its condition is one of mediation.

A major mediating element in the rationale of industrial society, literacy fulfilled the function of a coordinating mechanism for mediations made otherwise than through language, along the assembly line, for instance. Obviously conceived on the linear, sequential model of time and language, the assembly line optimally embodied requirements characteristic of complex integration. Once the reductionist practice of dividing work into smaller, specialized activities became necessary, the results of these activities had to be integrated in the final product. At the level of technology of industrial society, literacy-based human practical experiences of self-constitution defined the scope and character of labor division, specialization, integration, and coordination.

Life after literacy

The answer to the second question posed a few pages back is not an exercise in prophecy. (I'll leave that to the priests of futurology.) This is why the question concerns circumstances under which the dominant mediating function of language can be assumed by other sign systems. The discussion involves a moving target because today the notion of literacy is a changing representation of expectations and requirements. We know that there is a before to literacy; and this before pertains to mediations closer to the natural human condition. Of course, we can, and should, ask whether there is an after, and what its characteristics might be. Complexities of human activity and the need to ensure higher efficiency explain, at least partially, complexities of interhuman relations and the need to ensure some form of human integration.

What this first assessment somehow misses is the fact that, from a certain moment on, mediation becomes an activity in itself. Means become an end in themselves. When individuals constituted themselves in structurally very similar experiences, mediation took place through the insertion of rather homogeneous objects, such as arrows, bows, levers, and tools for cutting and piercing. Interaction was a matter of co-presence. Language resulted in the context of diversification of practical human experiences. Self-constitution in language captured the permanence and the perspective of the whole into which variously mediated components usually come together. Later on, literacy freed humans from the requirement of co-presence. Language's mediating capabilities relied on space and time conventions built into language experience over a very long time and interiorized by literate societies.

Characteristics of writing specific to different notational systems resulted from characteristics of practical experiences. Literacy only indirectly reflects the encoding of experience in a medium of expression and communication. Moreover, the shift from a literacy-dominated civilization to one of partial literacies involves the encoding of the experience in media that are no longer appropriate for literate expression. We write to tape or to digital storage. We publish on networks. We convert texts into machine- readable formats. We edit in non-linear fashion. We operate on configurations or on mixed data types (that constitute multimedia). Experiences encoded in such media reflect their own characteristics in what is expressed and how it is expressed.

Although there are vast qualitative differences in linguistic performance within a literate society, a common denominator-the language reified in the technology of literacy-is established. The expectation is a minimum of competence, supposed to meet integration requirements at the workplace, the understanding of religion, politics, literature, and the ability to communicate and comprehend communication. But as literacy became a socially desirable characteristic, language became a tool-at least in some professions and trades-and the command of language became a marketable skill. For example, during periods of greater political activity in classical Greece and Rome, the practical experience of rhetoric was a discipline in itself. Orators, skilled in persuasion, for which language is necessary, made a career out of language use. The written texts of the Middle Ages were also intended to foster the rhetorical skills of the clergy in presenting arguments. In our time, speechwriters and ghostwriters have become the language professionals, and so have priests, prophets, and evangelists (of all religions).

But what is only an example of how language can become an end in itself has become a very significant development in human praxis. Not only in professions such as expository writing (for journalists, essayists, politicians, and scientists), poetry, fiction, dramaturgy, communications, but also in the practice of law (normative, enforcement, judicial), politics, economics, sociology, and psychology has language become a principal tool. Nevertheless, the language used in such endeavors is not the standard, national, or regional language, but a specialized subset, marginally understood by the literate population at large. While the grammar governing such sub- languages is, with some exceptions, the grammar of the language from which they are derived, the vocabulary is more appropriate to the subject matter. Moreover, while sharing language conventions and the general frame of language, these sub-languages project an experience so particular that it cannot be properly understood and interpreted without some translation and commentary. And each commentary (on a law, a new scientific theory, a work of art or poetry) is yet another insertion of a third, which refers to the initial object sometimes so indirectly that the relation might be difficult to track and the meaning is lost.

A similar process can be identified in our present relation to the physical environment. Many things mediate between us and the natural environment: our homes, clothes, the food processing industry. Even natural artifacts, such as gardens, lakes, or water channels, are a buffer against nature, an insertion between us and nature. Constituted in our language are experiences of survival and adaptation: the vocabulary of hunting, fishing, agriculture, animal husbandry, coping with changes in weather and climate, and coping with natural catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes. The mediating function of language is different here than on the production line.

Mediated practice leads to distributed knowledge along successive or parallel mediations that are not at all literacy-based or literacy-dependent. Within the global scale of human experience, it makes sense to use a global perspective (of resources, factors affecting agriculture, navigation, etc.) in order to maximize locally distributed efforts. For example: people involved in various activities must rely on persons specialized to infer from observation (of plants, trees, animals, water levels in rivers and lakes, wind direction, changes in the earth's surface, biological, chemical, atmospheric factors) and generate predictions regarding natural events (drought, plant or animal disease, floods, weather patterns, earthquakes). What we acknowledge here is the new scale of the practical experience of meteorology, as well as methods of collecting and distributing information through vast networks of radio, television, and weather services. Both the means for acquiring the information and for disseminating it are visual. Local networks subscribe to the service and receive computer-generated maps on which clouds, rain, or snow are graphically depicted. The equations of weather forecasting are obviously different from local observations of wind direction, precipitation, dew point, etc. The chaotic component captured and the necessity to visually display information as it changes over time are not reducible to equations or direct observation. It is hard to imagine having weather predicted through very mediated meteorological practice, and even harder to imagine forecasting earthquakes or volcanic activity from remote stations, such as satellites. Still, weather patterns display dynamic characteristics that made the metaphor of the butterfly causing a hurricane the most descriptive explanation of how small changes-caused by the flapping of the butterfly's wings-can result in impressive consequences-the hurricane. The language of the forecast only translates into common language the data (the majority in visual form) that represents our new understanding of natural phenomena.

There is yet another aspect, which is related to the status of knowledge and our ways of acquiring, transmitting, and testing it. Our knowledge of phenomena such as nuclear fusion, thermonuclear reaction, stellar explosions, genes and genetic codes, and complex dynamic systems is no longer predominantly based on inductions from observed facts to theories explaining such facts. It seems that we project theories, founded on abstract thinking, onto physical reality and turn these theories into means of adapting the world to our goals or needs, which are much more complex than survival. Memetics is but the more recent example in this respect. It projects the abstract models of natural evolution into culture, focusing on replicative processes for the production of phenomena such as ideas, behavioral rules, ways of thinking, beliefs, and norms. Mediation probably qualifies for a memetic approach, too. Theories require a medium of expression, and this is represented by new languages, such as mathematical and logical formalisms, chemical notation, computer graphics, or discourse in some pseudo- language. The formalism of memetics reminds many of us of formal languages, as well as of the shorthand used in genetics. The goal is to describe whatever we want to describe through computational functions or through computable expressions.

Since experiential space and time are housed in our language, we can account for only a three-dimensional space and a homogeneous time that has only one direction-from past to future. Nevertheless, we can conceive of multidimensional spaces and of non-homogeneous time. To describe the same in language, especially through literate expression, is not only inadequate, but also raises obstacles. With the advent of digital technology, a language of two letters-zero and one-and the grammar of Boolean logic, we have stepped into a new age of language, no longer the exclusive domain of the human being. Such a language introduces new levels of mediation, which allow for the use of machines by means of sentences, i.e., sequences of encoded commands triggered by a text written in a language other than natural language. Physical contact is substituted by language, inserted in processes of complexity impossible to control directly or even to relate to in forms characteristic of previous scientific and technological praxis.

Indeed, there are instances when the speed of a process and the requirement of sequencing make direct human control not only impossible, but also undesirable. This mediation is then continued by sequences automatically generated by machines, i.e., mediation generating new mediation. Although the structure of all these new languages (which describe phenomena, support programming, or control processes) is inspired by the structure of natural language, they project experiences which are not possible in the universe of standard language. New forms of interaction, higher speeds, and higher precision become available when such powerful cognitive tools are designed as custom-made instruments for advancing our understanding of phenomena that evade analytic or even small-scale synthetic frameworks.

The discussion of mediation brought up other sign systems that assume the mediating function characteristic of literacy. Not only artificial languages-instruments of knowledge and action, new pragmatic dimensions, in fact-but also natural languages are increasingly used in a mediating capacity. I would submit to the reader the observation that the visual, primarily, and other sensory information are recuperated and used in ways that change human experience. Where words no longer suffice, visualized images of the unseen constitute a mediating language, allowing us to understand phenomena otherwise inaccessible-the micro- or remote universe, for instance. Touch, smell, and sound can be articulated and introduced as statements in a series of events for which written and spoken language are no longer adequate. Virtual reality is synthesized as a valid simulation of real reality. Virtual realities can be experienced if we simply put on body-sensitive gloves, headgear (goggles and earphones), special footwear, or a whole suit. Powerful computer graphics, with a refresh rate high enough to maintain the illusion of space and motion, make a virtual space available. Within this space, one's own image can become a partner of dialogue or confrontation. Journeys outside one's body and inside one's imagination are experienced not only in advanced laboratories, but also in the new entertainment centers that appeal to children as well as adults. Such projections of oneself into something else represent one of the most intriguing forms of interaction in the networked world. The experience of self-constitution as an avatar on the Internet is no longer one of a unique self, but of multiples.

Language guards the entrance to the experience, but once the human subject is inside, it has only limited power or significance. Mediations other than through language dominate here, invoking all our senses and deep levels of our existence, for which literacy produced only psychoanalytic rhetoric. In other words, we notice that while language constituted a projection of the human being in the conventions of abstract systems of expression, representation, and communication, it also exercised an impoverishing function in that it excluded the wealth of senses-possibly including common sense-and the signs addressing them. Language made of us one monolithic entity. In the meantime, we have come to realize that the transitions between our many inner states can be a source of new experiences.

The answer to the question regarding alternatives to literacy is that part of the mediating function of language has extended to specialized languages, and to sign systems other than verbal language, when those systems are better adapted to the complexities of heretofore unencountered challenges. Virtual reality is not a linear reality but an integrating, interacting reality of non-linear relations between what we do and what results. Among these newly acquired, different mediating entities, relations and interdependencies are continuously established and changed at an ever faster pace. It appears that once human activity moves from the predominantly object level to the meta condition (one of self-awareness and self-interpretation), we have several languages and several contingent literacies instead of a dominant language and dominant literacy. When writing is replaced by multimedia along the communication channels of the networked world, we seem to enjoy rediscovering ourselves as much richer entities than we knew or were told about through literate mediation.

The entire transition is the result of pragmatic needs resulting from the fundamental change in continuous human self-constitution and the scale in which it is exercised. Mediations break activities into segments that are more intensive and shorter than the cycle from which they were extracted. Therefore, mediation results in the perception of the reality of faster rhythms and of time contraction. Massive distribution of tasks, finer levels of parallelism, and more sophisticated integrating and coordinating mechanisms, result in new pragmatic possibilities, for which literacy is not suitable, and even counter-productive. This entire transition comprises another vector of change: from individual to communal survival, from direct work to highly mediated praxes, from local to global to universal, from the visible to the invisible of macro and micro-universe, from the real to the virtual. Mediation, in its newest digital forms of enmeshed nature and evolving culture, causes boundaries to disappear between the elements involved in practical experiences of our self-constitution.

Literacy, Language and Market

Markets are mediating machines. In our time, the notion of a machine is very different from that of the industrial Machine Age associated with the pragmatics of the civilization of literacy. Today, the term machine is evocative of software rather than hardware. Machine comprises input and output, process, control mechanisms, and the expectation of predictable functioning. Here is where our difficulties start. At best, markets appear as erratic to us. Market prediction seems to be an oxymoron. Every time experts come up with a formula, the market acts in a totally new manner.

An amazing number of transactions, ranging from bargaining at a garage sale to multi-prong deals in derivatives, continuously subject the outcome of practical experiences of human self-constitution to the test of market efficiency. There is nothing that can escape this test: ideas, products, individuals, art, sports, entertainment. Like a tadpole, the market seems to consume itself in transactions. At times, they appear so esoteric to us that we cannot even fathom what the input of this machine is and what the output. But we all expect the charming prince to emerge from the ugly frog!

What can be said, without giving away the end of the story too early, is that the functioning of this growing mechanism of human self-evaluation could never take place at its current dynamics and size in the pragmatic framework of literacy. All over the world, market processes associated with previous pragmatic frameworks-barter is one of them-are relived in bazaars and shopping malls. But if anyone wants to see practical experiences of the civilization of illiteracy unfolding in their quasi-pure manner, one has only to look at the stock market and commodities exchanges and auctions conducted over the Internet. Moreover, one must try to envision those invisible, distributed, networked transactions in which it is impossible to define who initiated a transaction, continued another one, or brought a deal to an end, and based on what criteria. They, too, seem to have a life of their own.

Mediating machine also evokes the notion of machine as program. Although some stockbrokers have second thoughts about how their role is diminished through the mediation of entities that cannot speak or write, programmed trading on the various stock exchanges is a matter of course. Computational economists and market researchers, who design programs based on biological analogies, genetics, and dynamic system models, can testify to the truth of this statement.


In viewing the market in its relation to the civilization of literacy, and that of illiteracy, we must first establish a conceptual frame of reference for discussing the specific role of language as a mediating element characteristic of the market. In particular, we should examine the functions filled by literacy in allowing people to diversify markets and make them more effective. When the limits of literacy's mediating capabilities are reached, its efficiency becomes subject to doubt. This does not happen outside the market, as some scholars, educators, and politicians would have us believe, or want to happen. It is within the market that this stage is acknowledged, rendering intellectual travail itself a product negotiated in the market, as literacy itself already is.

To establish the desired conceptual frame of reference, I take the perspective of market as a sign process through which people constitute themselves. Consequently, transactions can be seen as extensions of human biology: products of our work embody the structural characteristics of our natural endowment and address needs and expectations pertinent to these characteristics. These products are extensions of our personality and our culture, as constituted in expectations and values characteristic of the human species becoming self-aware and defining goals for the future. With language, and more so with literacy, markets become interpretive affairs, projective instantiations of what we are, in the process of becoming what we must be as the human scale reaches yet another threshold. Human self-constitution through markets reflects attained levels of productive and creative power, as well as goals pertinent initially to survival, later to levels of well-being, and now to the complexity of the global scale of current and future human activity.

From barter to the trading of commodities futures and stock options, from money to the cashless society, markets constitute frameworks for higher transaction efficiency, often equated with profit. The broad arguments, such as the market as semiosis, often stumble upon specific aspects: Semiosis or not, practical experience or not, how come a rumor sends a company's stock into turmoil while an audited report goes unnoticed? The hidden structure of the processes discussed throughout this book might have more to do with explanations and predictive models than the many clarifications empowered by academic aura.

Products 'R' Us

The reality of the human being as sign-using animal (zoon semiotikon) corresponds to the fact that we project our individual reality into the reality of our existence through semiotic means. In the market, the three entities of sign processes meet: that which represents (representamen), that which is represented (object), and the process of interpretation (interpretant). These terms can be defined in the market context. The representamen is the repertory of signs that are identified in the market. These can be utility (usefulness of a certain product), rarity, quantity, type of material used to process the merchandise, imagination applied to the conception and creation of a product, and the technology used and the energy consumed in the manufacturing process, for example. People can be attracted by the most unexpected characteristics of merchandise, and can be enticed to develop addictions to color, form, brand name, odor. Sometimes the representamen is price, which is supposed to reflect the elements listed above, as well as other pricing criteria: a trend, a product's sexiness; a buyer's gullibility, ego, or lack of economic sense. The price represents the product, although not always appropriately. The object is the product itself, be it a manufactured item, an idea, an action, a process, a business, or an index. Except for the market based on exchange of object for object, every known market object is represented by some of its characteristics. That these representations might be far removed from the object only goes to show how many mediating entities participate in the market.

Nothing is a sign unless interpreted as a sign. Someone has to be able to conjure, or endow, meaning and constitute something (an idea, object, or action) as part of one's self-constitution. This is the interpretant-understood as process, because interpretations can go on ad infinitum. For example: bread is food; an academic title acknowledges that a course of study was successfully completed; computers can be used as better typewriters or for data mining. As a sign, bread can stand for everything that it embodies: our daily bread; a certain culture of nourishment; the knowledge involved in cultivating and processing grain, in making dough, building the ovens, observing the baking process. Symbolic interpretation, relating to myth or religion, is also part of the interpretation of bread as a sign. Interpretation of an academic title follows a similar path: educational background (university attended, title conferred), context (there are streets on which mostly lawyers and doctors live), function (how the title affects one's activity), and future expectations (a prospective Nobel Prize winner). Likewise with computers: Intel inside, or Netscape browser, networked or stand-alone, a Big Blue product, or one put together in the back alleys of some far Eastern country.

According to the premise that nothing is a sign unless considered as such, interpretation is equivalent to the constitution of human beings as the sign, represented through their product. A product is read as being useful; a product can be liked or disliked; a product can generate needs and expectations. Self-constituting individuals validate themselves (succeed or fail) through their activity as represented by the product of this activity, be it tangible or intangible, a concrete object, a process (mediations are included here), an idea. These readings are also part of the process of interpretation. A conglomerate of the readings mentioned above is the mug shot of the abstract consumer, behind whom are all the others who constitute their individuality through the transactions that make up the market. A used car or computer salesman, a small retailer, and a university professor identify themselves in different ways in and through the market. Each is represented by some characteristic feature of his or her work. Each is interpreted in the market as reliable, competent, or creative in view of the pragmatics of the transaction: Some people need a good used car, some a cheap, used computer, others a leather wallet, others an education or counsel. The forms of interpretation in the market are diverse and range from simple observation of the market to direct involvement in market mechanisms through products, exchange of goods, or legislation.

As a place where the three elements-what is marketed (object), language or signs of marketing (representamen), and interpretation (leading to a transaction or not)-come together, the market can be direct or mediated, real or symbolic, closed or open, free or regulated. A produce market, a supermarket, a factory outlet, and a shopping mall are examples of real market space. The market takes on mediated, conventional, and symbolic aspects in the case where, for example, the product is not displayed in its three-dimensional reality but substituted by an image, a description, or a promise. Mail-order houses, and the stock and futures markets belong here, even though they are derived from direct, real markets. Once upon a time, Wall Street was surrounded by various exchanges filled with the odors, tastes, and textures of the products brought in by ships. It is now a battery of machines and traders who read signs on order slips or computer screens but know nothing of the product that is traded.

In our day, the stock market has become a data processing center. Pressures caused by the demand for optimal market efficiency were behind this transformation. Nevertheless, the time involved in the new market semiosis is as real and necessary as the time of transactions in the market based on barter or on direct negotiations; that is, only the amount of time needed to ensure the cooperation of the three elements mentioned above, as human beings constitute themselves in the pragmatic context of the market. The pragmatic context affects market cycles and the speed at which market transactions take place. This is why a deal in a bazaar takes quite a bit of time, and digital transactions triggered by programmed trading are complete before anyone realizes their consequences. Market regulations always affect the dynamics of mediations.

The language of the market

Language signs and other signs are mediating devices between the object represented in the market and the interpretant-the human beings constituting themselves in the process of interpretation, including satisfaction of their needs and desires. No matter what type of market we refer to, it is a place and time of mediations. What defines each of the known markets (barter, farmers' markets and fairs, highly regulated markets, so-called free markets, underground markets) is the type of mediation more than the merchandise or the production process. Of significance is the dynamic structure involved. It is obvious that if anything anticipated our current experience of the market, it was the ritual.

Objects (things, money, ideas, process), the language used to express the object, and the interpretation, leading or not to a transaction, constitute the structural invariable in every type of socio-economic environment. In the so-called free market (more an abstraction than a reality) and in rigidly planned economies, the relation among the three elements is the variable, not the elements themselves. Interpretation in a given context can be influenced in the way associations are made between the merchandise and its representations.

The history of language is rich in testimony to commerce, from the very simple to the very complex forms of the latter. Language captures ownership characteristics, variations in exchange rates, the ever-expanding horizon of life facilitated through market transactions. It is within this framework that written records appear, thus justifying the idea that, together with practical experiences of human self-constitution, market processes characteristic of a limited scale of exchange of values are parents to notation, to writing and to literacy.

Expectations of efficiency are instantiated, within a given scale of human activity, in market quantities and qualities. Nobody really calculates whether rice production covers the needs of humankind at any given instance, or if enough entertainment is produced for the billions living on Earth today. The immense complexity of the market machine is reflected in its dynamics, which at a certain level of its evolution could no longer be handled by, or made subject to the rules and expectations of literacy. Market processes follow a pattern of self-organization under the guise of many parameters, some of which we can control, others that escape our direct influence upon them. Languages of extreme specialization are part of market dynamics in the sense that they offer practical contexts for new types of transactions. Netconomy started as a buzzword, joining net, network, and economy. In less than one year, the term was used to describe a distributed commercial environment where extremely efficient transactions make up an increasing part of the global economy. But the consequences of the Netconomy are also local: distribution channels can be eliminated, with the effect of accelerating commercial cycles and lowering prices. Computers, cars, software, and legal services are more frequently acquired through the virtual shops of the Netconomy.

To see how the practical experience of the market freed itself from language and literacy, let us now examine the market process as semiosis in its various aspects. As already stated, in trading products, people trade themselves. Various qualities of the product (color, smell, texture, style, design, etc.), as well as qualities of its presentation (advertising, packaging, vicinity to other products, etc.), and associated characteristics (prestige, ideology) are among the implicit components of this trade. Sometimes the object per se-a new dress, a tool, wine, a home-is less important than the image it projects. Secondary functions, such as aesthetics, pleasure, conformity, override the function of fulfilling needs. In market semiosis, desire proves to be just as important, if not more so, than need. In a large part of the world, self-constitution is no longer just a question of survival, but also one of pleasure. The higher the semiotic level of the market in a context of decadent plenty-the number of sign systems involved, their extent and variety-the more obvious the deviations from the rule of merely satisfying needs.

Human activity that aims at maintaining life is very different from the human activity that results in surplus and availability for market transaction. In the first case, a subsistence level is preserved; in the second, new levels of self-constitution are made possible. Surplus and exchange, initially made possible through the practical experience of agriculture, constituted a scale of human activity that required human constitution in signs, sign systems, and finally language. Surplus can be used in many ways, for which sign and later language differentiation became progressively necessary. Rituals, adornment, war, religion, means of accumulation, and means of persuasion are examples of differentiations. All these uses pertained to settled patterns of human interaction and led to products that were more than mere physical entities to be consumed. To repeat, they were projections of individual self-constitution.

Behind each product is a cycle of conception, manufacture, and trade, and an attached understanding of utility and permanence. With the advent of writing and reading, from its rudimentary forms to the forms celebrated in literacy, and its participation in the constitution of the market, the avenue was opened towards using what was produced in surplus to cover the need to maintain life, so that more surplus could be generated. The market of merchandise, services, slaves, and ideas was completed by the market of salaried workers, earning money for their life's salt, as Roman soldiers did. These belong to the category of human beings constituting themselves in the pragmatic framework of an activity in which production (work) and the means of production separated. The language through which workers constituted themselves underwent a similar differentiation. As work became more alienated from the product, a language of the product also came into being.

The language of products

Exchanging goods pertinent to survival corresponds to a scale of human praxis that guarantees coherence and homogeneity. People who have excess grain but need eggs, people who offer meat because they need fruit or tools, do not require instructions for using what they obtain in exchange for what they offer. Small worlds, loosely connected, constitute the universe of their existence. The rather slow rhythm of production cycles equals that of natural cycles. A relatively uniform lifestyle results from complementary practical experiences only slightly differentiated in structure. Together, these characteristics constitute a framework of direct sharing of experience. This market, as limited as it is, forms part of the social mechanism for sharing experience.

Today's markets, defined by a complexity of mediations, are no longer environments of common or shareable experience. Rather, they are frameworks of validation of one type of human experience against another. This statement requires some explanation. Products embody not only material, design, and skills, but also a language of optimal functioning. Thus they project a variety of ways through which people constitute themselves through the language of these products. Accordingly, the market becomes a place of transaction for the many languages our products speak. The complexity of everything we produce in the pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy is the result of expectations made possible by levels of human efficiency that literacy can only marginally support.

This comes at a cost, in addition to the dissolution of literacy: the loss of a sense of quality, because each product carries with itself not only its own language, but also its own evaluation criteria. The product is one of many from which to choose, each embodying its own justification. Its value is relative, and sometimes no value at all dictates the urge to buy, or the decision to look for something else. Rules of grammar, which gave us a sense of order and quality of literate language use, do not apply to products. Previous expectations of morality were anchored in language and conveyed through means of literacy. The morality of partial literacies embodied in competing products no longer appears to participants in the market as emanating from high principles of religion or ethics, but rather as a convenient justification for political influence. Through regulation, politics inserts itself as a self-serving factor in market transactions.

Transaction and literacy

A visit to a small neighborhood store used to be primarily a way of satisfying a particular need, but also an instance of communication. Such small markets were spaces where members of the community exchanged news and gossip, usually with an accuracy that would put today's journalism to shame. The supermarket is a place where the demands of space utilization, fast movement of products, and low overhead make conversation counterproductive. Mail-order markets and electronic shopping practically do away with dialogue. They operate beyond the need for literacy and human interaction. Transactions are brought to a minimum: selection, confirmation, and providing a credit card number, or having it read automatically and validated via a networked service.

Literacy-based transactions involved all the characteristics of written language and all the implications of reading pertinent to the transaction. Literacy contributed to the diversification of needs and to a better expression of desires, thus helping markets to diversify and reach a level of efficiency not possible otherwise. With required education and laws prohibiting child labor, the productive part of people's lives was somehow reduced, but their ability to be more effective within modes adapted to literacy was enhanced. Thus market cycles were optimized by the effects of higher productivity and diversified demands. From earliest times (going back to the Phoenician traders), writing and the subsequent literacy contributed to strategies of exchange, of taxation- which represents the most direct form of political intervention in the market-and regulations regarding many aspects of the constitution of human beings in and through the market. Written contracts expressed expectations in anticipation of literacy- supported planning.

There are many levels between the extraction and processing of raw material and the final sale and consumption of a product. At each level, a different language is constituted, very concrete in some instances, very abstract in others. These languages are meant to speed up processing and transaction cycles, reduce risk, maximize profits, and ensure the effectiveness of the transaction on a global level. Literacy cannot uniformly accommodate these various expectations. The distributive nature of market transactions cannot be held captive to the centralism of literacy without affecting the efficiency of market mediation. The ruin left after 70 years of central planning in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries-highly literate societies-is proof of this point. The expected speed of market processes and the parallelism of negotiations require languages of optimal functionality and minimal ambiguity. Sometimes transactions have to rely on visual arguments, well beyond what teleconferencing can offer. Products and procedures are modified during negotiations, and on-the-fly, through interactive links between all parties involved in the effort of designing, manufacturing, and marketing them. As fashion shows become prohibitively expensive, the fashion market is exploring interactive presentations that put the talent of the designer and the desire of the public one click away from each other.

The expectation of freedom results in the need to ignore national or political (and cultural and religious) allegiances, which, after all, means freedom from the literate mode of a national language, as well as from all the representations and definitions of freedom housed in literate discourse. Indeed, since sign systems, and language in particular, are not neutral means of expression, one individual has to specialize in the signs of other cultures. There are consulting firms that advise businesses on the cultural practices of various countries. They deal in what Robert Reich called symbol manipulation, semiotic activity par excellence. These firms explain to clients doing business in Japan, for instance, that the Japanese have a penchant for exchanging gifts. Business cards, more symbolic than functional, are of great importance. These consultants will also advise on customs that fall outside values instilled through literacy, such as in which countries bribery is the most efficient way to do business.

Whose market? Whose freedom?

A market captive to moral or political concepts expressed in literate discourse soon reaches the limits of its efficiency. We face these limits in a different way when ideals are proclaimed or negotiations submitted to rules reflecting values attached to expectations-of a certain standard of living, fringe benefits-frozen in contracts and laws. Many European countries are undergoing the crisis of their literate heritage because outdated working relations have been codified in labor laws. Contracts between unions claiming to represent various types of workers are not subject to criteria for efficiency at work in the market.

On the other hand, the freedom and rights written into the U.S. Constitution are totally forgotten in the global marketplace by people who take them for granted. An American-even a member of a minority group-who buys a pair of brand-name sneakers is totally ignorant of the fact that the women, and sometimes the children, making those sneakers in faraway countries earn less than subsistence wages. It is not the market that is immoral or opportunistic in such cases, but the people who constitute their expectations for the most at the lowest cost. Would literacy be a stronger force than the demand for efficiency in bringing about the justice discussed in tomes of literature? To read morality in the market context of competition, where only efficiency and profit are written, is a rather futile exercise, even though it might alleviate pangs of conscience. Markets, the expression of the people who constitute them, are realistic, even cynical; they call things by their names and have no mercy on those who try to reinvent an idealized past in the transaction of futures.

For reasons of efficiency only, markets are frameworks for the self-constitution of human beings as free, enjoying liberties and rights that add to their productive capabilities. It will probably irk many people to read here that markets, instances of terrible tension and amorality, are the cradle of human freedom, tolerance (political, social, religious, intellectual), and creativity. To a great extent, it was a fight over market processes that led to the American Revolution. Now that Soviet-style communism has fallen, the flow of both goods and ideas is slowly and painfully taking place, in ways similar to that in the West, in the former Soviet Bloc. Democratic ideals and the upward distribution of wealth are on a collision course. But the compass is at least set on more freedom and less regulation. Only mainland China remains in the grip of centralized market control. The struggle between open markets and the free flow of ideas going on there today can have only one outcome. It may take time, but China, too, will one day be as free as its neighbors in Taiwan. Market interaction is what defines human beings, facilitating the establishment of a framework of existence that includes others.

Some people would prefer a confirmation of culture as the more encompassing framework, containing markets but not reducible to them. Culture itself is an object in the market, subjected to transactions involving literacy, but not exclusively. Here new languages are used to expedite the exchange of goods and values. When literacy reaches the limits of its implicit capabilities, new transaction languages emerge, and new forms of freedom, tolerance, and creativity are sanctioned through the market mechanism. There is a price attached here, too. New constraints, new types of intolerance, and new obstacles come about. An example is the preservation of wildlife at the expense of jobs. Efficiency and wide choice entail a replacement of what are known as traditional values (perceived as eternal, but usually not older than 200-300 years) with what many would have a hard time calling value: mediocrity, the transitory, the expedient, and the propensity for waste.

The market circumvents literacy when literacy affects its efficiency and follows its own course by means appropriate to new market conditions. In the quest for understanding how markets operate, the further cultivation of explanations originating from previous pragmatic circumstances is pointless. The time-consuming detour might result in nostalgia, but not in better mastery of the complexities implicit in the practical experience of human self-constitution in the market.

New markets, new languages

With the descriptive model of markets as sign processes, allusion was made to the open character of any transaction. With the discussion regarding the many phases through which markets are constituted, allusion was made to the distributed nature of market processes. In order to further explain the changed condition of human self- constitution in the market of a radically new scale and dynamics, we need to add some details to both characteristics mentioned.

Like any other sign process, language processes are human processes. The person speaking or writing a text continues to constitute his identity in one or the other, while simultaneously anticipating the constitutive act of listening to or interpreting the potential or intended readership. Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, verbal, or written expression, as well as combinations of these, which composes the language of performance, dance, architecture, etc., are in the same condition. A viewer or viewers can associate an image with a text, music, odors, textures, or with combinations of these. Furthermore, the association can continue and can be conveyed to others who will extend it ad infinitum, sometimes so far that the initial sign (which is the initial person interpreting that sign in anticipation of the interpretation given by others), i.e., the image, text, or music that triggered the process, is forgotten.

Expanding this concept to the products of human activity, we can certainly look at various artifacts from the perspective of what they express-a need specifically fulfilled by a machine, a product, a type of food or clothing, an industry; what they communicate-the need shared by few or many, the way this need is addressed, what it says about those constituted in the product and those who will confirm their identity by using it, what it says about opportunity and risk taking; andwhat they signify-in terms of the level of knowledge and competence achieved.

This is not to say that the milk we buy from a farmer or in the supermarket, the shoes, cars, homes, vacation packages, and shares in a company or options in a stock are all signs or language. Rather, they can be interpreted as signs standing for an object (the state of manufacturing, quality of design, competence, or a combination of these) to be interpreted in view of the framework for the pragmatics of human self- constitution that the pragmatics makes possible. There are many instances when a word simply dies on the lips of the speaker because nobody listens or nobody cares to continue interpreting it. There are as many instances when a product dies because it is irrelevant to the pragmatic framework of our lives. There are other instances when signs lose the quality of interpretability.

A company that goes public is identified through many qualifiers. Its potential growth is one of them-this is why Internet-oriented companies were so highly valued in their initial public offerings. Potential can be conveyed through literate descriptions, data regarding patents, market analysis, or an intuitive element that there is more to this new market sign than only its name and initial offering price. At a small scale of human experience, the neighbors wanted to own some of the action; at a larger scale, literacy conveyed the information and acted as a co-guarantor. At today's scale, many similar businesses are already in place, others are emerging; supply and demand meet in the marketplace where one's risk can be someone else's gain. Literacy is no longer capable of providing the background for the dynamics of change and renewal. If literacy could still control market transactions, Netscape-synonymous with the Internet browser-would have never made it; nor the companies that develop software facilitating telephone calls via the Internet.

In the markets of relative homogeneity, language proved to be an appropriate means of coordination. For as long as the various contexts making up today's global market were not as radically different as they are becoming, literacy represented a good compromise. But when market transactions themselves shift from exchanging goods against goods, or the exchange of goods for some universal substitute (gold, silver, precious stones with qualities of permanency), or even for a more conventional unit (money), for more abstract entities, such as the Ecu (the basket of currencies of the European Community), the Eurodollar, or the e-money transacted over networks, literacy is replaced by the literacies of the segmented practical instances of each transaction. Shares of an Italian or Spanish company, futures on the American commodities market, bonds for Third World investment funds-they all come with their own rules of transaction, and with their own languages.

The specialization that increases market efficiency results in a growing number of literacies. These literacies bring to the market the productive potential of companies and their management value. They encode levels of expected productivity in farming (and a certain wager on weather conditions), entrepreneurial risks assumed within the context of progressive globalization of the economy. In turn, they can be encoded in programs designed to negotiate with other programs. In addition, the mechanisms assuring the distributed nature of the market in the global economy insert other literacies, in this case, the literacy of machines endowed with search and heuristic capabilities independent of literacy.

Market simulations trigger intelligent trade programs and a variety of intelligent agents, capable of modifying their behavior, and achieve higher and higher transaction performance. In short, we have many mediations against the background of a powerful integrative process: the pragmatic framework of a highly segmented economy, working in shorter production cycles, for a global world. In this process, almost nothing remains sequential, and nothing is centralized. Put in different words, almost all market activity takes place in parallel processes. Configurations, i.e., changing centers of interest, come into existence on the ever fluid map of negotiations. Being a self-organizing nucleus, each deal has its own dynamics. Relations among configurational nuclei are also dynamic. Everything is distributed. The relations between the elements involved are non-linear and change continuously. Solidarity is replaced by competition, often fiercely adversarial. Thus the market consumes itself, and the sequels of literacy, requiring provisional and distributed literacies.

Each time individuals project their identity in a product, the multi-dimensional human experience embodied in the product is made available for exchange with others. In the market, it is reduced to the dimension appropriate to the given context of the transaction. Human behavior in the market is symptomatic of the self-awareness of the species, of its critical and self-critical capabilities, of its sense of the future. The progressive increase of the abstract nature of market transactions, the ominous liberation from literacy, and adoption of technologies of efficient exchange define a sense of future which can be quite scary for people raised in a different pragmatic context.

We are beyond the disjunctive models of socialist ideologies of bourgeois property, class differences, reproduction of labor power, and similar categories that emerged in the pragmatic framework that made literacy (and human constitution through literacy) possible and necessary. Property, as much as markets, is distributed (sometimes in ways that do not conform with our sense of fairness). People define their place in the continuum of a society that in many ways does away with the exceptional and introduces a model based on averaging and resulting in mediocrity. The human being's self-constitutive power is not only reproduced in new instances of practical activity, but also augmented in the pragmatics of surplus creating higher surplus. Along with the sense of permanency, humans lose a sense of the exceptional as this applies to their products and the way they constitute themselves through their work.

Literacy and the transient

When a product is offered with a lifetime warranty and the manufacturer goes bankrupt within months from the date of the sales transaction, questions pertaining to ethics, misrepresentation, and advertisement are usually asked. Such incidents, to which no one is immune, cannot be discarded since the experience of market transactions is an experience in human values, no matter how relative these are. Honesty, respect for truth, respect for the given word, written or not, belong to the civilization of literacy and are expressed in its books. The civilization of illiteracy renders these and all other books senseless. But it would be wrong to suggest that markets of the civilization of illiteracy corrupt everything and that, instead of confirming values, they actually empty values of significance. Markets do something else: They integrate expectations into their own mechanisms. In short, they have to live up to expectations not because these were written down, but because markets would otherwise not succeed. How this takes place is a longer story, starting with the example given: What happens to a lifetime warranty when the manufacturer goes bankrupt?

The pragmatic framework of human self-constitution in language through the use of the powerful means of literacy is one of stability and progressive growth. The means of production facilitated in this framework are endowed with qualities, physical, first of all, that guarantee permanency. The industrial model is an extension of the model of creation deeply rooted in literacy-dominated human activity. Machines were powerful and dominating. They, as well as the products they turned out, lasted much longer than the generation of people who use them.

After participating in the complex circumstances that made the Industrial Revolution possible, literacy was stimulated and supported by it. Incandescent lighting, more powerful than the gas or oil lamp, expanded the time available for reading, among other activities. Books were printed faster and more cheaply because paper was produced faster and more cheaply, and the printing press was driven by stronger engines. More time was available for study because industrial society discovered that a qualified workforce was more productive once machines become more complicated. All this happened against the background of an obsession with permanency reflected also in the structure of the markets. As opposed to agricultural products, subject to weather and time, industrial products can be accepted on consignment.

Literacy was a mediating tool here since transactions became less and less homogeneous, and the institution of credit more powerful due to the disparity between production and consumption cycles. The scale of the industrial market corresponded to the scale of industrial economy. Industrial markets are optimally served by the sequential nature of literacy and the linearity inherent in its structure. Production cycles are long, and one cycle follows the other, like seasons, like letters in a word. Remember when new model automobiles came out in October, and only in October? A large manufacturer embodied permanence and so did its product. In this framework, a lifetime warranty reflects a product's promised performance and the language describing this performance.

This is no longer the case in the civilization of illiteracy. From the design of the product, to the materials used and principles applied, almost nothing is meant to last beyond a cycle of optimal efficiency. It is not a moral decision, neither is it a devious plan. Different expectations are embodied in our products. Their life cycle reflects the dynamics of change corresponding to the new scale of human self-constitution, and the obsession with efficiency. Products become transient because the cycles of relative uniformity of our self-constitution are shorter.

We know that life expectancy has increased, and it may well be that people past the peak of their productive capability will soon represent the majority of the population. Nonetheless, the increased level of productivity facilitated by mediating strategies is independent of this change. Longer life means presence in more cycles of change (which translates into other changes, such as in education and training, family life). What was once a relatively homogeneous life becomes a succession of shorter periods, some only loosely connected. In comparison to centuries of slow, incremental development, relatively abrupt change testifies to a new human condition.

Where once literacy was necessary to coordinate the variety of contributions from many people-who projected as much permanency in their products, even if the individuals were more literate in drawing than in writing-new forms of coordination and integration are now in place. The corresponding pragmatics is characterized by intension and distribution, and the products capture the projected sense of change that dominates all human experiences. Thus conditions were created for markets of the transient, in which lifetime functioning of ingenious artifacts is promised, because the lifetime meant is as short as the cycle of the entire line. The fact that the manufacturer goes bankrupt is not even surprising since the structural characteristics of the obsession with efficiency results in manufacturing entities that last as long (or as short) as the need for their product, or as long as the functional characteristics of the product satisfy market expectations. This is how expectations are integrated in market mechanisms. Since mediation is now exercised through many literacies integrated in the product, it is clear why, together with the exhausted lifetime warranty, we throw away not only manufactured items, but also the literacy (and literacies) embodied in them. Each transaction in the transient corresponds to a pragmatics that transforms the Faustian promise into an advertising slogan.

Market, advertisement, literacy

First, the indictment: "If I were asked to name the deadliest subversive force within capitalism-the single greatest source of its waning morality-I should without hesitation name advertising." These words belong to a commentator of the ill-reputed supply side economics, Robert L. Heilbroner, but could have been signed by many sharing in this definition. Now comes the apologia: "The historians and archaeologists will one day discover that ads of our times are the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities." McLuhan's words, as familiar as they are, bear the imprint of his original thinking. The issue is not to take sides. Whether admired or despised, ignored or enjoyed, advertisement occupies an inordinately important place in our life today. For anyone who went through the history of advertisement, it becomes obvious that the scale of this activity, which is indeed part of the market, has changed radically.

It used to be true that only 50 to 60 percent of the investment in advertisement resulted in higher sales or brand recognition. Today, the 50 to 60 percent has shrunk to less than 2 percent. But of the 2 percent that impacts the market, 2 percent (or less) results in covering the entire expense of advertisement. Such levels of efficiency-and waste, one should add, in full awareness that the notion is relative-are possible only in the civilization of illiteracy. The figures (subject to controversy and multiple interpretation) point to efficiency as much as to the various aspects of the market. Our concern with advertisement is not only with how literate (or illiterate) advertisement is, but also with how appropriate literacy means can be to address psychological, ethical, and rational (or irrational) aspects of market transactions.

A look at advertisements through the centuries is significant to the role of literacy in society and in the world of merchandising. Word-of-mouth advertising and hanging signs outside a business reflect the literacy levels of an age of small-scale market transactions. The advertisements of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century exemplify the levels of literacy and the efficiency expected from it for merchandising in the context and scale of that time. The ads contain more text than image and address reason more than the senses. In the age of the magazine and newspaper, advertisers relied on the power of verbal persuasion. Honesty or value was not the issue here, only its appearance. The word committed to paper, black on white, had to be simple and true.

In Europe, advertisement took a different style at this time, but still reflected value. Manufacturers engaged many well known artists of the time to design their ads. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, El Lissitzky, and Herbert Bayer are among the best known. To the highly literate but more artistically inclined Europeans of the time, such ads for upscale products and events were more appealing. Probably taking their cue from Europe, American designers experimented with image advertising after World War II, and graphic design took off in the USA. With the advent of more powerful visualization media, and based on data from psychology to support its effectiveness, the image began to dominate advertising. As ambiguously as an image can be interpreted, its efficiency in advertising was confirmed in rising sales figures.

In the rare cases when literacy is used today, it is usually for its visual impact. In an attempt to relate to the qualities of the black-on-white advertisement of earlier times, Mobil started a series of ads in the mid-1980's. To those not semiotically aware, the ad was simply text appealing to the reader's reason. Literacy rediviva! To people attuned to semiotics, the ad was a powerful visual device. The simple tombstone style evoked relations between literacy and values such as simplicity, honesty, the permanence of the idea, the dominance of reason. The visual convention was actually stronger than the literacy element, used as an alibi in these ads. Indeed, the people who hand out the Clio awards for advertising were so taken in as to award Mobil a first prize for these ads.

Markets are far from being simple causal phenomena. A market's easy switch from a well structured, rational interpretation and ethical conduit, to irrationality and misrepresentation is revealed in the new forms markets take, as well as in their new techniques for transactions and the associated advertisement. The term irrationality describes a contradiction of common sense rules (or economic theories setting them forth) of exchange of goods. During the 1980's, this occurred in the oil market, the art market, the market for adoptable children, and in new stock market offerings.

The literate discourse of theories or of an advertisement can only acknowledge the irrationality and suggest explanations. There are schools of market analysis based on game theory, psychodrama, cyclical modeling, the phases of the moon, etc., etc., each producing newsletters, giving advice, trying to render understandable economic and financial phenomena difficult to predict. Language-like explanations and advice are part of advertising, part of market language, forming its own literacy and keeping many captive to it. But even the most literate participant cannot stop the process since the literacy involved in what some perceive as an aberration is different from the literacy embodied in the product traded or in its advertisement. Irrational elements are present in the market, as in life, at all times, but not to the extent to which the language of the market reflects hysteria (as on Black Monday in 1987 on the New York Stock Exchange) or simply ceases its pragmatic function.

We all deplore the continuous shrinking of the intimate sphere of our lives, but admit, in the act of constituting ourselves in the space and time of market transactions, the integrating power that the market exercises, ignoring how close the relation between the two aspects is. Literacy was once a protective medium and entailed rules of discretion and decency. Illiteracy makes us fear; it allows us to become more efficient, but at the same time we become subject to intrusion by all the means that capture our identity. People making purchases on-line will not hesitate to write down their personal data and credit card numbers, trusting in a sense of privacy that is part of the code of literate behavior. Of all people, the computer-literate should realize the power of the Net for searching, retrieving, and sorting such information for all types of uses imaginable.

In the civilization of illiteracy, advertisement is no longer an integrative device that addresses a non-differentiated market but a device that addresses powerful distinctions that can capture smaller groups, even the individual. "Tell me what you want to buy or sell and I'll tell you who you are," is a concise way of declaring how market semiosis X-rays its participants. The enormous marketing efforts associated with a new brand of cereal, software, a political campaign, a role in a movie, or a sports event result in advertisement's becoming a language in itself, with its own vocabulary and grammar. These are subject to rapid change because the pragmatics of the activities they represent change so fast. "Tell me what you buy and I'll tell you who you are"-mug shots of all of us are taken continuously, by extremely inventive digital devices, while the market fine-tunes us. Buying products ended long ago. Products now buy us.

Advertising in the civilization of illiteracy is no longer communication or illustration. It is an information processing activity, bizarre at times, extremely innovative in the ability to cross reference information and fine-tune the message to the individual. Automatic analysis of data is complemented by refinement methods that adjust the weight of words in order to fit the addressee. In the reality of the market and its attendant advertising, languages pertaining to art, education, ideology, sexuality, are integrated at a high level of sophistication in the infinite series of mediations that constitute the pragmatic framework of human existence. Nothing is more valuable than the knowledge of who we are. One can risk stating that brokers of information about each of us will probably fare best in this market of many competing partial literacies.

When markets rely more and more on mediations, and market cycles become faster and faster, when the global nature of transactions requires mechanisms of differentiation and integration far beyond the scope of language, literacy ceases to play a dominating role. The literate message assumed that the human being is the optimal source of information and the ideal receiver. The illiterate message can send itself automatically, as image or as speech, as video or as Internet spamming, whatever best hits its human target, to people's addresses. Whether we like it or not, face-to-face negotiations have already become fax-to-fax and are bound to be converted into program-to-program dealings. The implications are so far-reaching that emotional reactions, such as enthusiasm or disgust, are not really the best answer to this prospect.

Market pragmatics in our civilization is defined by the need to continuously expand surplus to meet a dominant desire and expectation driven exchange of goods and services. These desires and expectations correspond to the global scale of human interaction for which a dominant literacy is poorly suited. Hundreds of literacies, representing hundreds of forms of human self-constitution around the world, are integrated in the supersign known as the market.

The market-in its narrow sense as transaction, and as a sign process joining structure and dynamics-focuses all that pertains to the relation between the individual and the social environment: language, customs, mores, knowledge, technology, images, sounds, odors, etc. Through the market, economies are ascertained or subjected to painful restructuring. Recent years brought with them turmoil and economic opportunity as an expression of new pragmatic characteristics. Competition, specialization, cooperation, were all intensified. An exciting but just as often disconcerting growth path of economic activity generated markets of high performance. Just-in-time, point-of-sale, and electronic interchanges came into being because the human pragmatic made them necessary.

This is why it is difficult to accept views, regardless of their public acclaim, that explain the dynamics of economic life through technological change. The increased speeds of economic cycles are not parallel but related to the new practical experiences of human self-constitution. Cognitive resources became the main commodity for economic experiences. And the market fully confirms this through mechanisms for accelerated transactions and through sign processes of a complexity that technology has really never reached. New algorithms inspired by dynamic systems, intelligent agent models, and better ways to handle the issues of opportunity and prediction are the expression of cognitive resources brought to fruition in a context requiring freedom from hierarchy, centralism, sequentiality, and determinism. As exciting as the model of the economy as ecosystem is (I refer to Rothschild's bionomics), it remains an essentially deterministic view.

No semiosis triggers forces of economic change. But sign processes, in the form of elaborate transactions, reflect the change in the pragmatic condition of the human being. All those new companies, from fast food chains to microchip makers and robot providers that convert human knowledge into the new goods and services, are the expression of the necessity of this pragmatic change. Diversity and abundance might be related to competition and cooperation, but what drives economic life, market included, is the objective need to achieve levels of efficiency corresponding to the global scale human activity has reached. Central planning, like any other centralized structure, including that of businesses, does not come to an end because of technological progress, but in view of the fact that it prevents efficient practical experiences.

Markets of the civilization of illiteracy, like the economy for which they stand, are more and more mediated. They go through faster cycles, their swings wilder, their interdependency deeper than ever. The literate experience of the market assumed that the individual was the optimal source of information and the ideal receiver. Decision- making was an exclusively human experience. The illiterate message of complex data processing and evaluation can send itself automatically and reach whatever has to be reached in a given context: producers of raw materials, energy providers, manufacturers, a point-of-sale unit. As shoppers start scanning their purchases by themselves, information regarding their buying patterns makes it quickly into programs in charge of delivery, production, and marketing. Face-to-face negotiations, many times replaced by fax-to-fax or e-mail-to-e-mail transactions, are converted into more program-to-program dealings. Instead of mass markets, we experience point-cast markets. Their pragmatics is defined by the need to continuously meet desire and expectation instead of need. Their dynamics, expressed in nuclei of self-organization, is in the last instance not at all different from that of the human beings self-constituted in their reality.

Language and Work

Work is a means of self-preservation beyond the primitive experience of survival. Actually, one can apply the word work only from the moment awareness of human self- constitution in practical experiences emerged from these experiences. Awareness of work and the beginnings of language are probably very close to one another.

By work we understand patterns of human activity, not the particulars of one or another form of work. This defines a functional perspective first of all, and allows us to deal with replication of these patterns. Interaction, mutation, growth, spreading, and ending are part of the pattern. For anyone even marginally informed, it is quite clear that work patterns of agriculture are quite different from those of the pre-industrial, industrial, or post-industrial age. Our aim is to examine work patterns of the civilization of literacy in contrast to those of the civilization of illiteracy.

That agriculture was determined, in its specific aspects, by different topography and climatic biological context is quite clear. Nevertheless, the people constituting their identity in experiences of cultivating the land accomplished it in coherent ways, regardless of their geographic location. Their language experience testifies to an identifiable set of concerns, questions, and knowledge which is, despite the fragmented picture of the world, more homogenous than we could expect. If, by contrast, one considers a chip foundry of today's high technology, it becomes clear how chip producers in Silicon Valley and those in Chinese provinces, in Russia, or in a developing country of Eastern Europe, Asia, or Africa share the same language and the same concerns.

The example of agriculture presents a bottom-up structure of pre-literate nature, based mainly on reaction. Reaction slowly but surely led to more deliberate choices. Experience converged in repetitive patterns. The more efficient experiences were confirmed, the others discarded. A body of knowledge was accumulated and transmitted to everyone partaking in survival activities. In the case of the chip foundry, the structure is top-down: Goals and reasons are built in, and so is the critical knowledge of a post-literate nature required for achieving high efficiency. Skills are continuously perfected through reinforcement schemes. Activity is programmed. An explicit notion of the factory's goals-high quality, high efficiency, high adaptability to new requirements-is built into the entire factory system.

In both models, corresponding to real-life situations, language is constituted as part of the experience. Indeed, coordination of effort, communication, record keeping, and transmission of knowledge are continuously requested. As a replicative process, work implies the presence of language as an agent of transfer. Language pertinent to the experience of agriculture is quite different from the language pertinent to the modern production of chips. One is more natural than the other, i.e., its connection to the human being's natural stage is stronger than that of the activity in the foundry. In the chip age of the civilization of illiteracy, languages of extreme precision become the means for an efficient practical experience. Their functions are different from those of natural language, which by all means still constitutes a medium for human interaction.

All these remarks are meant to provide a relatively comfortable entry to the aspects of the changing relation between language and work. The terminology is based on today's fashionable lingo of genetics, and of memetics, its counterpart. Still, I would suggest more than caution, because memetics focuses on the quantitative analysis of cultural dynamics, while semiotics, which represents the underlying conception, is concerned primarily with qualitative aspects.

As we have already seen, evolutionary biology became a source of metaphors for the new sciences of economics, as well as for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, or the replication of ideas. Many people are at work in the new scientific space of memetic considerations. The majority are focused on effective procedures, probably computational in nature, for generating mechanisms that will result in improved human interactions. As exciting as all this is, qualitative considerations might prove no less beneficial, if indeed we could translate them in effective practical experiences. If the purposeful character of all living organisms can be seen as an inevitable consequence of evolution, the dynamics of human activity, reflected in successive pragmatic frameworks, goes beyond the mechanism of natural selection. This is exactly where the sign perspective of human interaction, including that in work, differentiates itself from the quantitative viewpoint. As long as selection itself is a practical experience-choose from among possibilities-it becomes difficult to use selection in order to explain how it takes place.

In the tradition of analogies to machines-of yesterday or of today-we could look at work as a machine capable of self-reproduction (von Neumann's concept). In the new tradition of memetics, work would be described as a replicative complex unit, probably a meta-meme. But both analogies are focused ultimately on information exchange, which is only a limited part of what sign processes (or semioses, as they are called) are. This is not to say that work is reducible to sign processes or to language. What is of interest is the connection between work and signs, or language. Moreover, how pragmatic frameworks and characteristics of language experiences are interconditioned is a subject that involves a memetic perspective, but is not reducible to it.

Inside and outside the world

Comparisons of the efficiency of direct human practical experiences to that of mediated forms-with the aid of tools, signs, or languages-suggest one preliminary observation: The efficiency of the action mediated through sign systems is higher than that of direct action. The source of this increase in efficiency is the cognitive effort to adapt the proper means (how work is done) to the end (what is accomplished) pursued. In retrospect, we understand that this task is of a tall order-it involves observation, comparison, and the ability to conceive of alternatives. As we learn from attempts involving the best of science and the best of technology, the emulation of such cognitive processes, especially as they evolve over time, is not yet within our reach.

Language, together with all other sign systems, is an integral part of the process of constitution and affirmation of human nature. The role it plays in the process is dynamic. It corresponds to the different pragmatic contexts in which human beings project their structural reality into the reality of their universe of life. The biophysical system within which this projection took and takes place underwent and still undergoes major changes. They are reflected in the biophysical reality of the human being itself. To be part of a changing world and to observe this change places the human being simultaneously inside and outside the world: inside as part of it, as a genetic sequence; outside as its conscience, expressed in all the forms through which awareness, including that of work, is externalized.

Whether a very restricted (limited by the pragmatic horizon of primitive human beings), or a potentially universal system of expression, representation, and communication, language cannot be conceived independent of human nature. Neither can it be conceived independent of other means of expression, representation, and communication. The necessity of language is reflected in the degree to which evolutionary determination and self-determination of the individual or of society, correlate. Language is constituted in human practical experiences. At the same time, it is constitutive, together with many other elements of human praxis: biological endowment, heuristics and logic, dialectic, training. This applies to the most primitive elements of language we can conceive of, as well as to today's productive languages. Embodied in literacy, language accounts for the ever-deepening specialization and fragmentation of human praxis. The replacement of the literate use of language by the illiteracy of the many languages dismissing it in work, market transactions, and even social life is the process to which we are at the same time witnesses and agents of change.

Sign systems of all kinds, but primarily language, housed and stored many of the projects that changed the condition of praxis. The major changes are: from direct to mediated, from sequential to parallel, from centralized to decentralized, from clustered (in productive units such as factories) to distributed, from dualistic (right or wrong) to multi-valued (along the continuum of acceptable engineering solutions), from deterministic to non-deterministic and chaotic, from closed (once a product is produced, the problem-solving cycle is completed) to open (human practical experiences are viewed as problem generating), from linear to non-linear. Each of these changes, in turn, made the structural limits of language more and more evident. Practical experiences in the design of languages, in particular the new languages of visualization, are pushing these limits in order to accommodate new expectations, such as increased expressiveness, higher processing speed, inter-operability-an image can trigger further operations.

Globality of human practical experience succeeds against the background of the emergence of many languages that are very specific, though global in scope in that they can be applied all over the world. The chip factory already mentioned-or, for that matter, an integrated pizza or hamburger production facility-can be delivered turn-key in any corner of the world. The languages of mathematics, of engineering, or of genetics might independently be characterized by the same sequentiality, dualism, centralism, determinism that made natural language itself incapable of handling complexities resulting from the new scale of human activity. Once integrated in practical experiences of a different nature, such as those of automation, they all allow for a new dynamics. Obviously, they are less expressive than language-we have yet to read a DNA sequence poem, or listen to the music of a mathematical formula-but infinitely more precise.

We are what we do

In the contemporary world, communication is progressively reified and takes place more and more through the intermediary of the product. Its source is human work. Characteristics of the languages involved in the work are also projected into them. A new underlying structure replaces that which made literacy possible and necessary. In the physical or spiritual reality of the product, specialized languages are re-translated into the universal language of satisfying needs, or creating new needs, which are afterwards processed through the mediating mechanisms of the market. Reification (from the Latin res: transformation of everything-life, language, feeling, work-into things) is the result of the alienating logic of the market and its semiosis.

Markets abstract individual contributions to a product. In the first place, language itself is reified and consumed. Markets reify this contribution, turning life, energy, doubts, time, or whatever else-in particular language-into the commodity embodied in the product. The very high degree of integration leads to conditions in which high efficiency-the most possible at the lowest price-becomes a criterion for survival. The consequence is that human individuality is absorbed in the product. People literally put their lives, and everything pertaining to them-natural history, education, family, feelings, culture, desires-in the outcome of their practical experiences. This absorption of the human being into the product takes place at different levels. In the second place, the individual constituted in work is also reified and consumed: the product contains a portion of the limited duration of the lives of those who processed it.

Each form of mediated work depends upon its mediating entities. As one form of work is replaced by another, more efficient, the language that mediated is replaced by other means. Languages of coordination corresponding to hunting, or those of incipient agriculture, made way for subsequent practical experience of self-constitution in language. This applies to any and all forms of work, whether resulting in agricultural, industrial, artistic, or ideological products. The metaphors of genetics and evolutionary models can be applied. We can describe the evolution of work in memetic terminology, but we would still not capture the active role of sign processes. Moreover, human reproduction, between its sexual and its cultural forms, would become meaningless if separated from the pragmatic framework through which human self-constitution takes place.

To illustrate how language is consumed, let us shortly examine what happens in the work we call education. In our day, the need for continual training increases dramatically. The paradigm of a once-for-life education is over, as much as literacy is over. Shorter production cycles require changes of tools and the pertinent training. A career for life, possible while the linear progress of technology required only maintenance of skills and slight changes of knowledge, is an ideal of the past. Efficiency requirements translate into training strategies that are less costly and less permanent than those afforded through literacy. These strategies produce educated operators as training itself becomes a product, offered by training companies whose list of clients includes fast food chains, nuclear energy producers, frozen storage facilities, the U.S. Congress, and computer operations. The market is the place where products are transacted and where the language of advertising, design, and public relations is consumed. Training, too, focused more and more on non-literate means of communication, is consumed.

Literacy and the machine

Man built machines which imitated the human arm and its functions, and thus changed the nature of work. The skills needed to master such machines were quite different from the skills of craftsmen, no longer transmitted from generation to generation, and less permanent. The Industrial Revolution made possible levels of efficiency high enough to allow for the maintenance of both machines and workers. It also made possible the improvement of machines and required better qualified operators, who were educated to extract the maximum from the means of production entrusted to them.

At present, due to the integrative mechanisms that humans have developed in the processes of labor division, natural language has lost, and keeps losing, importance in the population's practical experience. The lower quality of writing, reading, and verbal expression, as they apply to self-constitution through work and social life, is symptomatic of a new underlying structure for the pragmatic framework. Literacy-based means of expression and communication are substituted, not just complemented, by other forms of expression and communication. Or they are reduced to a stereotyped repertory that is easy to mechanize, to automate, and finally, to do away with. Overseeing an automated assembly line, serving a sophisticated machine, participating in a very segmented activity without having a real overview of it, and many similar functions ultimately means to be part of a situation in which the subject's competence is progressively reduced to fit the task. Before being rationalized away, it is stereotyped. The language involved, in addition to that of engineering, is continuously compressed, trimmed according to the reduced amount of communication possible or necessary, and according to situations that change continuously and very fast.

Today, a manual for the maintenance and repair of a highly sophisticated machine or weapon contains fewer words than images. The words still used can be recorded and associated with the image. Or the whole manual can become a videotape, laser disk, or CD-ROM, even network-distributed applications, to be called upon when necessary. The machine can contain its computerized manual, displaying pages (on the screen) appropriate to the maintenance task performed, generating synthesized speech for short utterances, and for canned dialogues. Here are some oddly related facts: The Treasury designs dollar bills that will tell the user their denomination; cars are already equipped with machines to tell us that we forgot to lock the door or fasten our seat belt; greeting cards contain voice messages (and in the future they will probably contain animated images). We can see in such gadgets a victory of the most superficial tastes people might have. But once the gratuitous moment is over, and first reactions fade away, we face a pragmatic situation which, whether synthesized messages are used or not, reflects an underlying structure better adapted to the complexities of the new scale of humankind.

The holographic dollar bill that declines its name might even become useless when transactions become entirely electronic. The voice of our cars might end up in a museum once the generalized network for guiding our automobiles is in place, and all we have to do is to punch in a destination and some route expectations ("I want to take the scenic route"). Moreover, the supertech car itself might join its precursors in the museum once work becomes so distributed that the energy orgy, so evident on the rush-hour clogged highways, is replaced by more rational strategies of work and life. Telecommuting is a timid beginning and a pale image of what such strategies might be. The speaking greeting card might be replaced by a program that remembers whose birthday it is and, after searching the mugshot of the addressee (likes rap, wears artificial flowers, is divorced, lives in Bexley, Ohio), custom designs an original message delivered with the individualized electronic newspaper when the coffee is ready. A modest company manufacturing screensavers, using today's still primitive applications in the networked world, could already do this.

Anticipation aside, we notice that work involves means of production that are more and more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the market of human work is at a relatively low level of literacy because human being do not need to be literate for most types of work. One reason for this is that the new machines incorporate the knowledge needed to fulfill their tasks. The machines have become more efficient than humans. The university system that is supposed to turn out literate graduates for the world of work obeys the same expectations of high efficiency as any other human practical experience. Universities become more and more training facilities for specific vocations, instead of carrying on their original goal of giving individuals a universal education in the domain of ideas.

The statement concerning the literacy level does not reflect the longing of humanists but the actual situation in the manpower market. What we encounter is the structurally determined fact that natural language is no longer, at least in its literate form, the main means of recording collective experience, nor the universal means of education. For instance, in all its aspects-work, market, education, social life-the practical experience of human self-constitution relies less on literacy and more on images. Since the role of images is frequently mentioned (formulated differently, perhaps), the reader might suspect this is only a way of speaking. The actual situation is quite different. Pictographic messages are used whenever a certain norm or rule has to be observed. This is not a question of transcending various national languages (as in airports or Olympic stadiums, or with traffic signals, or in transactions pertinent to international trade), but a way of living and functioning. The visual dominates communication today.

Words and sentences, affected by long-time use in various social, geographical, and historical contexts, became too ambiguous and require too much educational overhead for successful communication. Communication based on literacy requires an investment higher than the one needed for producing, perceiving, and observing images. Through images a positivist attitude is embodied, and a sense of relativity is introduced. Avoiding sequential reading, time and money consuming instruction, and the rigidity of the rules of literacy, the use of images reflects the drive for efficiency as this results from the new scale of human survival and future well-being. The change from literacy-oriented to visually-oriented culture is not the result of media development, as romantic media ecologists would like us to believe. Actually, the opposite is true. It is the result of fundamental ways of working and exchanging goods, within the new pragmatic framework that determined the need for these media in the first place, and afterwards made possible their production, dissemination, and their continuous diversification.

The change under discussion here is very complex. Direct demands of mediated praxis and the new, highly mediative means of mass communication (television, computers, telecommunication, networks), acting as instruments of integrating the individual in the mechanism of a global economy, are brought to expression in this mutation. Transition from language to languages, and from direct to indirect, multimediated communication is not reducible to abandoning logocentrism (a structural characteristic of cultures based on literacy) and the logic attached to it. We participate in the process of establishing many centers of importance that replace the word, and compete with language as we know it. These can be found in subculture, but also within the entrenched culture. One example is the proliferation of electronic cafés, where clients sipping their coffee on the West Coast can carry on a dialogue with a friend in Barcelona; or contact a Japanese journalist flying in one of the Soviet space missions; or receive images from an art exhibit opening in Bogota; or play chess with one of the miracle sisters from Budapest. These experiences take place in what is known generically as cyberspace.

The disposable human being

While it is true that just as many different curves can be drawn through a finite number of points, consistent observations can be subsumed under various explanations. Observations regarding the role and status of literacy might result in explanations that put radically different glosses on their results, but they cannot escape confirming the sense of change defined here. This change ultimately concerns the identity humans acquire in illiterate experiences of self-constitution.

Progressively abandoning reading and writing and replacing them with other forms of communication and reception, humans participate in another structural change: from centralization to decentralization; from a centripetal model of existence and activity, with the traditional system of values as an attraction point (religious, aesthetic, moral, political values, among others) to a centrifugal model; and from a monolithic to a pluralistic model. Paradoxically, the loss of the center also means that human beings lose their central role and referential value. This results in a dramatic situation: When human creativity compensates for the limited nature of resources (minerals, energy, food supply, water, etc.), either by producing substitutes or by stimulating efficient forms of their use, the human itself becomes a disposable commodity, more so the more limited its practical self-constitution is.

Within the pragmatics characteristic of the underlying literacy, machines were changed less often; but even when changed, the human operator did not have to be replaced. A basic set of skills sufficed for lifelong activity. Engineering was concerned with artifacts as long lasting as life. The pragmatic framework of illiteracy, as one of rapid change and progressively shorter cycles, made the human more easily replaceable. At the new scale of human activity, the very large and growing commodity of human beings decreases in value: in its market value, and in its spiritual and real value. The sanctity of life gives way to the intricate technology of life maintenance, to the mechanics of existence and the body-building shops. In the stock market of spare parts, a kidney or a heart, mechanical or natural, is listed almost the same way as pork bellies and cement, van Gogh's paintings, CD players, and nuclear headscrews. They are quoted and transacted as commodities. And they support highly specialized work, compensated at the level of professional football or basketball.

Projected into and among products of short-lived destiny, the human beings working to make them project a morality of the disposable that affects their own condition and, finally, the dissolution of their values. As a result of high levels of work efficiency, there are enough resources to feed and house humankind, but not enough to support practical experiences that redeem the integrity of the individual and the dignity of human existence. Within a literate discourse, with an embedded ideology of permanency, the morality of the disposable makes for good headlines; but since it does not affect the structural conditions conducive to this morality, it soon gets lost in the many other literate commentaries, including those decrying the decline of literacy.

The broader picture to which these reflections belong includes, of course, the themes of disposable language. If basic skills, as defined by Harvard professor and Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor Lester Thurow, and many educators and policy-makers, become less and less meaningful in the fast-changing world of work, it is easy to understand why little weight can be attached to one or another individual. Under the guise of basic skills, young and less than young workers receive an education in reading and writing that has nothing to do with the emergent practical experiences of ever shorter cycles. Companies in search of cheap labor have discovered the USA, or at least some parts of it, and achieve here efficiencies that at home, under labor laws originating from a literate pragmatics, are not attainable. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, and many Japanese companies train their labor force in South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, and other states. The usefulness of the people these companies train is almost equal to that of the machine, unless the workers are replaced by automation.

The technological cycle and the human cycle are so closely interwoven that one can predicate the hybrid nature of technology today: machines with a live component. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to notice how progressively machines no longer serve us, but how we serve them. Entirely equipped to produce high quality desktop publishing, to process data for financial transactions, to visualize scientific phenomena, such machines require that we feed the data and run the program so that a meaningful output results. In the case in which the machine might not know the difference between good and bad typography, for example, the human operator supplies the required knowledge, based on intangible factors such as style or taste.

Scale of work, scale of language

Within each framework, be that of agriculture, pre-industrial, industrial, or post- industrial practical experiences, continuity of means and methods and of semiotic processes can be easily established. What should most draw our attention are discontinuities. We are going through such a discontinuity, and the opposition between the civilization of literacy and the civilization of illiteracy is suggestive of this. Evidently, within the new practical experiences through which our own identity is constituted, this is reflected in fast dynamics of economic change. Some industries disappear overnight. Many innovative ideas become work almost as quickly, but this work has a different condition. Discontinuity goes beyond analogy and statistical inferences. It marks the qualitative change which we see embodied in the new relations between work and language.

One of the major hypotheses of this book is that discontinuities, also described in dynamic systems theory as phase shifts, occur as scale changes. Threshold values mark the emergence of new sign processes. As we have seen, practical experiences through which humans continuously ascertain their reality are affected by the scale at which they take place. Immediate tasks, such as those characteristic of direct forms of work, do not require a division into smaller tasks, a decomposition into smaller actions. The more complex the task, the more obvious the need to divide it. But it is not until the scale characteristic of our age is reached that decomposition becomes as critical as it now is. In industrial society, and in every civilization prior to it, the relation between the whole (task, goal, plan) and the parts (subtasks, partial goals, successive plans) is within the range of the human's ability to handle it. Labor division is a powerful mechanism for a divide and conquer strategy applied to tasks of growing complexity. The generation of choices, and the ability to compensate for the limited nature of resources as these affect the equation of population growth, integrate this rule of decomposition.

Literacy, itself a practical experience of not negligible complexity, helps as long as the depth of the division into smaller parts, and the breadth of the integrative travail do not go beyond litercy's own complexity. When this happens, it is obvious that even if means belonging to literacy were effective in managing very deep hierarchies in order to allow for re-integration of the parts in the desired whole, the management of such means would itself go beyond the complexity we are able to cope with. Indeed, although very powerful in many respects, when faced with many pragmatic levels independent of language, literacy (through which language attains its optimal operational power) appears flat. Actually, not only literacy appears flat, but even the much glorified human intelligence.

Distinctions that result from deeper segmentation of work, brought about by the requirements of a scale of population and demand of an order of magnitude exponentially higher than any experience an individual can have, can no longer be grasped by single minds. Since the condition of the mind depends on interaction with other minds within practical experiences of self-constitution, it results that means of interaction different from those appropriate to sequentiality, linearity, and dualism are necessary. This new stage is not a continuation of a previous stage. It is even less a result of an incremental progression. The wheel, once upon a time a rounded stone, along with a host of wheel-based means of practical experiences, opened a perspective of progression. So did the lever, and probably alphabetic writing, and the number system. This is why the old and new could be linked through comparisons, metaphors, and analogies in a given scale of humankind. But this is also why, when the scale changes, we have to deal with discontinuity and avoid misleading translations in the language of the past.

A car was still, in some ways, the result of incremental progression from the horse-drawn carriage. An airplane, and later a rocket, are less along a line of gradual change, but still conceptually close to our own practical experience with flying birds, or with the physics of action and reaction. Nevertheless, a nuclear reactor is well beyond such experiences. The conceptual hierarchy it embodies takes it out of the realm of any previous pragmatic experience. The effort here is to tame the process, to keep it within a scale that allows for our use of a new resource of energy. The relation between the sizes actively involved-nuclear level of matter compared to the enormous machinery and construction-is not only beyond the power of distinction of individual minds, but also of any operators, unless assisted by devices themselves of a high degree of complexity. The Chernobyl meltdown suggests only the magnitudes involved, and how peripheral to them are the literacy-based experiences of energy management.

The enormous satellite and radio-telephonic network, which physically embodies the once fashionable concept of ether, is another example of the scale of work under the circumstances of the new scale of human activity; and so are the telephone networks-copper, coaxial, or fiberglass. The conceptual hierarchies handled by such networks of increasingly generalized communication of voice, data, and images make any comparison to Edison's telephone, to letters, or to videotapes useless. The amount of information, the speed of transmission, and the synchronicity mechanisms required and achieved in the network-all participate in establishing a framework for remote interaction that practically resets the time for all involved and does away with physical distances. Literacy, by its intrinsic characteristics, could not achieve such levels.

Finally, the computer, associated or not with networks, makes this limit to our ability to grasp complexities even more pressing. We have no problems with the fact that a passenger airplane is 200 times faster than a pedestrian, and carries, at its current capacity, 300-450 passengers plus cargo. The computer chip itself is a conceptual accomplishment beyond anything we can conceive of. The depth encountered in the functioning of the digital computer-from the whole it represents to its smallest components endowed with functions integrated in its operation-is of a scale to which we have no intuitive or direct access. Computers are not a better abacus. Some computer users have even noticed that they are not even a better cash register. They define an age of semiotic focus, in that symbol manipulation follows language processing. (The word symbol points to work become semiotic praxis, but this is not what I am after here.)

In addition to the complexity it embodies, the computer makes another distinction necessary. It replaces the world of the continuum by a world of discrete states. Probably this distinction would be seen only as qualitative, if the shift from the universe of continuous functions and monotonic behavior-whatever applies to extreme cases applies to everything in between-were not concretized in a different condition of human self-constitutive practical experience.

In the universe of literacy-based analog expectations, accumulation results in progress: know more (language, science, arts), have more (resources), acquire more (real estate). Even striving-from a general attitude to particular forms (do better, achieve higher levels)-is inherent in the underlying structure of the analog. The digital is not linear in nature. Within the digital, one small deviation (one digit in the phrase) changes the result of processing so drastically that retracing the error and fixing it becomes itself a new experience, and many times a new source of knowledge.

In a written sentence, a misspelling or a typographical error is almost automatically corrected. Through literacy, we dispose of a model that tells us what is right. In the digital, the language of the program and the data on which programs operate are difficult to distinguish (if at all). Such machines can manipulate more symbols, and of a broader variety, than the human mind can. Free of the burden of previous practical experiences, such machines can refer to potential experiences in a frame of reference where literacy is entirely blind. The behavior of an object in a multi- dimensional space (four, five, six, or more dimensions), actions along a timeline that can be regressive, or in several distinct and unrelated time frames, modeling choices beyond the capability of the human mind-all these, and many more, with practical significance for the survival and development of humankind are acceptable problems for a digital computer.

It is true, as many would hasten to object, that the computer does not formulate the problem. But this is not the point. Neither does literacy formulate problems. It only embodies formulations and answers pertinent to work within a scale of manageable divisions. The less expressive language of zeros and ones (yes-no, open-closed, white- black) is more precise, and definitely more appropriate, for levels of complexity as high as those resulting from this new stage in the evolution. The generality of the computer (a general-purpose machine), the abstraction of the program of symbol manipulation, and the very concrete nature of the data upon which it is applied represent a powerful combination of reified knowledge, effective procedures for solving problems, and high resolution capabilities. Those who see the computer as only the principal technological metaphor of our time (according to J. D. Bolter) miss the significance of the new metrics of human activity and its degree of necessity as it results from awareness of the limits of our minds (after the limits of the body were experienced in industrial society).

Edsger Dijkstra, affirming the need for an orthogonal method of coping with radical novelty, concludes that this "amounts to creating and learning a new foreign language that cannot be translated into one's mother tongue." The direction he takes is right; the conclusion is still not as radical as the new scale of human activity and the limits of our self-constitution require. Coming to grips with the radical change that he and many, many others ascertain, amounts to understanding the end of literacy and the illiteracy of the numerous languages required by our practical experience of self- constitution. This conspectus of the transformation we experience may foster its own forms of fresh confusion. For instance, in what was called a civilized society, language acted as the currency of cultural transactions. If higher level needs and expectations continue to drive the market and technology, will they eventually become subservient to the illiterate means they have generated? Or, if language in one of its illiterate embodiments cannot keep pace with the exponential growth of information, will it undergo a restructuring in order to become a parallel process? Or will we generate more inclusive symbols, or some form of preprocessing, before information is delivered to human beings? All these questions relate to work, as the experience from which human identities result together with the products bearing their mark.

The active condition of any sign system is quite similar to the condition of tools. The hand that throws a stone is a hand influenced by the stone. Levers, hammers, pliers, no less than telescopes, pens, vending machines, and computers support practical experiences, but also affect the individuals constituting themselves through their use. A gesture, a written mark, a whisper, body movements, words written or read, express us or communicate for us, at the same time affecting those constituted in them. How language affects work means, therefore, how language affects the human being within a pragmatic framework. To deal with some aspects of this extremely difficult problem we can start with the original syncretic condition of the human being.

Innate heuristics

Conceptual tools that can be used to refer to the human being in its syncretic condition exist only to the degree to which we identify them in language. In every system we know of, variety and precision are complementary. Indeed, whether human beings hunt or present personal experiences to others, they attempt to optimize their efforts. Too many details affect efficiency; insufficient detail affects the outcome. There seems to be a structural relation of the nature of one to many, between our what and our how. This relation is scrutinized in the pragmatic context where efficiency considerations finally make us choose from among many possibilities. The optimum chosen indicates what, from the possibilities humans are aware of, is most suitable for reaching the goal pursued. Moreover, such an optimum is characteristic of the pragmatics of the particular context. For example, hunting could be performed alone or in groups, by throwing stones or hurling spears, by shooting arrows, or by setting traps.

The syncretic primitive being was (and still is, in existing primitive cultures) involved in a practical experience in its wholeness: through that being's biological endowment, relation to the environment, acquired skills and understanding, emotions (such as fear, joy, sorrow). The specialized individual constitutes himself in experiences progressively more and more partial. Nevertheless, the two have a natural condition in common. What distinguishes them is a strategy for survival and preservation that progressively departs from immediate needs and direct action to humanized needs and mediated action. This means a departure from a very limited set of options ("When hungry, search for food," for example), to multiplying the options, and thus establishing for the human being an innate heuristic condition. This means that Homo Sapiens looks for options. Humans are creative and efficient.

My line of reasoning argues that, while verbal language may be innate (as Chomsky's theory advances), the heuristic dimension characteristic of human self- constitution certainly is. In hunting, for instance, the choice of means (defining the how) reflects the goal (to get meat) and also the awareness of what is possible, as well as the effort to expand the realm of the possible. The major effort is not to keep things the way they are, but to multiply the realm of possibilities to ensure more than mere survival. This is known as progress.

The same heuristic strategy can be applied to the development of literacy. Before the Western alphabet was established, a number of less optimal writing systems (cuneiform, hieroglyphics, etc.) were employed. The very concrete nature of such languages is reflected in the limited expressive power they had. Current Chinese and Japanese writing are examples of this phenomenon today. In comparison to the 24-28 letters of Western alphabets, command of a minimum of 3,000 ideographic signs represents the entry level in Chinese and Japanese; command of 50,000 ideographic signs would correspond to the Western ideal of literacy. Behind the letters and characters of the various language alphabets, there is a history of optimization in which work influenced expression, expression constituted new frames for work, and together, generative and explanatory models of the world were established. The what and the how of language were initially on an order of complexity similar to that characteristic of actions. Over time, actions became simpler while languages acquired the complexity of the heuristic experience.

The what and the how of mediation tools of a higher order of abstraction than language, achieved even higher complexities. Such complexities were reflected in the difference in the order of magnitude between human work and outcome, especially the choices generated. Parallel to the loss of the syncretic nature of the human being at the level of the individual, we notice the composite syncretism of the community. Individual, relatively stable, wholeness was replaced by a faster and faster changing community- related wholeness. Language experiences were part of this shift. Self-constituted in the practical use of language, the human being realized its social dimension, itself an example of the acquired multiplication of choice.

Indeed, within the very small scale of incipient humanity corresponding to the stage of self-ascertainment (when signs were used and elements of language appeared), population and food supply were locked in the natural equation best reflected in the structural circularity of existence and survival. It is at this juncture that the heuristic condition applies: the more animals prey on a certain group, this group will either find survival strategies (adaptive or other kinds), or indeed cease to be available as food for others. But once the human being was ascertained, evidence shows that instead of focusing on one or few ways to get at its food sources, it actually diversified the practical experience of self-constitution and survival, proceeding from one, or few, to many resources. Homo Habilis was past the scavenging stage and well into foraging, hunting, and fishing during the pre-agricultural pragmatic frame. What for other species became only a limited food supply, and resulted in mechanisms of drastic growth control (through famine, cannibalism, and means of destroying life), in the human species resulted in a broadening of resources. In this process, the human being became a working being, and work an identifier of the species.

Language acquisition and the transition from the natural experience of self- constitution in survival to the practical experience of work are co-genetic. With each new scale that became possible, sequences of work marked a further departure from the universe of action-reaction. The observation to be made, without repeating information given in other chapters, is that from signs to incipient language, and from incipient language to stabilized means of expression, the scale of humankind changed and an underlying structure of practical experiences based on sequentiality, linearity, determinism (of one kind or another), and centralism established a new pragmatic framework. Individual syncretism was replaced by the syncretism of communities in which individuals are identified through their work.

Writing was a relatively late acquisition and occurred as part of the broader process of labor division. This process was itself correlated to the diversification of resources and types of practical experiences preserving syncretism at the community level. Not everyone wrote, not everybody read. The pragmatic framework suggested necessitated elements of order, ways of assigning and keeping track of assignments, a certain centralism, and, last but not least, organizational forms, which religion and governing bodies took care of. Under these circumstances, work was everything that allowed for the constitution, survival, change, and advancement of the human species. It was expressed in language to the degree such expression was necessary. In other words, language is another asset or means of diversifying choices and resources.

Over time, limited mediation through language and literacy became necessary in order to optimize the effort of matching needs with availabilities. This mediation was itself a form of work: questions asked, questions answered, commitments made, equivalencies determined. All these defined an activity related to using available resources, or finding new ones. When productivity increased, and language could not keep up with the complexities of higher production, variety, and the need for planning, a new semiosis, characteristic of this different pragmatic level, became necessary. Money, for example, introduced the next level of mediation, more abstract, that translated immediate, vital needs into a comparative scale of means to fulfill them. The context of exchange generated money, which eventually became itself a resource, a high level commodity. It also entailed a language of its own, as does each mediation. With the advent of means of exchange as universal as language, the what and how of human activity grew even more distant. Direct trade became indirect. People making up the market no longer randomly matched needs and availability. Their market praxis resulted in an organizing device, and used language to further diversify the resources people needed for their lives. This language was still rudimentary, direct, oral, captive to immediacy, and often consumed together with the resource or choice exhausted (when no alternative was generated). This happens even in our day.

In its later constitution in practical activity, language was used for records and transactions, for plans and new experiences. The logic of this language was an extension and instantiation of the logic of human activity. It complemented the heuristic, innate propensity for seeking new choices. Influenced by human interaction in the market, and subjected to the expectation of progressively higher efficiency, human activity became increasingly mediated. A proliferation of tools allowed for increased productivity in those remote times of the inception of language. Eventually tools, and other artifacts, became themselves an object of the market, in addition to supporting self-constitutive practical experiences of the humans interacting with them. As a mediating element between the processor and what is processed, the tool was a means of work and a goal: better tools require instructed users. If they use tools properly, they increase the efficiency of activity and make the results more marketable. Tools supported the effort of diversification of practical experiences, as well as the effort of expanding the subsistence base. The means for creating tools and other artifacts fostered other languages, such as the language of drawing, on which early engineering also relied. Here, an important point should be made. No tool is merely used. In using it, the user adapts to the tool, becoming to some extent, the used, the tool of the tool. The same is true of language, writing, and literacy. They were developed by humans seeking to optimize their activity. But humans have adapted themselves to the constraints of their own inventions.

At the inception of writing, the tension between an imposed written precision (as relative as this might appear from our perspective today)-keeping language close to the object, allowing into the language only objects that pictograms could represent- and a rather diverse, however very unfocused, oral language resulted in conflicts between the proponents of writing and the guardians of orality (as documented in ancient Greek philosophy). The written needed to be freed from the object as much as the human being from a particular source of protein, or a particular food source. It had to support a more general expression (referring to what would become families, types, classes of objects, etc.), and thus to support practical efforts to diversify the ways of survival and continuous growth in number. The oral had to be tamed and united with the written. Taming could, and did, take place only through and in work, and in socially related interaction. The practical effort to embody knowledge resulting from many practical experiences of survival into all kinds of artifacts (for measuring, orientation, navigation, etc.) testifies to this. Phonetic writing, the development of the effort to optimize writing, better imitated oral language. Personal characteristics, making the oral expressive, and social characteristics, endowing the written with the hints that bring it close to speech, are supported in the phonetic system. The theocratic system of pictographs and what others call the democratic language of phonetic writing deserve their names only if we understand that languages are both constitutive and representative of human experience. Undifferentiated labor is theocratic. Its rules are imposed by the object of the practical experience. Divided labor, while affecting the integrity of those becoming only an instance of the work process, is participatory, in the sense that its results are related to the performance of each participant in the process. Practical experience of language and experience of divided labor are intrinsically related and correspond to the pragmatic framework of this particular human scale. Labor division and the association of very abstract phonetic entities to very concrete language instantiations of human experience are interdependent.

The realm of alternatives

In defining the context of change leading from an all-encompassing literacy to the civilization of illiteracy, I referred to the Malthusian principle (Population, when unchecked, increases geometrically, while food sources increase arithmetically). What Malthus failed to acknowledge is the heuristic nature of the human species, i.e., the progressive realization of the creative potential of the only known species that, in addition to maintaining its natural condition, generates its own a-natural condition. In the process of their self-constitution, humans generate also the means for their survival and future growth beyond the circularity of mere survival strategies. The 19th century economist Henri George gave the following example of this characteristic: "Both the jayhawk and the man eat chicken, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens." (Just think about the Purdue chicken industry!) The formula is flawed. Humans also intervene in the jayhawk-chicken relation; the number of animals and birds in a certain area is affected by more elements than what eats what; and the population increase is meaningless unless associated with patterns of human practical experiences. Species frequently become extinct due to human, not animal, intervention. Despite all this, Henri George's characterization captured an important aspect of the human species, as it defined itself in the human scale that made literacy possible and necessary.

George's time corresponded to some interesting though misleading messages that followed the pattern of Malthus' law. People were running out of timber, coal, and oil for lamps, just as we expect to run out of many other resources (minerals, energy and food sources, water, etc.). Originators of messages regarding the exhaustion of such resources, regardless of the time they utter them, ignore the fact that during previous shortages, humans focused on alternatives, and made them part of new practical experiences. This was the case leading to the use of coal, when the timber supply decreased in Britain in the 16th century, and this will be the case with the shortages mentioned above: for lighting, kerosene was extracted from the first oil wells (1859); more coal reserves were discovered; better machines were built that used less energy and made coal extraction more efficient; industry adapted other minerals; and the strict dependence on natural cycles and farming was progressively modified through food processing and storage techniques.

The pragmatic framework of current human praxis is based on the structural characteristics of this higher scale of humankind. It affects the nature of human work and the nature of social, political, and national organization within emerging national states. A retrospective of the dynamics of growth and resource availability shows that with language, writing and reading, and finally with literacy, and even more through engineering outside language experience, a coherent framework of pragmatic human action was put in place, and used to compensate for the progressive imbalance between population growth and resources.

Our time is in more than one way the expression of a semiosis with deep roots in the pragmatic context in which writing emerged. Engineering dominates today. In trying to define the semiosis of engineering, i.e. how the relation between work we associate with engineering and language evolved, we evidence both continuity-in the form of successive replications-and discontinuity-in the new condition of the current engineering work. Our reference can be made to both the dissemination of the writing system based on the Phoenician alphabet, and the language of drawing that makes engineering possible.

Phoenician traders supplied materials to the Minoans. The Minoan burial culture involved the burial of precious objects that embodied the experience of crafts. These objects were made out of silver, gold, tin, and lead. In time, increased quantities of such metals were permanently removed from the market. Phoenicians, who supplied these materials, had to search farther and farther for them, using better tools to find and preprocess the minerals. The involvement of writing and drawing in the process of compensation between perceived needs and available resources, and the fact that searches for new resources led to the dissemination of writing and craftsmanship should be understood within the dynamics of local economies.

Up to which point such a compensatory action, implying literacy and engineering skills, is effective, and when it reached its climax, possibly during the Industrial Revolution, is a question that can be put only in retrospect. Is there a moment when the balance was tilted towards the means of expression of and the communication specific to engineering? If yes, we do not know this moment; we cannot identify it on historic charts. But once the potential of literacy to support human practical experiences of self- constitution in a new pragmatic framework was exhausted, new means became necessary. To understand the dynamics of the changes that made the new pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy necessary is the object of the entire book. While engineering contributed to them, they are not the result of this important practical experience, but rather a cause of how it was and is affected by them. The stream of diversified experiences that eventually gushed forth through new languages, the language of design and engineering included, resulted in the awareness of mediation, which itself became a goal.

Mediation of mediation

With the risk of breaking the continuity of the argument, I would like to continue by suggesting the implications of this argument for the reality to which this book refers: the present. First, a general thesis derived from the analysis so far: The market of direct exchange, as well as the market of mediated forms, reflect the general structure of human activity-direct work vs. mediated forms of work-and are expressed in their specific languages. From a certain moment in human evolution, tools, as an extension of the human body and mind, are used, some directly, some indirectly. Today we notice how, through the intermediary of commands transmitted electronically, pneumatically, hydraulically, thermally, or in some other way, the mediation of mediation is introduced. Pressing a button, flipping a switch, punching a keyboard, triggering a relay-seen as steps preparing for entirely programmed activities-means to extend the sequence of mediations. Between the hand or another body part and the processed material, processing tools and sequences of signs controlling this process are introduced. Accordingly, language, as related to work, religion, education, poetry, exchange in the market, etc., is restructured. New levels of language and new, limited, functionally designed languages are generated and used for mediating. The language of drawings (more generally the language of design) is one of them. Relations among these different levels and among the newly designed languages are established.

But how is this related to the innate heuristic condition of the human being and to the working hypothesis advanced regarding the change in the scale of humanity? Or is it only another way of saying that technology, resulting from engineering interpretations of science, defines the path to higher levels of efficiency, and to the relative illiteracy of our time? The increase in population and the dynamics of diversification (more choices, more resources) at this new scale assume a different dimension. It is irrelevant that resources of one type or another are exhausted in one economy. As a matter of fact, Japan, Germany, England, and even the USA (rich in the majority of resources in demand) have exhausted whatever oil, copper, tin, diamonds, or tungsten was available. Due to many factors, farmland in the western world is decreasing, while the quantities and different types of food consumed per capita have increased substantially. Faced with the challenge posed by the national, linear, sequential, dual, deterministic nature of the pragmatic framework that generated the need for literacy, humans discover means to transcend these limitations-globality, non-linearity, configuration, multi-valued logic, non-determination-and embody them in artifacts appropriate to this condition.

The new scale necessitated creative work for multiplying available resources, for looking at needs and availabilities from a new perspective. Those who see globality in the Japanese sushi restaurant in Provence or in the Midwest, in the McDonalds in Moscow or Beijing, in multinational corporations, in foreign investments mushrooming all over, miss the real significance of the term. Globality applies to the understanding that we share in resources and creative means of multiplying them independent of boundaries (of language, culture, nations, alliances, etc.), as well as in high efficiency processing equipment. This understanding is not only sublime, it has its ugly side. The world would even go to war (and has, again and again) to secure access to critical resources or to keep markets open. But it is not the ugly side that defines the effective pragmatics. Nor does it define the circumstances of our continuous self-definition in this world of a new dynamics of survival needs and expectations above and beyond such needs.

Where literacy no longer adequately supports creative work based on higher levels of efficiency, it is replaced by languages designed and adapted to mediation, or to work destined to compensate for an exhausted resource, or by machines incorporating our literacy and the literacies of higher efficiency. Hunting and fishing remain as mere sport, and foraging declined to the level at which people in a country like the USA no longer know that in the woods there are mushrooms, berries, and nuts that can be used as food. Even agriculture, probably the longest standing form of practical experience, escapes sequentiality and linearity, and adds industrial dimensions that make agriculture a year-round, highly specialized, efficient activity. We share resources and even more in the globality of the life support system (the ecology); in the globality of communication, transportation, and technology; and, last but not least, in the globality of the market. The conclusion is that, once again, it is not any recent discovery or trend that is the engine of change, from local to national to global, but the new circumstances of human experience, whose long-lasting effect is the altered individual.

Freed from the human operator and replaced by technology that ensures levels of efficiency and security for which the living being is not well adapted to provide, many types of work are simultaneously freed from the constraints of language, of literacy in particular. There is no need to teach machines spelling, or grammar, or rules of constructing sentences. There is even less of a need to maintain between the human being and the machine a mediating literacy that is awkward, inefficient, stamped by ambiguity, and burdened by various uses (religious, political, ideological, etc.). The new languages, whether interfaces between machines or between humans and machines, are of limited scope and duration. In the dynamics of work, these new languages are appropriately adapted to each other. Our entire activity becomes faster, more precise, more segmented, more distributed, more complex. This activity is subordinated to a multi-valued logic of efficiency, not to dualistic inferences or truth or falsehood.

Some might read into the argument made so far a vote against the many kinds of activists of this day and age: the ecologists who warn of damage inflicted on the environment; Malthusians tireless in warning of upcoming famine; the zero-population- growth movement, etc. Some might read here a vote for technocracy, for the advocates of limitless growth, the optimists of despair, or the miracle planners (free marketers, messianic ideologists, etc.). None is the case. Rather, I submit for examination a model for understanding and action that takes into account the complexity of the problem instead of explaining complexities away and working, as literacy taught us to, on simplified models. Mapping out the terrain of the descriptive level of the relation between language and work under current pragmatic circumstances will assist in the attempt to plot, in some meaningful detail, the position so far described.

Literacy and Education

Education and literacy are intimately related. One seems impossible without the other. Nevertheless, there was education before the written word. And there is education that does not rely on literacy, or at least not exclusively. With this in mind, let us focus, in these preliminary words, on what brought literacy into education, and on the consequences of their reciprocal relation.

The state of education, like the state of many other institutions embodying characteristics of literacy-based practical experiences, is far from what is expected. Literacy carried the ideal of permanency into the practical experience of education. In a physical world perceived as limited in scale and fragmented, captive to sequentiality, characterized by periodic changes and intercommunal commitments aimed at maintaining permanency, literacy embodied both a goal and the means for achieving it. It defined a representative, limited set of choices. Within this structure, education is the practical experience of stabilizing optimal modes of interaction centered around values expressed in language. Education based on literacy is adapted to the dynamics of change within the reduced scale of humankind that eventually led to the formation of nations-entities of relative self-sufficiency. Within national boundaries, population growth, resources, and choices could be kept in balance.

Purposely simplified, this view allows us to understand that education evolved from its early stages-direct transmission of experience from one person to another, from one generation to another-to religion-based educational structures. Filtered by a set of religious premises, education later opened a window beyond the immediate and the proximity of life, and evolved, not painlessly, into schools and universities concerned with knowledge and scholarship. This, too, was a long process, with many intermediate steps, which eventually resulted in the generalized system of education we now have in place, and which reflects the separation of church and state. Liberal education and all the values attached to it are the foundational matrix of the current system of general education.

If you give someone a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you give someone an alphabet, every problem becomes one of literacy and education-this would probably be a good paraphrase, applicable to the discussions on education in our day. It should not follow, however, that with the World Wide Web, education is only a matter of on-line postings of classes and the accidental matching of educational needs to network availabilities. In our world of change and discontinuity, the end of literacy, along with the end of education based on literacy, is not a symptom, but a necessary development, beyond on-line studies. This conclusion, which may appear to be a criticism of the digital dissemination of knowledge, might seem hasty at this point in the text. The arguments to follow will justify the conclusion.

"Know the best"

Resulting from our self-constitution in a world obsessed with efficiency and satisfaction, the insatiable effort to exhaust the new-only to replace it with the newer- puts education in a perspective different from that opened by literacy. Education driven by literacy seems to be condemned to a sui generis catch-up condition, or "damned if you do, damned if you don't." In the last 30 years, education has prepared students for a future different from the one education used to shape in a reactive mode. Under the enormous pressure of expectations (social, political, economic, moral) it simply cannot fulfill, unless it changes as the structure of the pragmatic framework changed, the institution of education has lost its credibility. Classes, laboratories, manuals, any of the educational methods advanced, not to mention the living inventory of teachers, account for contents and ways of thinking only marginally (if at all) linked to the change from a dominant literacy to numerous literacies. IBM, fighting to redefine itself, stated bluntly in one of its educational campaigns, "Since 1900, every institution has kept up with change, except one: Education."

More money than ever, more ideals and sweat have been invested in the process of educating the young, but little has changed either the general perception of education or the perception of those educated. The most recent laboratory of the high school or university is already outdated when the last piece of equipment is ordered. The competence of even the best teachers becomes questionable just as their students start their first journey in practical life. The harder our schools and colleges try to keep pace with change, the more obvious it becomes that this is a wrong direction to pursue, or that something in the nature of our educational system makes the goal unreachable-or both of these alternatives. Some people believe that the failure is due to the bureaucracy of education. Much can be said in support of this opinion. The National Institute for Literacy is an example of how a problem can become a public institution. Other people believe that the failure is due to the inability of educators to develop a good theory of education, based on how people learn and what the best way to teach is. Misunderstanding the implications of education and setting false priorities are also frequently invoked. Misunderstanding too often resulted in expensive government projects of no practical consequence.

Other explanations are also given for the failure of education-liberalism, excessive democracy in education, rejection of tradition, teaching and learning geared to tests, the breakdown of the family. (Listing them here should not be misconstrued as an endorsement.) It seems that every critic of today's education has his or her own explanation of what each thinks is wrong. Some of these explanations go well back, almost to the time when writing was established: education affects originality, dampens spontaneity, and infringes upon creativity. Education negates naturalness during the most critical period of development, when the minds of young people, the object of education, are most impressionable.

Other arguments are more contemporary: If the right texts (whatever right means) were to be taught, using the best methods to put them in a light that makes them attractive, education would not lose out to entertainment. Some groups advocate the digest approach for texts, sometimes presented in the form of comic strips or Internet-like messages of seven sentences per paragraph, each sentence containing no more than seven words. These explanations assume the permanence of literacy. They concentrate on strategies, from infantile to outlandish, to maintain literacy's role, never questioning it, never even questioning whether the conditions that made it necessary might have changed to the degree that a new structure is already in place. Educators like to think that their program is defined through Matthew Arnold's prescription, "Know the best that is known and thought in the world," an axiom of tradition-driven self- understanding. This attitude is irrelevant in a context in which best is an identifier of wares, not of dynamic knowledge. Some educators would follow Jacques Barzun's recommendation: "serious reading, serious teaching of reading, and inculcation of a love for reading are the proper goal of education." Ideal vs. real

Schools at all levels of education purport to give students a traditional education and promise to deliver the solid education of yesteryear. Contrast this claim to reality: Under the pressure of the market in which they operate, schools maintain that they prepare students for the new pragmatic context. Some schools integrate practical disciplines and include training components. Courses in computer use come immediately to mind. Some schools go so far as to sign contracts guaranteeing the appropriateness of the education they provide. In the tradition of the service industry, they promise to take back pupils unable to meet the standardized criteria. Every spring, a reality check is made. In 1996, a poll of 500 graduating seniors revealed that only 7% succeeded in answering at least 15 of 20 questions asked. Five of these were on math, the rest on history and literature-all traditional subject matter.

Experts called to comment on the results of this poll-E.D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy and active in having his educational ideas implemented; Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education; and Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, constitute themselves in the pragmatic framework of literacy-based education. They declare, and appropriately so, that educational standards are declining, that education is failing to produce the type of citizen a democracy needs. As reputable as they undoubtedly are, these scholars, and many of those in charge of education, do not seem to realize what changes have been taking place in the real world. They live in the richest and probably most dynamic country in the world, with one of the lowest unemployment rates, and the highest rate of new business creation, but fail to associate education with this dynamism. If education is failing, then something positive must be replacing it.

In modern jargon, one can say that until education is re-engineered (or should I say rethought?), it has no chance of catching up with reality. In its current condition of compromise, education will only continue to muddle along, upsetting both its constituencies: those captive to an education based on the literacy model, and those who recognize new structural requirements.

The reality is that the universality implicit in the literacy model of education, reflected in the corpus of democratic principles guaranteeing equality and access, is probably no longer defensible in its original form. Education should rather elaborate on notions that better reflect differences among people, their background, ethnicity, and their individual capabilities. Instead of trying to standardize, education should stimulate differences in order to derive the most benefit from them. Education should stimulate complementary avenues to excellence, instead of equal access to mediocrity. Some people may be uneducatable. They might have characteristics impossible to reduce to the common denominator that literacy-based education implies. These students might require alternative education paths in order to optimally become what their abilities allow them to be, and what practical experience will validate as relevant and desired, no matter how different.

Equal representation, as applied to members of minority students or faculty, ethnic groups, sexes or sexual preferences, and the handicapped, introduces a false sense of democracy in education. It takes away the very edge of their specific chances from the people it pretends to help and encourage. Instead of acknowledging distinctions, expectations of equal representation suggest that the more melting in the pot, the better for society, regardless of whether the result is uniform mediocrity or distributed excellence. Actually the opposite is true: equal opportunity should be used in order to preserve distinctive qualities and bring them to fruition.

As a unified requirement, literacy imparts a sense of conformity and standardization appropriate to the pragmatic framework that made standardized education necessary. Numerous alternative means of expression and communication, for which education has only a deaf ear, facilitate the multiplication of choices. In a world confronted with needs well beyond those of survival, this is a source of higher efficiency. The necessary effort to individualize education cannot, however, take place unless the inalienable right to study and work for one's own path to self-improvement is not respected to the same extent as liberty and equality are.

The globality of human praxis is not a scenario invented by some entrepreneur. It is the reflection of the scale at which population growth, shared resources, and choices heading to new levels of efficiency become critical. In our world many people never become literate; many more still live at the borderline between human and animal life, threatened by starvation and epidemics. These facts do not contradict the dynamics that made alternatives to literacy necessary. It is appropriate, therefore, to question the type of knowledge that education imparts, and how it impacts upon those who are educated.


Schools and universities are criticized for not giving students relevant knowledge. The notion of relevance is critical here. Scholars claim that knowledge of facts pertaining to tradition, such as those tested in the graduating class of 1996, are relevant. Relevant also are elements of logical thinking, enough science in order to understand the wealth of technologies we use, foreign languages, and other subject matter that will help students face the world of practical experience. Although the subjects listed are qualified as significant, they are never used in polls of graduating students.

Critics of the traditional curriculum dispute the relevance of a tradition that seems to exclude more than it includes. They also challenge implicit hierarchical judgments of the people who impose courses of study. Multiculturalism, criticism of tradition, and freedom from the pressure of competition are among the recommendations they make. Acknowledging the new context of social life and praxis, these critics fail, however, to put it in the broader context of successive structural conditions, and thus lack criteria of significance outside their own field of expertise.

With the notion of relevance, a perspective of the past and a direction for the future are suggested. That literacy-based education, at its inception, was xenophobic or racist, and obviously political, nobody has to tell us. Individuals from outside the polis, speaking a different mother tongue, were educated for a political reason: to make them useful to the community as soon as possible. Conditions for education changed dramatically over time, but the political dimension remains as strong as ever. This is why it can only help to dispense with certain literate attitudes expressing national, ethnic, racial, or similar ambitions. It is irrelevant whether Pythagoras was Greek and whether his geometry was original with him. It is irrelevant whether one or another person from one or another part of the world can be credited with a literary contribution, a work of art, or a religious or philosophic thought. What counts is how such accomplishments became relevant to the people of the world as they involved themselves in increasingly complex practical experiences. Moreover, our own sense of value does not rest on a sports-driven model-the first, the most, the best-but on the challenge posed by how each of us will constitute his own identity in unprecedented circumstances of work, leisure, and feeling. Relevance applies to the perspective of the future and to the recognition that experiences of the past are less and less pertinent in the new context.

What should be taught? Language? Math? Chemistry? Philosophy? The list can go on. It is indeed very hard to do justice by simply nodding yes to language, yes to math, yes to chemistry, but not yes wholesale, without putting the question in the pragmatic context. This means that education should not be approached with the aura of religion, or dogmatism, assumed up to now: The teacher knew what eternal truth was; students heard the lectures and finally received communion.

All basic disciplines have changed through time. The rhythm of their change keeps increasing. The current understanding of language, math, chemistry, and philosophy does not necessarily build on a progression. Science, for example, is not accumulation. Neither is language, contrary to all appearance. Rules learned by rote and accepted as invariable are not needed, but procedures for accessing knowledge relevant to our dynamic existence are. To memorize all that education-no matter how good or bad-unloads on students is sheer impossibility. But to know where to find what a given practical instance requires, and how one can use it, is quite a different matter.

Should square dancing, Heavy Metal music, bridge, Chinese cuisine be taught? The list, to be found in the curriculum of many schools and colleges, goes on and on. The test of the relevance of such disciplines (or subjects) in a curriculum should be based on the same pragmatic criteria that our lives and livelihoods depend on. New subjects of study appear on course lists due to structural changes that make literacy useless in the new pragmatic context. They cannot, however, substitute for an education that builds the power of thinking and feeling for practical experiences of increased complexity and dynamism.

Education needs to be shaped to the dynamics of self-constitution in practical experiences characteristic of this new age of humankind. This does not mean that education should become another TV program, or an endless Internet voyage, without aim and without method. We must comprehend that if we demand literacy and efficiency at the same time, ignoring that they are in many ways incompatible, we can only contribute to greater confusion. Higher education was opened to people who merely need training to obtain a skill. These students receive precious-looking diplomas that exactly resemble the ones given to students who have pursued a rigorous course of education. Once upon a time, literacy meant the ability to write and read Latin. Therefore, diplomas are embellished with Latin dicta, almost never understood by the graduates, and many times not even by the professors who hand them out. In the spirit of nostalgia, useless rituals are maintained, which are totally disconnected from today's pragmatic framework.

The progressively increased mediation that affects efficiency levels also contributes to the multiplication of the number of languages involved in describing, designing, coordinating, and synchronizing human work. We are facing new requirements-those of parallelism, non-linearity, multi-valued logic, vagueness, and selection among options. Programming, never subject to wrong or right, but to optimal choice, and always subject to further improvement, is becoming a requirement for many practical experiences, from the arts to advanced science. Requirements of globality, distribution, economies of scale, of elements pertinent to engineering, communication, marketing, management, and of service-providing experiences need to be met within specific educational programs. The fulfillment of these requirements can never be relegated to literacy.

We have seen that the broader necessity of language, from which the necessity of literacy is derived, is not defensible outside the process of human self-constitution. Language plays an important role, together with other sign systems, subordinated to language or not. In retrospect, we gain an understanding of the entire process: natural instincts are transmitted genetically and only slightly improve, if degeneration does not occur, in the interaction among individuals sharing a habitat. The conscious use of signs takes newborns from the domain of nature and eventually places them in the realm of culture. In this realm, life ceases to be a matter of biology only, and takes on non-natural, social and cultural dimensions. To live as an animal is to live for oneself and for very few others (mainly offspring). To live as a human being is to live through the existence of others, and in relation to others. Established before us and bound to continue after us, culture absorbs newcomers who not only begin their existence through their parents, but who also get to know culture and to adapt to it, or revolt against it.

Education starts with the experience of the absent, the non-immediate, the successive. In other words, it implies experiences resulting from comparisons, imitation of actions, and formation of individual patterns corresponding to human biological characteristics. Only much later comes the use of language, of adjectives, adverbs, and the generation of conventions and metaphors, some part of the body of literacy, others part of other languages, such as the visual. With the constitution of the family, education begins, and so does another phase in labor division. The initial phase probably marked the transition from a very small scale of nomadic tribal life to the scale within which language settled in notation and eventually in writing. The generality of sequences, words, phonetics, nouns, and actions was reached in the practical experience of writing. The language of drawings, resulting from different experiences and supporting the making of objects, complemented the development of writing. When the scale of humankind corresponding to incipient literacy was reached, literacy became the instrument for imparting experiences coherent with the experience of language and its use. This account is inserted here as a summary for those who, although claiming historic awareness, show no real instinct for history. This summary says that education is the result of many changes in the condition of humankind and makes clear that these alterations continue. They also entail a responsibility to improve the experience of education and re-establish its connection to the broader framework of human activity, instead of limiting education to the requirements of cultural continuity.

It has been said, again and again, that what we are we had to learn to become. Actually, we are who and what we are through what we do in the context of our individual and social existence. To speak, write, and read means to understand what we say, what we write, and what we read. It is not only the mechanical reproduction of words or sound patterns, which machines can also be programmed to perform. The expectation of speaking, reading, and writing is manifested in all human interactions. To learn how to speak, write, and read means both to gain skills and to become aware of the pragmatic context of interhuman relations that involve speaking, writing, and reading. It also means awareness of the possibility to change this context.

To educate today means to integrate others, and in the process oneself, in an activity-oriented process directed towards sharing the knowledge necessary to gain further knowledge. Its content cannot be knowledge in general, since the varieties of practical experiences cannot be emulated in school and college. Within the pragmatic framework that made literacy possible, it sufficed to know how an engine functioned in order to work with different machines driven by engines. Literacy reflected homogeneity and served those constituted as literate in controlling the parameters within which deviations were allowed. The post-industrial experience, based on an underlying digital structure, is so heterogeneous that it is impossible to cope with the many different instances of practical requirements. The skills to orient us towards where to find what we need become more important than the information shared. Ownership of knowledge takes a back seat; what counts is access, paralleled by a good understanding of the new nature of human praxis focused on cognition. Education should, accordingly, prepare people to handle information, or to direct it to information processing devices. It has to help students develop a propensity for understanding and explaining the variety in which cognition, the raw material of digital engines, results from our experiences.

The unity between the various paths we conceive in projecting our own biological reality into the reality of the world housing us and the result of our activity is characteristic of our mental and emotional condition. It defines our thinking and feeling. At some moment in time, after the division between physical and intellectual work took place, this thinking became relatively free of the result. The abstraction of thinking, once attained, corresponds to our ability to be in the process, to be aware of it, to judge it. This is the level of theories. The dynamics of the present affects the status of theories, both the way we shape them and how we communicate them. At least in regard to the communication of theory, but also to some of its generation, it is worthwhile to examine, in the context of our concern with education in this age, the evolution of the university.

Temples of knowledge

Education became the institution, the machine of literacy, once the social role of a generalized instrument of communication and coordination was established. This happened simultaneously with the reification of many other forms of human praxis: religion, the judiciary, the military. The first Western universities embodied the elitist ideal of literacy in every possible way: exclusivity, philosophy of education, architecture, goals, curriculum, body of professors, body of students, relation to the outside world, religious status. These universities did not care for the crafts, and did not acknowledge apprenticeship. The university, more than schools (in their various forms), extended its influence beyond its walls to assume a leading role in the spiritual lives of the population, while still maintaining an aura about itself. This was not just because of the religious foundation of universities. The university housed important intellectual documents containing theories of science and humanities, and encompassing educational concepts. These documents emphasized the role of a universal education (not only as a reflex of the Church's catholic drive) in which fundamental components constructed a temple of knowledge from which theories were dispensed throughout the Western world. Through its concept and affirmed values, the university was intended as a model for society and as an important participant in its dynamics. Tradition, languages (opening direct access to the world of classic philosophy and literature), and the arts were understood in their unity. Engineering and anything practical played no part in this.

Compared to the current situation, those first universities were ahead of their time almost to the effect of losing contact with reality. They existed in a world of advanced ideas, of idealized social and moral values, of scientific innovation celebrated in their metaphysical abstraction. There is no need to transcribe the history of education here. We are mainly interested in the dynamics of education up to the turn of the century, and would like to situate it in the discussion caused by the apparent, or actual, failure of education to accomplish its goals today. When universities were founded, access to education was very limited. This makes comparison to the current situation in universities almost irrelevant. It explains, however, why some people question the presence of students who would not have been accepted in a college a century ago, even 50 years ago. Yes, the university is the bearer of prejudices as well as values.

The relevance of historic background is provided by the understanding of the formative power of language, of its capacity for storing ideas and ideals associated with permanency, and for disseminating the doctrine of permanency and authority, making it part of the social texture. Religion insinuated itself into the sciences and humanities, and assumed the powerful role of assigning meaning to various discoveries and theories. Education in such universities was for eternity, according to a model that placed humanity in the center of the universe and declared it exemplary because it originated from the Supreme power. The university established continuity through its entire program, and did so on the foundation of literacy. As an organization, it adopted a structure more favorable to integration and less to differentiation. It constituted a counter-power, a critical instrument, and a framework for intellectual practice. Although many associate the formula "Knowledge is power" with the ideology of the political left, it actually originated in the medieval university, and within conservative power relations for which literacy constituted the underlying structure.

Looking at the development of the medieval university, one can say that it was the embodiment of the reification of language, of the Greek logos and of the Roman ratio. The entire history of reifying the past was summarized in the university and projected as a model for the future. Alternative ways of thinking and communicating were excluded, or made to fit the language mold and submit, without exception, to the dominating rationality. Based on these premises, the university evolved into an institution of methodical doubt. It became an intellectual machine for generating and experimenting with successive alternative explanations of the universe, as a whole, and of its parts, considered similar in some way to the whole they constituted.

The circumstances leading to the separation of intellectual and educational tasks were generated by an interplay of factors. The printing press is one of them. The metaphors of the university also played an important role. But the defining element was practical expectations. As people eventually learned, they could not build machines only by knowing Latin or Greek, or by reciting litanies, but by knowing mathematics and mechanics. Some of this knowledge came from Greek and Latin texts preserved by Moslem scholars from the desolation following the fall of the Roman empire. People also had to know how to express their goals, and communicate a plan to those who would transform it into roads, bridges, buildings, and much more. Humans could not rely on Aristotle's explanation of the world in order to find new forms of energy. More physics, chemistry, biology, and geology became necessary. Access to such domains was still primarily through literacy, although each of these areas of interest started developing its own language. Machines were conceived and built as metaphors of the human being. They embodied an animistic view, while actually answering needs and expectations corresponding to a scale of human existence beyond that of animistic practical experiences.

Industrial experience, a school of a new pragmatic framework, would impart awareness of creativity and productivity, as well as a new sense of confidence. Work became less and less homogeneous, as did social life. Once the potential of literacy reached its limits of explaining everything and constituting the only medium for new theories, universities started lagging behind the development of human practice. What separates Galileo Galilei's physics from the Newtonian is less drastic than what separates both from Einstein's relativity theory, and all three of these from the rapidly unfolding physics of the cosmos. In the latter, a different scale and scope must be accounted for, and a totally new way of formulating problems must be developed. Humans project upon the world cognitive explanatory models for which past instruments of knowledge are not adequate. The same applies to theories in biology, chemistry, and more and more to sociology, economics, and the decision sciences. It is worth noting that scale, and complexity therein, thus constitutes a rather encompassing criterion, one that finally affects the theory and practice of education.

Coherence and connection

Education has stubbornly defended its turf. While it fell well behind the expectations of those in need of support for finding their place in the current pragmatic context, a new paradigm of scientific and humanistic investigation was acknowledged- computation. Together with experimental and theoretical science, computation stimulated levels at which the twin concerns for intellectual coherence and for the ability to establish connections outside the field of study could be satisfied. Computation made it into the educational system without becoming one of education's underlying structures. The late-in-coming Technology Literacy Challenge that will provide two billion dollars by the year 2001 acknowledges this situation, though it fails to address it properly. In other countries, the situation is not much better. Bureaucracies based on rules of functioning pertinent to past pragmatics are not capable of even understanding the magnitude of change, in which their reason for being disappears.

In some colleges and private high schools, students can already access the computer network from terminals in their dormitories. Still, in the majority, computing time is limited, and assigned for specific class work, mainly word processing. Too many educational outlets have only administrative computers for keeping track of budget execution and enrollment. In most European countries the situation is even worse. And as far as the poor countries of the world are concerned, one can only hope that the disparity will not deepen. If this were the case with electricity, we would hear an uproar. Computing should become as pervasive as electricity.

This view is not necessarily unanimously accepted. Arguments about whether education needs to be computerized or whether computers should be integrated across the board go on and on among educators and administrators with a say in the matter. It should be noticed that failure to provide the appropriate context for teaching, learning, and research affects the condition of universities all over the world. These universities cease to contribute new knowledge. They become instead the darkroom for pictures taken elsewhere, by people other than their professors, researchers, and graduate students. Such institutions fathom a relatively good understanding of the past, but a disputable notion of the present and the future, mainly because they are hostages to literacy-based structures of thought and activity, even when they use computers.

To function within a language means to share in the experiences which are built into it. Natural language has a built-in experience of space and time; programming languages contain experiences of logical inference or of object-oriented functioning of the world. These experiences represent its pre-understanding frame of reference. Knowledge built into our so-called natural languages was for a long time common to all human beings. It resulted in communities sharing, through language, the practical experiences through which the community members constituted themselves in space and time. The continuity of language and its permanence reflected continuity of experience and permanence of understanding. Within such a pragmatic framework, education and the sharing of experience were minimally differentiated from each other. Progressively, language experience was added to practical experience and used to differentiate such an experience in new forms of praxis: theoretic work, engineering, art, social activism, political programs. Diversity, incipient segmentation, higher speeds, and incremental mediations affected the condition of self-constitutive human experiences. Consequently, literacy progressively ceased to represent the optimal medium for sharing, although it maintains many other functions. Indeed, plans for a new building, for a bridge, for engines, for many artifacts cannot be expressed in literate discourse, no matter how high the level, or how well literate competency is served by education or impacts upon it.

Accelerated dynamics and a generalized practice of mediations, by means not based on literacy, become part of human praxis in the civilization of illiteracy and define a new underlying structure. Language preserves a limited function. It is paralleled by many other sign systems, some extremely well adapted to rationalization and automation, and becomes itself subject to integration in machines adept at sign processing (in particular information processing). The process can be exemplified by a limited analogy: In order to explore in depth the experience embodied in Homer's texts, one needs a knowledge of ancient Greek. In order to study the legal texts of the Roman Empire, one needs Latin, and probably more. But in order to understand algebra-the word comes from the Arabic al-jabr/jebr, meaning union of broken parts-one really does not need to be fluent in Arabic.

Literacy embodies a far less significant part of the current human practical experience of self-constitution than it did in the past. Still, literacy-based education asserts its own condition on everything: learning what is already known is a prerequisite to discovering the unknown. In examining the amount and kind of knowledge one needs to understand past experience and to make possible further forms of human praxis, we can be surprised. The first surprise is that we undergo a major shift, from forms of work and thinking fundamentally based on past experience to realms of human constitution that do not repeat the past. Rather, such new experiences negate it altogether, making it relatively irrelevant. Freed from the past, people notice that sometimes the known, expressed in texts, obliterates a better understanding of the present by introducing a pre-understanding of the future that prevents new and effective human practical experiences. The second surprise comes from the realization that means other than those based on literacy better support the current stage of our continuous self- constitution, and that these new means have a different underlying structure.

Searle, among many others, remarked that, "Like it or not, the natural sciences are perhaps our greatest single intellectual achievement as human beings, and any education that neglects this fact is to that extent defective." What is not clearly stated is the fact that sciences emerged as such achievements once the ancillary relation to language and literacy was overcome. Mathematization of science and engineering, the focus on computational knowledge, the need to address design aspects of human activity (within sociology, business, law, medicine, etc.), all belong to alternative modes of explanation that make literate speculation less and less effective. They also opened new horizons for hypotheses in astronomy, genetics, anthropology. Cognitive skills are required in the new pragmatic context together with meta-cognitive skills: how to control one's own learning, for example, in a world of change, variety, distributed effort, mediated work, interconnection, and heterogeneity.

We do not yet know how to express and quantify the need for education, how to select the means and criteria for evaluating performance. If the objective is only to generate attitudes of respect for tradition and to impart good manners and some form of judgment, then the result is the emulation of what we think the past celebrated in a person. In the USA, the bill for education, paid by parents, students, and private and public sources, is well over 370 billion dollars a year. In the national budget alone, 18 different categories of grants-programs for building basic and advanced skills in 50,000 schools, programs for Safe and Drug-free schools, programs for acquiring advanced technology, scholarships, and support for loans-quantify the Federal part of the sum. State and local agencies have their own budgets allowing for $5,000 to $12,000 per student. If a class of 25 students is supported by $250,000 of funding, something in the equation of financing education does not add up. The return on investment is miserable by all accounts. Knowing that close to one million students drop out each year-and the number is growing-at various stages of their education, and that to reclaim them would cost additional money, we add another detail to the picture of a failure that is no longer admissible. In other countries, the cost per person is different. In a number of countries (France, Germany, Italy, some countries in Eastern Europe), students attend school years beyond what is considered normal in the USA. Germany discusses, forever it seems, the need to cut schooling. Are 12 or 13 years of schooling sufficient? How long should the state support a student in the university? With the reunification of the country, new needs had to be addressed: qualified teachers, adequate facilities, financing. Japan, while maintaining a 12-grade system, requires more days of schooling (230 per year compared to 212 in Germany and 180 in the USA). France, which regulates even pre-school, maintains 15 years of education. Still, 40% of French students commit errors in using their language. When, almost 360 years ago, Richelieu introduced (unthinkable for the American mentality) the Académie Française as the guardian of the language, little did he know that a time would come when language, French or any other, would no longer dominate people's life and work, and would not, despite money invested and time spent to teach, make all who study literate.

The new pragmatic context requires an education that results in abilities to distinguish patterns in a world of extreme dynamism, to question, to cope with complexity as it affects one's practical existence, and with a continuum of values. Students know from their own experience that there is no intrinsic determination to the eternity and universality of language-and this is probably the first shock one faces when noticing how large illiterate populations function and prosper in modern society. The economy absorbed the majority of the dropout population. The almost 50% of the American population considered functionally illiterate partakes, in its majority, in the high standard of living of the country. In other countries, while the numbers are different, the general tenor is the same. Well versed in the literacy of consumption, these people perform exactly the function expected: keep the economic engine turning.

Plenty of questions

Industrial society, as a precursor to our pragmatic framework, needed literacy in order to get the most out of machines, and to preserve the physical and intellectual capability of the human operator. It invested in education because the return was high enough to justify it. A qualified worker, a qualified physician, chemist, lawyer, and businessman represented a necessity for the harmonious functioning of industrial society. One needed to know how to operate one machine. Chances were that the machine would outlast the operator. One needed to study a relatively stable body of knowledge (laws, medical prescriptions, chemical formulas). Chances were that one and the same book would serve father, son, even grandson. And what could not be disseminated through literacy was taught by example, through the apprenticeship system, from which engineering profited a lot. What education generated were literate people, and members of a society prepared for relations without which machines made little or no sense at all. The more complex such relations, the longer the time needed for education, and the higher the qualifications required from those working as educators.

Education ensured the transmission of knowledge, filling empty containers sent by parents, from settled families, as incoming students to schools and colleges. Industrial society simultaneously generated the products and the increased need for them. Some would argue that all this is not so simple. Industrialists did not need educated workers. That is why they transferred a lot of work to children and women. Reformists (probably influenced by religious humanism) insisted on taking children out of the factories. Children were taught to read in order to uplift their souls (as the claim went). Finally, laws were enacted that forbade child labor. As this happened, industry got what it needed: a relatively educated class of workers and higher levels of productivity from employment that used the education provided. Under the right pragmatic conditions, an educated worker proved to be a good investment.

Alan Bloom detailed many of the motives that animated industrial philanthropists in supporting education. I beg to differ and return to the argument that industrial society, in order to use the potential of machine production, had to generate the need for what it produced. Indeed, the first products are the workers themselves, projecting into machine-based praxis their physical attributes, but foremostly skills such as comprehension, interaction, coordination. All these attributes belong to the structural condition of literacy.

Industrial products resulting from qualitatively new forms of human self- constitution were of accidental or no interest to illiterates. What would an illiterate do with products, such as new typewriters, books, more sophisticated household appliances? How would an illiterate interact with them in order to get the most out of each artifact? And how could coordination with others using such new products take place? We know that things were not exactly divided along such clear-cut borders. Illiterate parents had literate children who provided the necessary knowledge. The trickle-down effect was probably part of the broader strategy. But all in all, the philanthropists' support of education was an investment in the optimal functioning of a society whose scale necessitated levels high enough for efficient work. Education was connected to philanthropy, and it still is, as a form of wealth distribution. But it is not love for the neighbor that makes philanthropists' support of education necessary, rather the sheer advantage resulting from money given, estate or machines donated, chairs endowed. Cynical or not, this view results from the perception one experiences when noticing how generosity, well supported by public money, ends up as a self-serving gesture: donations that resulted in buildings, scholarships, endowments, and gifts named after the benefactor. The obsession with permanence-some live it as an obsession with eternity, others as a therapeutic ego massage-is but one of the overhead costs associated with literacy.

Lines from the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales come to mind: "Now isn't it a marvel of God's grace/that an illiterate fellow can outpace/the wisdom of a heap of learned men?" How a manciple (probably equivalent to a Residence Life Administrator and Cafeteria Head combined) would perform today is worth another tale. Education, as a product of the civilization of literacy, has problems understanding that literacy corresponds to a development in which written language was the medium for the spoken. Nevertheless, it did learn that today we can store the spoken in non-written form, sometimes more efficiently, and without the heavy investment required to maintain literacy. As an industry, with the special status of a not-for-profit organization, education in the USA competes in the market for its share, and for high returns. Endowments qualify many universities as large businesses that are buffered from the reality of economics.

With or without the aid of philanthropy, learning has to free itself from its subordination to literacy and restrictive literate structures, as it previously freed itself from its subordination to the church, in whose bosom it was nurtured. Obviously, if this new awareness manifests itself only in mailing out videotapes instead of printed college catalogues, then we may ask whether it is educators, or only marketers, who understand the current dynamics. The same should be asked when some professors put their courses on tape, in the belief that canned knowledge is easier for the student to absorb. On-line classes break with the mold, but they are not yet the answer, at least as long as they do not belong to a broader vision reflected in different priorities and appropriate content.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about involving media in education, but the problem is not the medium for storage and delivery. Media labs that are covered by dust because they convey the same useless information as the classes they were supposed to enhance only prove that a fundamental change is necessary. Fundamental, for instance, is the skewed notion that knowledge is transferred from professors-who know more-to students-who know less. Actually, we face a reality never before experienced: students know more than their teachers, in some disciplines. In addition, knowledge still appropriate to a subject a short time ago-call it history, politics, or economics, and think about classes in Soviet and East European studies- has been rendered useless. Physics, mathematics, and chemistry underwent spectacular renewal. This created situations in which what the textbooks taught was immediately contradicted by reality.

Should education compete with the news media? Should it become an Internet address for unlimited and unstructured browsing? Should education give up any sense of foundation? Or should universities periodically refresh their genetic make-up in order to maintain contact with the most recent theories, the most recent research techniques, the most recent discoveries? These are more than enough questions for a pen still writing one word at a time, or for a mouth answering questions as they pile up. Without posing these questions-to which some answers will be attempted at the conclusion of this book-no solution can be expected. The willingness of educators and everyone affected by education to formulate them, and many more, would bear witness to a concern that cannot be addressed by some miraculous, all-encompassing formula. The good news is that in many parts of the world this is happening. Finally!

The equation of a compromise

As the scale of humankind changed, and the efficiency of human practical experience corresponding to the scale ascertained itself as the new rationality, the practical experience of self-constitution had to adjust to new circumstances of existence and activity. There is no magic borderline. But there is a definite discontinuity between what constituted the relatively stable underlying structure of literacy and what constitutes the fast-changing underlying structure of the pragmatic framework. Because in our own self-constitution literacy is only one among many media for achieving the efficiency that the new scale requires, we come to realize, even if public discourse does not exactly reflect it, that we cannot afford literacy the way we have until now. And even if we could, we should not. People recognize, even if only reluctantly, that the literacy machine, for some reason still called education, endows the new generation with a skill of limited significance. The resulting perspective is continuously contradicted by the ever new and ever renewing human experiences through which we become who we are. Education based on the paradigm of literacy is, as we have seen, a luxury which a society, rich or poor, cannot afford. Conditions of human life and praxis require, instead of a skill and perspective for the whole of life, a series. Skill and perspective need to be understood together. Their application will probably be limited in time, and not necessarily directly connected to those succeeding them.

Nobody seriously disputes the relevance of studying language, but very few see language and language-based disciplines as the prerequisite for the less than life-long series of different jobs students of today will have. Although colleges maintain a core curriculum that preserves the role of language and the humanities, the shift towards the languages of mathematics-a discipline that has diversified spectacularly-and of visual representation is so obvious that one can only wonder why the voices of mathematicians are not heard over those of the Modern Language Association. Mathematics prepares for fields from technical to managerial, from scientific to philosophic, and from design to legal. The realization that calculus is first of all a language, and that the goal of education is fluency in it, corresponds to an awareness that musicians had for the longest time with respect to musical scores, but the champions of literacy always refused to accept. The same holds true for the disciplines of visualization: drawing, computer graphics, design. In today's education, the visual needs to be studied at least as much as language-dependent subjects.

Against the background of deeper changes, education is focusing on its on redefinition. The major change is from a container model of education-the child being the empty container who needs to be filled with language, history, math, and not much more-to a heuristic education. Our pragmatics is one of process, as the pragmatics of education finally should be. Education needs to be conducive to interaction and to the formation of criteria for choices from among many options. But change does not come easily. Still using the impertinence of literacy, some educators call the container model "teaching students to think." They do not realize that students think whether we teach them to or not! Students of all ages are aware of change, and familiar with modes of interaction, among themselves and with technology, closer to their condition than to that of their teachers. The majority of the new businesses on the Internet are instigated by students and supported by their inventiveness and dedication. They have became agents of change in spite of all the shortcomings of education. And students have become educators themselves, offering environments for conveying their own experience.

To be a child

No one can declare better ways of teaching without considering the real child. In a world of choice and free movement, children are more likely to come from families that will consist of a single parent. Many children will come from environments where discrimination, poverty, prejudice, and violence have an overpowering influence. Such an environment is significant for a society dedicated to democratic ideals. We have to face the fact that childrearing and education are being transferred from family to institutions meant to produce the educated person. With the best of motives, society has created factories for processing children. These socio-educational entities are accepted quite obligingly by the majority of the people freed from a responsibility affecting their own lives. "Everything will be fine, as long as the education of the new generation basically repeats the education of the parents," sums up the expectations regarding these institutions.

Although we know that, generally speaking, cycles (of production, design, and evaluation) are getting shorter, we maintain children in education well past the time they even fit in classroom chairs. One needs to see those adults forced to be students, full of energy, frustrated that their patience, not their creative potential, is put to the test. Dropping out of high school or college is not indicative of a student's immaturity. Society's tendency to decide what is best for the next generation has determined that only one type of education will ensure productive adults. Society refuses to consider humans in the variety of their potential. From the Projection of Education Statistics to the Year 2006, we learn that the total private and public elementary and secondary school enrollment in the USA will increase from 49.8 million in 1994 to 54.6 million. Of the 49.8 million in 1994, only 2.5 million graduated high school, and by the year 2006 the number will not exceed 3 million. Students themselves seem to be more aware of the excessively long cycle of education than do the experts who define its methods, contents, and goals. This creates a basis for conflict that no one should underestimate.

Growing up in an environment of change and challenge is probably rewarding in the long run. But things are not very simple. The pressure to perform, peer pressure, and one's youthful instincts to explore and ascertain can transform a student's life in an instant. The distance between paradise (support and choice without worry) and hell (the specter of disease, addiction, abandonment, disappointment, lack of direction) is also shorter than prior generations experienced it. Hundreds of TV channels, the Internet, thousands of music titles (on CD, video, and radio stations), the lure of sports, drugs, sex, and the hundreds of fashion labels-choosing can be overwhelming. Literacy used to organize everything neatly. If you were in love, Romeo and Juliet was proper reading material. If you wished to explore Greece, you started with Homer's epics and worked your way up to the most recent novel by a contemporary Greek writer.

The problem is that drugs, AIDS, millions of attractions, the need to find one's way in a world less settled and less patient, do not fit in the neat scheme of literacy. The language of genetics and the language of personality constitution are better articulated through means other than books. Heroes, teachers, parents, priests, and activists are no longer icons, even if they are portrayed to be better than they were in reality. Bart Simpson, the underachiever, "mediocre and proud of it," is a model for everyone who is told that what really counts is to feel good, period.

Still, some young people go to school or college full of enthusiasm, hoping to get an education that will guarantee self-fulfillment. All that is studied, over a long period of time and at great financial sacrifice, comes not even close to what they will face. They might learn how to spell and how to add. But they soon discover that in real life skills other than spelling and arithmetic are expected. What bigger disappointment is there than discovering that years of pursing a promise bring no result? If, after all this, we still want both literacy and competence for experiences which literacy does not support, and often inhibits, we would have to invest beyond what society is willing and able to spend. And even if society were to do so, as it seems that it feels it must, the investment would be in imposing useless skills and a primitive perspective on the new generation, until the time comes when it can escape society's pressure. Education in our day remains a compromise between the interests of the institution of education (with tens of thousands of teachers who would become unemployed) and a new pragmatic framework that few in academia understand.

One of the elements of this equation is the practical need to extend education to all, and if possible on a continuous basis. But unless this education reflects the variety of literacies that the pragmatic framework requires, admitting everyone to everything results in the lowest general level of education. The variety of practical experiences of self-constitution requires that we find ways to coordinate access to education by properly and responsibly identifying types of creativity, and investing responsibility in their development. Continuous education needs to be integrated in the work structure. It has to become part of the reciprocal commitments through which the new pragmatic framework is acknowledged.

To all those dedicated to the human aspects of politics, business, law, and medicine, who deplore that the technicians of policy-making can no longer find their way to our souls, all this will sound terrifying. Nevertheless, as much as we would like to be considered as individuals, each with our own dignity, personality, opinions, emotions, and pains, we ourselves undermine our expectations in our striving for more and more, at a price lower than what it costs society to distinguish us. Scale dictates anonymity, and probably mediocrity. Ignorance of literacy's role in centuries of productive human life dictates that it is time to unload the literacy-reflected experiences for which there is no reference in the new pragmatic context.

Who are we kidding?

Scared that in giving up literacy training we commit treason to our own condition, we maintain literacy and try to adapt it to new circumstances of working, thinking, feeling, and exploring. In view of the inefficiency built into our system of education, we try to compromise by adding the dimension characteristic of the current status of human experience of multiple partial literacies. The result is the transformation of education into a packaging industry of human beings: you choose the line along which you want to be processed; we make sure that you get the literacy alibi, and that we train you to be able to cope with so-called entry-level jobs. Obviously, this evolves in a more subtle way. The kind of college or university one attends, or the tuition one pays, determines the amount of subtlety. Students accept the function of education insofar as it mediates between their goals and the rather scary reality of the marketplace. This mediation differs according to the level of education, and is influenced by political and social decision making.

As an industry for processing the new generation, education acts according to parameters resulting from its opportunistic search for a place between academia and reality. Education acknowledges the narrow domains of expertise which labor division brought about, and reproduces the structure of current human experience in its own structure. Through vast financial support, from states, private sources, and tradition- based organizations, education is artificially removed from the reality of expected efficiency. It is rarely a universe of commitments. Accordingly, the gap between the literate language of the university and the languages of current human practice widens. The tenure system only adds another structural burden. When the highest goal of a professor is to be freed of teaching, something is awfully wrong with our legitimate decision to guarantee educators the freedom necessary for exercising their profession.

Behind the testing model that drives much of current education is the expectation of effective ranking of students. This model takes a literate approach insofar as it establishes a dichotomy (aptitude vs. achievement) that makes students react to questions, but does not really engage them or encourage creative contributions. The result is illustrative of the relation between what we do and how we evaluate what we do. An expectation was set, and the process of education was skewed to generate good test results. This effectively eliminates teaching and learning for the sake of a subject. Students are afraid they will not measure up and demand to be taught by the book. Teachers who know better than the book are intimidated, by students and administration, from trying better approaches. Good students are frustrated in their attempts to define their own passion and to pursue it to their definition of success. Entrepreneurs at the age of 14, they do not need the feedback of stupid tests, carried out more for the sake of bureaucracy than for their well-being. Standardized tests dominated by multiple-choice answers facilitate low cost evaluations, but also affect patterns of teaching and learning. Exactly what the new pragmatics embodies-the ability to adapt and to be proactive-is counteracted through the experience of testing, and the teaching geared to multiple-choice instruments.

The uncoupling of education from the experiential frame of the human being is reflected in education's language and organization, and in the limiting assumptions about its function and methods. Education has become a self-serving organization with a bureaucratic "network of directives," as Winograd and Flores call them, and motivational elements not very different from the state, the military, and the legal system. Like the organizations mentioned, it also develops networks of interaction with sources of funding and sources of power, some driven by the same self-preserving energies as education itself. Instead of reflecting shorter cycles of activity in its own structure, it tends to maintain control over the destiny of students for longer periods of time. Even in fields of early acknowledged creativity-e.g., computer programming, networking, genetics, and nanotechnology-education continues to apply a policy that takes away the edge of youth, inventiveness, and risk.

The lowest quality of education is at the undergraduate level in universities, where either graduate assistants or even machines substitute for professors too busy funding their research, or actually no longer attuned to teaching. This situation exists exactly because we are not yet able to develop strategies of education adapted to new circumstances of human work and to the efficiency requirements which we ourselves made necessary. The "network of recurrent conversations," to use Winograd's terminology again, or the "language game" that Wittgenstein attributed to each profession, hides behind the front of literacy and thus burdens education. Once accreditation introduces the language game of politics, education distances itself even more from its fundamental mission. Accreditation agencies translate concerns about the quality of education into requirements, such as the evaluation of colleges and universities based on scores on exit tests taken by students. These are supposed to reflect academic achievement. In other cases, such scores are used for assessing financial support. The paradox is that what negatively affects the quality of education becomes the measure of reward. Test results are often used in politicians' arguments about improved education, as well as a marketing tool. In fact, to prepare students for performance makes performance a goal in itself. Thus it should come as no surprise that the most popular book on college campuses-today's education factories-is a guide to cheating.

Many times comparisons are made between students in the USA and in Japan or in Western European countries. In many ways these comparisons are against the pervasive dynamics of integration that we experience. Still, there are things to consider-for instance, that Japanese students spend almost the same amount of time watching TV as American students do, and that they are not involved in household tasks. Noticeable differences are in reading. The Japanese spend double the number of hours that American students do in reading. Japanese students spend more time on schoolwork (the same 2-to-1 ratio), but much less on entertainment. Should Japan be considered a model? If we see that Japanese students rank among the best in science subjects, the answer seems to be positive. But if we project the same against the entire development of students, their exceptional creative achievements, the answer becomes a little more guarded. With all its limitations, the USA is still more attuned to pragmatic requirements. This is probably due more to the country's inherent dynamics than to its educational institutions. Largely unregulated, capable of adaptive moves, subject to innovation, the USA is potentially a better network for educational possibilities.

What caused the criticism in these pages of evaluation is the indecisiveness that the USA shows-the program for school reform for the year 2000 is an example of this attitude-and the difficulty it has in realizing the price of the compromise it keeps supporting. Once Japanese businesses started buying American campuses, the price of the compromise became clear. Universities in the USA were saved from bankruptcy. Japanese schools, whose structured programs and lack of understanding of the new pragmatics made for headlines, were able to evade their own rigid system of education, reputed for being late in acknowledging the dynamics of change. Abruptly, the Americanization of world education-study driven by multiple-choice tests with a dualistic structure-was short-changed by a Japanization movement. But in the closer look suggested above, it is evident that the Japanese are extricating themselves from drastic literacy requirements that end up hampering necessary accommodations in the traditional Japanese system of values. Although caution is called for, especially in approaching a subject foreign to our direct experience and understanding, the trend expressed is telling in its many consequences.

What about alternatives?

A legitimate question to be expected from any sensible reader refers to alternatives. Let us first notice that, due to the new pragmatic framework, we are more and more in the situation to disseminate every and any type of information to any imaginable destination. The interconnectivity of business and of markets creates the global economy. In contrast, our school and college systems, as separate from real life, and conceived physically outside our universe of existence, are probably as anachronistic as the castles and palaces we associate with the power and function of nobility; or as anachronistic as the high stacks of steel mills we associate with industry, and the cities we associate with social life. Some alumni might be nostalgic for the Gothic structures of their university days. The physical reference to a time "when education meant something" is clear-as is the memory of the campus, yet another good reason to look at the homecoming party in anticipation of the football game, or in celebration of a good time (win or lose).

To make explicit the shift from a symbolism of education, coordinated with the function of intellectual accomplishment, to a stage when debunking this symbolism, still alive in and outside Ivy League universities, is an urgent political and practical goal is only the beginning. There is no justification for maintaining outmoded structures and attitudes, and investing in walls and campuses and feudal university domains. As one of the successful entrepreneurs of this time put it, "anything that has to do with brick and mortar and its DISPLAY is-to use some poetic license-dead." The focus has to be on the dynamics of individual self-constitution, and on the pragmatic horizons of everyone's future.

Fixing and maintaining schools in the USA, as well as in almost any country in the world, would cost more than building them from scratch. The advantage of giving up structures inappropriate to the new requirements of education is that, finally, at least we would create environments for interaction, taking full advantage of the progress made in technologies of communication and interactive learning. There is no need to idealize the Internet and the World Wide Web at their current stage. But if the future will continue to be defined more by commerce expectations than by educational needs, no one should be surprised that their educational potential will come to fruition late.

Humans do not develop at the same pace, and in the same direction. Each of us is so different that the main function of education should be not to minimize differences through literacy and literacy-based strategies that support a false sense of democracy, but to identify and maximize differences. This will provide the foundation for an education that allows each student to develop according to possibilities evinced through the relations, language-based or not, that people enter into. The content of education, understood as process, should be the experience, and the associated means of creating and understanding it. Instead of a dominant language, with built-in experiences more and more alien to the vast majority of students, the ability to cope with many sign systems, with many languages, to articulate them, adapt them to the circumstance, and share them as much as the circumstance requires, should become the goal. Some would counter, "This was attempted with courses labeled modern math and resulted in no one's understanding it, or even simple math." There is some truth in this. The mathematically gifted had no problem in learning the new math. Students who were under the influence of literate reasoning had problems. What we need to do is to keep the mind open, allow for as much accumulation as necessary, and for discarding, if new experiences demand an open mind and freedom from previous assumptions. Some students will settle (in math or in other subjects) for predominantly visual signs, others for sounds, some for words, for rhythm, for any of the forms through which human intelligence comes to expression. Interactive multimedia are only some of the many media available. Other possibilities are yet to emerge. The Internet is in the same situation. A framework for individual selection, for tapping into learning resources and using them to the degree desired and acknowledged as necessary by praxis, would be the way to go. Not only literacy, in the accepted sense, but mathematical literacy, biological, chemical, or engineering literacy, and visual thinking and expression should be given equal consideration. Cross-pollination among disciplines traditionally kept in isolation will definitely enhance creativity by doing away with the obsessive channeling practiced nowadays.

Education needs to shift from the atomistic view that isolates subjects from the whole of reality to a holistic perspective. This will acknowledge types of mediation as effective means of increasing the efficiency of work, the requirements of integration, and the distributed nature of practical experiences in the world today. Collaborative effort needs to be brought to the forefront of the educational experience. We can define communities of interest, focused on some body of experience (which can be incorporated in an artifact, a book, a work of art, or someone's expertise). Education should provide means for sharing experiences. A variety of different interests can be brought into focus through sharing and collaborative learning. There are many dimensions to such an approach: the knowledge sought, the experience of the variety of perspectives and uses, the awareness of interaction, the skills for intercommunication, and more. Implicit is the high expectation of sharing, while at the same time maintaining motivations for individual achievement and individual reward. This becomes critical at a time when it becomes more and more evident that resources are finite, while expectations still grow exponentially. The change from a standardized model, focused on the quick fix that leads to results (no matter how high a cost), to the collaborative model of individuality and distinction re-establishes an ethical framework, which is urgently needed. Competition is not excluded, but instead of conflict-which in the given system results in students who cut pages from books so that their colleagues will fail-we ought to create an environment of reciprocally advantageous cooperation. How far are we from such an objective?

In the words of Jacques Barzun, a devoted educator committed to literacy, education failed to "develop native intelligence." In an interesting negative of what people think education accomplishes, he points to the appearance of success: "We professed to make ideal citizens, super-tolerant neighbors, agents of world peace, and happy family folk, at once sexually adept and flawless drivers of cars." All this is nothing to be ashamed of, but as educational goals, they are quite off the target. Citizenship in the society of the new pragmatic context is different from citizenship in previous societies. Tolerance requires a new way to manifest it, such as the integration of what is different and complementary. Peace, yes, even peace, means a different state of affairs at a time when many local conflicts affect the world. As far as family, sex, and the culture of the car are concerned, nothing can point more to the failure of education. Indeed, education failed to understand all the factors involved in contemporary family life. It failed to understand sexual relations. Faced with the painful reality of the degradation of sexual relations, education resorted to the desperate measure of dispensing condoms, an extension of what was gloriously celebrated as sex education. The flawless drivers never heard the criticism voiced by citizens concerned with energy waste. We made students rely on cheap gasoline and affordable cars to bring them to school and college, instead of understanding that education needs to be decentralized, distributed, and-why not-adapted to the communication and interaction possibilities of our times. The Green Teens who are active against energy waste might be well ahead of their educational system, but still forced to go through it. Moreover, education should be seen in the broader context of the other changes coming with the end of the civilization of literacy: the status of family, religion, law, and government.

While education is related to the civic status of the individual, the new conditions for the activity of our minds are also very important. Ideally, education addresses all the facets of the human being. New conditions of generalized interconnection almost turn the paradigm of continuing education into continuous education that corresponds to changes in human experience unfolding under even more complex circumstances. It might well happen that for some experiences, we shall have to recuperate values characteristic of literacy. But better to rediscover them than to maintain literacy as an ideal when the perspectives for new forms of ascertaining ourselves as human beings require more, much more, than literacy.

Book Four

Language and the Visual

Photography, film, and television have changed the world more than Gutenberg's printing press. Much of the blame for the decline in literacy is attributed to them, especially to movies and television. More recently, computer games and the Internet have been added to the list of culprits. Studies have been conducted all over the world with the aim of discovering how film and television have changed established reading habits, writing ability, and the use and interpretation of language. Patterns of publishing and distribution of information, including electronic publication and the World Wide Web (still in its infancy), have also been analyzed on a comparative basis. Inferences have been drawn concerning the influence of various types of images on what is printed and why, as well as on how writing (fiction, science, trade books, manuals, poetry, drama, even correspondence) has changed.

In some countries, almost every home has a television set; in others even more than one. In 1995, the number of computers sold surpassed that of television sets. In many countries, most children watch television and films before they learn to read. In a few countries, children play computer games before ever opening a book. After they start to read, the amount of time spent in front of a TV set is far greater than the time dedicated to books. Adults, already the fourth and fifth generations of television viewers, are even more inclined to images. Some images are of their choice-TV programs at home, movies in the theater, videotapes they buy, rent, or borrow from the library, CD-ROMs. Other images are imposed on the adult generations by demands connected to their professions, their health, their hobbies, and by advertisement. After image-recording and playing equipment became widely available, the focus on TV and video expanded. In addition to the ability to bring home films of one's choice, to buy and rent videotapes, laser discs, and CD-ROMs on a variety of subjects, we are also able to produce a video archive for family, school, community, or professional purposes. We can even avail ourselves of cable TV to generate programs of local interest. The generalized system of networking (cable, satellites, airwaves), through which images can be pumped from practically any location into schools, homes, offices, and libraries, affects even further the relation of children and adults among themselves and the relation of both groups to language and to literacy in contemporary life. Anyone with access to the printing presses of the digital world can print a CD-ROM. Access to the Internet is no more expensive than a magazine subscription. But the Internet is much more exciting because we are not only at the receiving end.

The subject, as almost all have perceived and analyzed it, is not the impact of visual technology and computers on reading patterns, or the influence of new media on how people write. At the core of the development described so far is the fundamental shift from one dominant sign system, called language, and its reified form, called literacy, to several sign systems, among which the visual plays a dominant role. We would certainly fail to understand what is happening, what the long-lasting consequences of the changes we face are, and what the best course of action is, if we were to look only at the influence of technology. Understanding the degree of necessity of the technology in the first place is where the focus should be. The obsession with symptoms, characteristic of industrial pragmatics, is not limited to mechanics' shops and doctors' offices.

New practical experiences within the scale of humankind that result in the need for alternatives to language confirm that the focus cannot be on television and computer screens, nor on advertisement, electronic photography, and laser discs. The issue is not CD-ROM, digital video, Internet and the World Wide Web, but the need to cope with complexity. And the goal is to achieve higher levels of efficiency corresponding to the needs and expectations of the global scale that humankind has reached.

So far, very few of those who study the matter have resisted the temptation to fasten blame on television watching or on the intimidating intrusion of electronic and digital contraptions for the decline of literacy. It is easier to count the hours children spend watching TV-an average of 16,000 hours in comparison to 13,000 hours for study before graduation from high school-than to see why such patterns occur. And it is as easy to conclude that by the time these children can be served alcohol in a restaurant or buy it in stores, they will have seen well over a million commercials. Yet no one ever acknowledges new structures of work and communication, even less the unprecedented wealth of forms of human interaction, regardless of how shallow they are. That particular ways of working and living have for all practical purposes disappeared, is easily understood. Understanding why requires the will to take a fresh look at necessary developments.

Some of today's visual sign systems originate in the civilization of literacy: advertisement, theatrical and para-theatrical performance, and television drama. They carry with them efficiency expectations typical of the Machine Age. Other visual sign systems transcend the limits of literacy: concrete poetry, happening, animation, performance games that lead to interactive video, hypermedia or interactive multimedia, virtual reality, and global networks. Within such experiences, a different dynamics and a focus on distinctions, instead of on homogeneity, are embedded. Most of these experiences originate in the practical requirement to extend the human being's experiential horizon, and the need to keep pace with the dynamics of global economy.

How many words in a look?

In a newspaper industry journal (Printers' Ink, 1921), Fred R. Barnard launched what would become over time a powerful slogan: "One look is worth a thousand words." To make his remark sound more convincing, he later reformulated it as "One picture is worth a thousand words," and called it a proverb from China. Few slogans were repeated and paraphrased more than this one. Barnard wanted to draw people's attention to the power of images. It took some years until the new underlying structure of our continuous practical self-constitution confirmed an observation made slightly ahead of its time. It should be added that, through the millennia, craftsmen and the forerunners of engineering used images to design artifacts and tools, and to plan and build cities, monuments, and bridges. They realized through their own experience how powerful images could be, although they did not compare them to words.

Images are more concrete than words. The concreteness of the visual makes images inappropriate for describing other images. However, it does not prevent human beings from associating images with the most abstract concepts they develop in the course of their practical or theoretical experience. Words start by being relatively close to what they denote, and end up so far removed from the objects or actions they name that, unless they are generated together with an object or action (like the word calculator, from calculae, stones for counting), they seem arbitrary. Reminiscences of the motivation of words (especially onomatopoeic qualities, i.e., phonetic resemblance to what the word refers to, such as crack or whoosh) do not really affect the abstract rules of generating statements, or even our understanding of such language signs.

Images are more constrained, more directly determined by the pragmatic experience in whose framework they are generated. Red as a word (with its equivalencies in other languages: rot in German, rouge in French, rojo in Spanish, 赤 (aka) in Japanese, adom in Hebrew, and красный in Russian) is arbitrary in comparison to the color it designates. Even the designation is quite approximate. In given experiential situations, many nuances can be distinguished, although there are no names for them. The red in an image is a physical quality that can be measured and standardized, hence made easier to process in photography, printing, and synthesis of pigments. In the same experiential framework, it can be associated with many objects or processes: flowers, blood, a stoplight, sunset, a flag. It can be compared to them, it can trigger new associations, or become a convention. Once language translates a visual sign, it also loads it with conventions characteristic of language-red as in revolution, cardinal red, redneck, etc.-moving it from the realm of its physical determination (wavelength, or frequency of oscillation) to the reality of cultural conventions. These are preserved and integrated in the symbolism of a community.

Purely pictorial signs, as in Chinese and Japanese writing, relate to the structure of language, and are culturally significant. No matter to which extent such pictorial signs are refined-and indeed, characters in Chinese and Kanji are extremely sophisticated- they maintain a relation to what they refer to. They extend the experience of writing, especially in calligraphic exercise, in the experience conveyed. We can impose on images-and I do not refer only to Chinese ideograms-the logic embodied in language. But once we do, we alter the condition of the image and transform it into an illustration.

Language, in its embodiment in literacy, is an analytic tool and supports analytic practice quite well. Images have a dominantly synthetic character and make for good composite tools. Synthesizing activities, especially designing, an object, a message, or a course of action, imply the participation of images, in particular powerful diagramming and drawing. Language describes; images constitute. Language requires a context for understanding, in which classes of distribution are defined. Images suggest such a context. Given the individual character of any image, the equivalent of a distributional class for a language simply does not exist.

To look at an image, for whatever practical or theoretical purpose, means to relate to the method of the image, not to its components. The method of an image is an experience, not a grammar applied to a repertory, or the instantiation of rules of grammar. The power of language consists of its abstract nature. Images are strong through their concreteness. The abstraction of language results from sharing vocabulary and grammar; the abstraction of images, from sharing visual experience, or creating a context for new experiences.

For as long as visual experience was confined to one's limited universe of existence, as in the case of the migrating tribes, the visual could not serve as a medium for anything beyond this changing universe of existence. Language resulted from the need to surpass the limitations of space and time, to generate choices. The only viable alternative adopted was the abstract image of the phonetic convention, which was easier to carry from one world to another, as, for instance, the Phoenicians did. Each alphabet is a condensed visual testimony to experiences in the meanwhile uncoupled from language and its concrete practical motivations.

Writing visualizes language; reading brings the written language back to its oral life, but in a tamed version. Whether the Sumerian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Latin, or Slavic alphabet, the letters are not neutral signs for abstract phonetic language. They summarize visual experiences and encode rules of recognition; they are related to anthropologic experience and to cognitive processes of abstracting. The mysticism of numbers and their meta-physical meanings, of letters and combinations of letters and numbers, of shapes, symmetry, etc. are all present. With alphabets and numbers the abstract nature of visual representation took over the phonetic quality of language. The concreteness of pictorial representation, along with the encoded elements (what is the experience behind a letter? a number? a certain way of writing?), simply vanished for the average literate (or illiterate) person. This is part of the broader process of acculturation-that is, breaking through experiences of language. Experts in alphabets show us the levels at which the image of each letter constituted expressive levels significant in themselves. Nevertheless, their alphabetic literacy is as relevant to writing as much as a good description of the various kinds of wheels is relevant to the making and the use of automobiles.

The current use of images results from the new exigencies of human praxis and developments in visualization technology. In previous chapters, some of these conditions were mentioned: 1.

the global scale of our activity and existence; 2.

the diversity made possible by the practical experiences corresponding to this globality; 3.

the dynamics of ever faster, increasingly mediated, human interaction; 4.

the need to optimize human interaction in order to achieve high levels of efficiency; 5.

the need to overcome the arcane stereotypes of language; 6.

the non-linear, non-sequential, open nature of human experiences brought to the fore through the new scale of humankind.

The list is open-ended. The more our command of images improves, the more arguments in favor of their use. None of these arguments should be construed as a blank and non-critical endorsement of images. We know that we cannot pursue theoretic work exclusively with images, or that the meta-level (language about language) cannot be reached with images. Images are factual, situational, and unstable. They also convey a false sense of democracy. Moreover, they materialize the shift from a positivist conception of facts, dominating a literacy-based determinism, to a relativist conception of chaotic functioning, embodied, for instance, by the market or by the new means and methods of human interaction. However, until we learn all there is to know about the potential of images in areas other than art, architecture, and design, chances are that we shall not understand their participation in thinking and in other traditionally non-image-based forms of human praxis.

Images are very powerful agents for activities involving human emotions and instincts. They shy away from literal truth, insofar as the logic of images is different from the logic inhabiting human experiences of self-constitution in language. Imagery has a protean character. Images not only represent; they actually shape, form, and constitute subjects. Cognitive processes of association are better supported visually than in language. Through images, people are effectively encultured, i.e., given the identity which they cannot experience at the abstract level of acculturation through language. The world of avatars, dynamic graphic representations of a person in the virtual universe of networks, is one of concreteness. The individuals literally remake themselves as visual entities that can enter a dialogue with others.

Within a given culture, images relate to each other. In the multitude of cultures within which people identify themselves, images translate from one experience to another. Against the background of globality, the experience of images is one of simultaneous distinctions and integration. Distinctions carry the identifiers of the encultured human beings constituted in new practical experiences. Integration is probably best exemplified by the metaphor of the global village of teleconnections and tele-viewing, of Internet and World Wide Web interactions.

The characteristics of images given here so far need to be related to the perspective of changes brought about by imaging technologies. Otherwise, we could hardly come to understand how images constitute languages that make literacy useless, or better yet, that result in the need for complementary partial literacies.

The mechanical eye and the electronic eye

The photo camera and the associated technology of photo processing are products of the civilization of literacy in anticipation of the civilization of illiteracy. The metaphor of the eye, manifest in the optics of the lens and the mechanics of the camera, could not entirely support new human perceptions of reality without the participation of literacy. Camera use implied the shared background of literacy and literacy-based space representations. The entire discussion of the possibilities and limitations of photography-a discussion begun shortly after the first photographic images were produced, and still going on in our day-is an exercise in analytical practice.

Some looked at photography as writing with light; others as mechanical drawing. They doubted whether there was room for creativity in its use, but never questioned its documentary quality: shorthand for descriptions difficult, but still possible, in writing. The wider the framework of practical experiences involving the camera, the more interesting the testimony of photography proved. This applies to photography in journalism and science, as well as in personal and family life. With photography, images started to substitute for words, and literacy progressively gave way to imagery in a variety of new human experiences related to space, movement, and aspects of life otherwise not visible.

Testimony of the invisible, made available to many people through the photographic camera, was much stronger, richer, and more authentic than the words one could write about the same. Early photographs of the Paris sewer system-the latter a subject of many stories, but literally out of sight-exemplify this function. Before the camera, only drawing could capture the visible without changing it into words or obscure diagrams. Drawing was an interpreted representation, not only in the sense of selection-what to draw-but also in defining a perspective and endowing the image with some emotional quality. The camera had a long way to go before the same interpretive quality was achieved, and even then, in view of the mediating technology, it was quite difficult to define what was added to what was photographed, and why.

Today's cameras-from the disposables to the fully automated-encapsulate everything we have to know to operate them. There is no need to be aware of the eye metaphor-which is undergoing change with the advent of electronic photography-and even less of what diaphragm, exposure time, and distance are. The experience leading to photography and the practical experience of automated photography are uncoupled. To take a picture is no longer a matter of expertise, but a reflex gesture accompanying travel, family or community events, and discrete moments of relative significance. Thus photographic images took over linguistic descriptions and became our diaries. As confusing as this might sound, a camera turns into an extension of our eyes (actually, only one), easier to use than language, and probably more accurate. In some way, a camera is a compressed language all set for the generation of visual sentences. If scientific use of photography were not available, a great deal of effort would be necessary to verbally describe what images from outer space, from the powerful electronic microscope, or from under the earth and under water, reveal to us. In Leonardo da Vinci's time, the only alternative was drawing, and a very rich imagination!

The camera has a built-in space concept, probably more explicit than language has. This concept is asserted and embodied in the geometry of the lens and is reflected in some of the characteristics of photographic images. They are, mainly, two- dimensional reductions of our three-dimensional universe of experience, also influenced by light, film emulsion, type of processing, technology and materials used for printing, but primarily by physical properties of the lens used. Once our spatial concept improved and progress in lens processing was made, we were able to change the lens, to make it more adaptive (wide angle, zoom) to functions related to visual experiences. We were also able to introduce an element of time control that helped to capture dynamic events.

Another important change was brought about by Polaroid's concept of almost instant delivery of prints. It is with this concept-compressing two stages of photographic representation into one and, in initial developments, giving up the possibility of making copies-that we reached a new phase in the relation between literacy and photography. As we know, the traditional camera came with the implicit machine-focused conversation: What can I do with it? The Polaroid concept changed this to a different query: What can it do for me? This change of emphasis corresponds to a different experience with the medium and is accompanied by the liberation of photography from some of the constraints of the system of literacy. "What can I do?" concerns photographic knowledge and the selection made by photographers, persons who constitute their identity in a new practical experience. "What can it do?" refers to knowledge embodied in the hardware. The advertisement succinctly describes the change: "Hold the picture in your hand while you still hold the memory in your heart." As opposed to a written record, an instant image is meant for a short time, almost as a fast substitute for writing.

A more significant change occurs when photography goes electronic, and in particular, digital. Both elements already discussed-the significance of the smallest changes in the input on the result, and the quality aspect of digital vs. analog-are reflected in digital photography. I insist on this because of the new condition of the image it entails and our relation to the realm of the visual. Language found its medium in writing, and printing made writing the object of literacy. Images could not be used with the same ease as writing, and could not be transmitted the way the voice is. When we found ways to have voice travel at speeds faster than that of sound, by electromagnetic waves used in telephone or radio transmission, we consolidated the function of language, but at the same time freed language of some of the limitations of literacy. Digital photography accomplishes the same for images.

A written report from any place in the world might take longer to produce, though not to transmit, than the image representing the event reported. Connected to a network, an electronic camera sends images from the event to the page prepared for printing. The understanding of the image, whose printing involved a digital component (the raster) long before the computer was invented, requires a much lower social investment than literacy. The complexity is transferred from capturing the image to transmitting and viewing it. Films are used to generate an electronic simile of our photographic shots. At the friendly automated image shop, we get colorful prints and the shiny CD-ROM from which each image can be recalled on a video screen or further processed on our computers.

From the image as testimony, as literacy destined it to be, to the image as pretext for new experiences-medium of visual relativity and questionable morality- everything, and more, is possible. Images can mediate in fast developing situations- transactions, exchange of information, conflicts-better than words can. They are free of the extra burden words bear and allow for global and detailed local interpretation. Electronic processing of digital photography supports comparison, as well as manipulation, of images in view of unprecedented human experiences requiring such functions. The metaphor of the one-eye, which the photographic camera embodies, led to a flat world. Cyclopes see everything flat. Unfortunately, but by no accident, this metaphor was taken over in computer graphics. Images on the computer screen are held together by the conventions of monocular vision. Digital photography can be networked and endowed with dynamic qualities. But what makes digital photography more and more a breakthrough, in respect to its incipient literate phase, is that we can build 3D cameras, that is, technical beasts with two eyes (and if need be, with more). This leads to practical experiences in a pragmatic framework no longer limited to sequences or to reductionist strategies of representation.

Who is afraid of a locomotive?

The image of a locomotive moving in the direction of the spectators made them scream and run away when moving pictures were first shown to the public. Movement enhanced the realism of the image, captured on film to the extent of blurring the borderline between reality and the newly established convention of cinematographic expression. In the movies of the silent era, the literacy-based realism of the image- actually an illustration of the script-successfully compensated for the impossibility of providing the sound of dialogue. The experience of literacy and that of writing movement onto film were tightly coupled. Short scenes, designed with close attention to visual details, could be understood without the presence of the word, because of the shared background of language. The convention of cinematography is based on sharing the extended white page on which the projection of moving images takes place. Humor was the preferred structure, since the mechanical reproduction of movement had, due to rudimentary technology and lack of sound, a comic quality in itself. Later, music was inserted, then dialogue. Everyone was looking forward to the day when image and sound would be synchronized, when color movies would become possible.

It adds to the arguments thus far advanced that cinematographic human experience, an experience dominantly visual, revealed the role of language as a synchronizing device, while the mechanics of cameras and projectors took care of the optical illusion. Cinematography also suggested that this role could be exercised by other means of expression and communication as well. Language is related to body movement, and often participates in the rhythmic patterns of this movement. Before language, other rhythmic devices better adapted to the unsettled self-constitutive practical experience of the Homo Hominis were used to synchronize the effort of several beings involved in the endeavor of survival. Although there is no relation between the experience of cinematography and that of primitive beings on the move after migrating herds of animals, it is worth pointing out the underlying structure of synchronicity. The means involved in achieving this synchronicity are characteristic of the various stages in human evolution. At a very small scale of existence, such as autarchic existence, the means were very simple, and very few. At the scale that makes the writing of movement possible, these means had become complex, but were dominated by literacy. With cinematography, a new strategy of synchronization was arrived at. In many ways, the story of how films became what they are today is also the story of a conflict between literacy and image-based strategies of synchronization.

The intermediary phases are well known: the film accompanied by music ("Don't kill the pianist"), recorded sound, sound integrated in the movie, stereophonic sound. Their significance is also known: emulate the rhythm of filmed movement, provide a dramatic background, integrate the realism of dialogue and other real sounds in the realism of action, expand the means of expression in order to synthesize new realities. Some of the conventions of the emerging film are cultural accomplishments, probably comparable to the convention of ideographic writing. They belong, nevertheless, to a pragmatic context based on the characteristics of literacy. They ensue also from an activity that will result in higher and higher levels of human productivity and efficiency. Each film is a mold for the many copies to be shown to millions of spectators. The personal touch of handwriting is obfuscated by the neutral camera-a mechanical device, after all. That the same story can be told in many different ways does not change the fact that, once told, it addresses enormous numbers of potential viewers, no longer required to master literacy in order to understand the film's content. The experience of filmmaking is industrially defined. It also bears witness to the many components of human interaction, opening a window on experiences irreducible to words; and it points to the possibility of going beyond literacy, and even beyond the first layers of the visible-that is, to appropriate the imaginary in the self-constitution of the human being.

Some of the changes sketched above occurred when cinematography, after its phase of theater on film, started to compress language, and to search for its own expressive potential. Compression of language means the use of images to diminish the quantity of words necessary to constitute a viable filmic expression, as well as the effort to summarize literature. Indeed, in view of the limitations of the medium, especially during its imitative phase, it could not support scripts based on literary works that exceeded film's own complexity. Cinematography had also to deal with the limited span of its viewers' attention, their lack of any previous exposure to moving images, and the conditions for viewing a film. When, later on, filmmakers compressed entire books into 90 to 120 minutes, we entered a phase of human experience characterized by substituting written with non- or para-linguistic means.

The generations since the beginning of cinematography learned the new filmic convention while still involved in practical experiences characteristic of literacy. Conventions of film, as a medium with its own characteristics, started to be experienced relatively recently, in the broader context of a human praxis in the process of freeing itself from the constraints of literacy. Films are an appropriate medium for integration of the visual, the aural, and motion. People can record on film some of their most intricate experiences, and afterwards submit the record to fast, slow, entire, or partial evaluation. The experience of filming is an experience with space and time in their interrelationship. But as opposed to the space and time projected in language, and uniformly shared by a literate community, space and time on film can be varied, and made extremely personal. Within the convention of film, we can uncouple ourselves from the physical limitations of our universe of existence, from social or cultural commitments, and generate a new frame for action. The love affair between Hollywood and emerging technologies for creating the impossible in the virtual space of digital synthesis testifies to this. But we cannot, after all, transcend the limitations of the underlying structure on which cinematography is based. Generated near the height of the civilization of literacy, cinematography represents the borderline between practical experiences corresponding to the scale for which literacy was optimal, and the new scale for which both literacy and film are only partially adequate. It is even doubtful that the film medium will survive as an alternative to the new media because it is, for all practical purposes, inefficient.

Cinematography influenced our experience with language, while simultaneously pointing to the limits of this experience. A film is not a visually illustrated text, or a transcription of a play. Rather, it is a mapping from a universe of sentences and meanings assigned to a text, to a more complex universe, one of consecutive images forming (or not) a new coherent entity. In the process, language performs sometimes as language (dialogue among characters), other times as a pre-text for the visual cinematographic text.

Before film, we moved only in the universe of our natural, physical existence, on the theatrical stage, or in the universe of our imagination, in our dreams. The synchronizing function of language made this movement (such as working, going from one place to another, from one person to another) socially relevant. Our movement in language descriptions (do this, go there, meet so-and-so) is an abstraction. Our movement recorded on film is the re-concretized abstraction. This explains the role of filmed images for teaching people how to carry out certain operations, for educating, or for indoctrinating them, or for acquainting them with things and actions never experienced directly. It also explains why, once efficiency criteria become important, film no longer addresses the individual, or small groups; rather, it addresses audiences at the only scale at which it can still be economically justified. The industry called Hollywood (and its various copies around the world) is based on an equation of efficiency that keys in the globality of the world, of illiteracy, and of the distribution network already in place. On an investment in a film of over $100 million, five continents of viewers are needed, and this is still no guarantee of breaking even. It is not at all clear whether Dreamworks, the offspring of the affair between Hollywood and the computer industry, will eventually create its own distribution channels on the global digital network.

The temptation to ask whether the language of moving images made literacy superfluous, or whether illiteracy created the need for film, and the risk of falling prey to a simplifying cause-and-effect explanation should not prevent us from acknowledging that there are many relations among the factors involved. Nevertheless, the key element is the underlying structure. Books embody the characteristics of language and trigger experiences within the confines of these characteristics. When faced with practical requirements and challenges resulting from a new scale of existence, the human being constitutes alternatives better adapted to a dynamics of change for which books and the experience they entail are only partially appropriate.

Books in which even literate people sometimes got lost, or for which we do not have time or patience, are interpreted for us, condensed in the movie. The fact is that more than a generation has now had access to established works of fiction and drama, as well as scientific, historic, or geographic accounts only through films. A price was paid-there is no equivalent between the book and film-and is being paid, but this is not the issue here. What is the issue is the advent of cinematography in the framework in which literacy ceased to support experiences other than those based on its structure.

Films are mediating expressions better adapted than language to a more segmented reality of social existence. They are also adapted to the dynamics of change and to the global nature of human existence. They prepared us for electronic media, but not before generating those strange books (or are they?) that transcribe films for a market so obsessed with success that it will buy the rudimentary transcription together with the paraphernalia derived from the stage design and from the costumes used by the characters. We can find substitutes for coal or oil or tin, but seemingly not for success and stars. As a result, everything they touch or are associated with enters the circuit of our own practical existence. An American journalist ended his commentary occasioned by Greta Garbo's death: "Today they no longer make legends, but celebrities."

Being here and there at the same time

Four generations old (or maybe five), but already the medium of choice-this statement does not define television, but probably captures its social significance. It can be said from the outset that while cinematography is at the borderline between the civilization of literacy and that of illiteracy, television definitely embodies the conflict between the two. In fact, television irreversibly tipped the balance in favor of the visual. The invention of television took place in the context of the change in scale of humankind. Primarily, television occasions the transition from the universe of mechanics and chemistry, implicit in film making and viewing, to that of electricity, in particular electronics, and, more recently, digital technology.

Television, as a product of this change in the structure and nature of human theoretic and practical experience, results from the perceived pragmatic need to capture and transmit dynamic images. Electricity was already the medium for capturing and transmitting sound at the speed of electrons along telephone networks. And since images and actions are influenced by the light we view them in, it followed that light is what we actually wanted to record and transmit. This is television. Cumbersome and still owing a lot to mechanics, television started as a news medium, allowing for almost instantaneous connection between the source of information and the audience. It was initially mostly illustrative. Today, it is constitutive, in the sense that it not only records news, it makes news. It constitutes a generalized mass-medium supporting entertainment and ritual (political, religious, military).

Literacy corresponds to the experiences of human self-definition in the world of classical physics and chemistry. It is based on the same underlying structure, and projects characteristics of this experience. Electricity and electronics correspond to very fast processes (practically instantaneous), high leverage of human action, diversity, more varied mediating elements, and feedback. The film camera has the main characteristics of literacy. It can be compared to the printing press. But the comparison is only partially adequate since it writes movements to film, and lets us read them together on the shared white page called the screen. Between recording the movement and viewing it, time is used for processing and duplication.

Television is structurally different, capturing movement and everything else belonging to what we call reality, in order to make it immediately available to the viewer. Electronic mediation is much more elaborate, has many more layers than cinematography, and as a result is much more efficient. Film mapped from the selected world of movement, in a studio, on the street, or in a laboratory, to a limited viewership: public in a movie theater. It requested that people share the screen on which its images were projected. Television maps from many cameras to the entire world, and all can simultaneously partake in its images. Television is distributed and introduces simultaneity in that several events from several locations can be broadcast on the TV screen. By comparison, cinematography is centralized. Filming is limited to the location where it is being carried on. Cinematography is intrinsically sequential in that it follows the narrative structure and constitutes a closed entity. Once edited for showing, the film cannot be interrupted to insert anything new.

There are still many who see the two as closely related, and others who see the use of television only as a carrier (of film, for instance). They ignore the defining fact that film and television, despite some commonalties, belong to practical experiences impossible to reconcile. In fact, while film passed the climax of its attraction, television became the most pervasive medium. Due to the use of television in education, corporate communication, sports, artistic and other performances, such as space exploration and war, television impacts upon social interaction without being an interactive medium. A televised event can address audiences close to the world's entire population. When recording images for television became possible, television supported continued human experiences of decentralization, which previous communication technologies could not provide. The video camera and the video cassette recorder, especially in its digital version, make each of us own not only the receivers of the language of images and sounds, but also emitters, the sources, the private Hollywood studios. That is, they make us live the language of TV, and substitute it for literacy. Interactive TV will undoubtedly contribute even more in this direction.

It is already the case that instead of writing a letter, some people make a video and send it to family and authorities, and to TV stations interested in viewer feedback and news stories. The massive deployment of troops in the Desert Storm operation made clear how the shift from literate to illiterate communication integrates video communication. Together with the telephone, television and video dominated communication patterns of the people involved. Subsequent troop deployments confirmed the pattern of illiterate communication.

Among the many networks through which the foundation of our existence is continuously altered, cable TV plays a distinct role. Many consider it more important than libraries, probably for the wrong reasons. Whether living in thickly populated urban clusters or in remote locations, people are physically connected through multi- channeled communication networks, and even through interactive media. Cable TV is often seen only as another entry to our home for downloading classical programs as well as pornography and superstition. The full utilization of the electronic avenue as a multi-lane, bi-directional highway through which we can be receivers of what we want to accept, and senders of visual messages to whomever is interested and willing to interact with these messages, is still more a goal than a reality. With computer- supported visual communication integrating digital television, we will dispose of the entire infrastructure for a visually dominated civilization. In the age of Internet, wired or wireless networks become part of the artificial nervous system of advanced societies. Whether in its modem-based variant, or through other advanced schemes for transporting digital information and supporting interaction, the cable system already contributes to the transformation of the nature of many human practical experiences. These can be experiences of entertainment, but also of learning, teaching, even work.

There is a negative side to all this development, and a need to face consequences that over time can accumulate beyond what we already know and understand. Children growing up with TV miss the experience of movement. Jaron Lanier discussed the "famous childhood zombiehood," an expression of staring into nothing, a limited ability to see beyond a television image, the desire for instant gratification, and a lack of basic common sense appreciation for doing work in order to achieve satisfaction. Games developed around video technology train children to behave like laboratory rats that learn a maze by rote. They grow up accepting the politics of telegenic competition, a poor substitute for competence and commitment. Their vote is focused on brands, regardless of whether they regard political choices or cereals. Addressed en masse, such viewers gel in the mass image of polls that rapidly succeed one another. That technology makes possible alternatives to literacy embodied in the visual is unquestionable. To what extent these alternatives carry with them previous determinations and constraints, or they correspond to a new stage in human civilization, is the crux of the matter. The degree of necessity and thus the efficiency of any new form of visual expression, communication, or interaction can be ascertained only in how individuals constitute themselves through practical activities coherently integrating the visual. There is no higher form of empowerment than in the fulfillment of our individual possibilities. Telegenic or not, a president or a TV star has little, if any, impact on our fulfillment in the interconnected world of our time.

Television implies a great deal of language, but such language frees the audience from the requirement of literacy. You do not need to know how to write or read to watch TV; you need to be in command of a limited part of spoken language in order to understand a TV show, even to actively participate in it-from going on a game show to using cable networks, videotex, or interactive programs, exploring the Internet, or setting up a presence on the network.

Growing up with TV results in stereotypes of language and attitudes representing a background of shared expressions, gestures, and values. To see in these only the negative, the low end, is easier than to acknowledge that previous backgrounds, constituted on the underlying structure of literacy, have become untenable under the new pragmatic circumstances. Due to its characteristics, television belongs to the framework of rapid change typical of the dynamics of needs and expectations within the new scale of humankind. There are many varied implications to this: it makes each of us more passive, more and more subject to manipulations (economic, political, religious), robbing (or freeing) us from the satisfaction of a more personal relation (to others, art, literature, etc.). Nobody should underestimate any of these and many other factors discussed by media ecologists and sociologists. But to stubbornly, and quite myopically, consider TV only from the perspective and expectations of literacy is presumptuous. We have to understand the structural changes that made TV and video possible. Moreover, we have to consider the changes they, in turn, brought about. Otherwise we will miss the opportunities opened by the practical experience of understanding the new choices presented to us, and even the new possibilities opened. There is so much more after TV, even on 500 channels and after video-on-demand!

Language is not an absolute democratic medium; literacy, with intrinsic elitist characteristics, even less. Although it was used to ascertain principles of democracy, literacy ended up, again and again, betraying them. Because they are closer to things and actions, and because they require a relatively smaller background of shared knowledge, images are more accessible, although less challenging. But where words and text can obscure the meaning of a message, images can be immediately related to what they refer to. There are more built-in checks in the visual than in the verbal, although the deceptive power of an image can be exploited probably much more than the power of the word. Such, and many other considerations are useful, since the transfer of social and political functions from literacy (books and newspapers, political manifestos, ceremonies and rituals based on writing and reading) to the visual, especially television, requires that we understand the consequences of this transfer. But it is not television that keeps voters away from exercising the right to elect their representatives in the civilization of illiteracy, and not the visual that makes us elect actors, lawyers, peanut farmers, or successful oilmen to the highest (and least useful) posts in the government. Conditions that require the multitude of languages that we use, the layers of mediation, the tendency to decentralization, to name a few, resulted in the increased influence of the visual, as well as in some of the choices mentioned so far.

High definition television (HDTV) helps us distinguish some characteristics of the entire development under discussion-for instance, how the function of integration is carried out. Integration through the intermediary of literacy required shared knowledge, and in particular, knowledge of writing and reading. Integration through the intermediary of modern image-producing technology, especially television and computer-aided visual communication, means access to and sharing of information. Television has made countries which are so different in their identity, history, and culture (as we know the countries of the world to be) seem sometimes so similar that one has to ask how this uniformity came about. Some will point to the influence of the market process- advertisements look much the same all over the world. Others may note the influence of technology-an electronic eye open on the world that renders uniform everything within its range. The new dynamics of human interaction, required by our striving for higher efficiency appropriate to the scale of humankind, probably explains the process better. The similarity is determined by the mechanism we use to achieve this higher efficiency, i.e., progressively deeper labor division, increased mediation, and the need for alternative mechanisms for human integration, that is reflected in TV images. This similarity makes up the substratum of TV images, as well as the substratum of fashion trends, new rituals, and new values, as transitory as all these prove to be.

Literacy and television are not reciprocally exclusive. If this were not the case, the solution to the lower levels of literacy would be at hand. Nevertheless, all those who hoped to increase the quality of literacy by using television had to accept that this was a goal for which the means are not appropriate. Language stabilizes, induces uniformity, depersonalizes; television keeps up with change, allows and invites diversity, makes possible personalized interaction among those connected through a TV chain of cameras and receivers. Literacy is a medium of tedious elaboration and inertia. TV is spontaneous and instantaneous. Moreover, it also supports forms of scientific activity for which language is not at all suited. We cannot send language to look at what our eyes do not see directly, or see only through some instruments. We cannot anticipate, in language, processes which, once made possible on a television screen, make future human experience conceivable. I know that in these last lines I started crossing the border between television and digital image processing, but this is no accident. Indeed, human experience with television, in its various forms and applications, although not at all closed, made necessary the next step towards a language of images which can take advantage of computer technology and of networking.

With the advent of HDTV, television achieves a quality that makes it appropriate for integration in many practical experiences. Design (of clothes, furniture, new products) can result from a collaborative effort of people working at different sites, and in the manufacture of their design during a live session. Modifications are almost instantaneously integrated in the sample. The product can be actually tested, and decisions leading to production made. Communication at such levels of effectiveness is actually integrated in the creative and productive effort. The language is that of the product, a visual reality in progress. The results are design and production cycles much shorter than literacy-based communication can support.

HDTV is television brought to a level of efficiency that only digital formats make possible. The reception of digital television opens the possibility to proceed from each and every image considered appropriate to storing, manipulating, and integrating it in a new context. Digital television reinstates activity, and is subject to creative programming and interactivity. The individual can make up a new universe through the effort of understanding and creative planning. It is quite possible that alternative forms of communication, much richer than those in use today, will emerge from practical experiences of human self-constitution in this new realm. That in ten years all our TV sets, if the TV set remains a distinct receiver, will be digital says much less than the endless creative ideas emerging around the reality of digital television.


Whenever people using language try to convince their partner in dialogue, or even themselves, that they understood a description, a concept, a proof, and answer by using the colloquial "I see," they actually express the practical experience of seeing through language. They are overcoming the limitations of the abstract system of phonetic language and returning to the concreteness of seeing the image. Way of speaking equals way of doing-this sums up one of the many premises of this book. We extract information about things and actions from their images. When no image is possible-what does a thought look like, or what is the image of right, of wrong, of ideal?-language supports us in our theoretic experiences, or in the attempt to make the abstract concrete. Language is rather effective in helping us identify kinds of thoughts, in implementing social rules that encode prescriptions for distinguishing between right and wrong, for embodying the just in the institution of justice, and ideals in values. But the experience of language can also be an experience of images.

Once we reach the moment when we can embody the abstract in a concrete theory, in action, in new objects, in institutions, and in choices, and once we are able to form an image of these, share the image, make it part of the visual world we live in, and use it further for many practical or intellectual purposes, we expand the literate experience in new experiences. So it seems that we tend to visualize everything. I would go so far as to say that we not only visualize everything, but also listen to sounds of everything, experience their smell, touch, and taste, and recreate the abstract in the concreteness of our perceptions. The domination of language and the ideal of literacy, which instills this domination as a rule, was and still is seen as the domination of rationality, as though to be literate equals being rational, volens nolens. In fact, the rationality associated with language, and expressed with its help, is only a small part of the potential human rationality. The measure (ratio) we project in our objectification can as well be a measure related to our perceptive system. It is quite plausible to suspect that some of the negative effects of our literate rationality could have been avoided had we been able to simultaneously project our other dimensions in whatever we did.

The shift from a literacy-dominated civilization to the relative domination of the visual takes place under the influence of new tools, further mediations, and integration mechanisms required by self-constitutive practical experiences at the new human scale. The tools we need should allow us to continue exploring horizons at which literacy ceases to be effective, or even significant. The mediations required correspond to complexities for which new languages are structurally more adequate. The necessary integration is only partially achievable through literate means since many people active in the humanities and the sciences gave up the obsession of final explanations and accepted the model of infinite processes.

Images, among other sign systems, are structurally better suited for a pragmatic framework marked by continuous multiplication of choices, high efficiency, and distributed human experience. But in order to use images, the human being had to put in place a conceptual context that could support extended visual praxis. When the digital computer was invented, none of those who made it a reality knew that it would contribute to more than the mechanization of number crunching. The visionary dimension of the digital computer is not in the technology, but in the concept of a universal language, a characteristica universalis, or lingua Adamica, as Leibniz conceived it.

This is not the place to rewrite the history of the computer or the history of the languages that computers process. But the subject of visualization-presented here from the perspective of the shift from literacy to the visual-requires at least some explanation of the relation between the visual and the human use of computers. The binary number system, which Leibniz called Arithmetica Binaria (according to a manuscript fragment dated March 15, 1679), was not meant to be the definitive alphabet, with only two letters, but the basis for a universal language, in which the limitations of natural language are overcome. Leibniz tried hard to make this language utilizable in all domains of human activity, in encoding laws, scientific results, music. I think that the most intriguing aspect, which has been ignored for centuries, was his attempt to visualize events of abstract nature with the help of the two symbols of his alphabet. In a letter to Herzog Rudolph August von Braunschweig (January 2, 1697), Leibniz described his project for a medal depicting the Creation (Imago Creationis). In this letter, he actually introduced digital calculus. Around 1714, he wrote two letters to Nicolas de Remond concerning Chinese philosophy. It is useful to mention these here because of the binary number representation of some of the most intriguing concepts of the Ih-King. Through these letters, we are in the realm of the visual, and in front of pages in which, probably for the first time, translations from ideographic to the sequential, and finally to the digital, were performed. It took almost 300 years before hackers, trying to see if they could use the digital for music notation, discovered that images can be described in a binary system.

This long historic parenthesis is justified by two thoughts. First, it was not the technology that made us aware of images, or even opened access to their digital processing, but intellectual praxis, motivated by its own need for efficiency. Second, visualization is not a matter of illustrating words, concepts, or intuitions. It is the attempt to create tools for generating images related to information and its use. A text on a computer screen is, in fact, an image, a visualization of the language generated not by a human hand in control of a quill, a piece of lead or graphite, a pencil or a pen. The computer does not know language. It translates our alphabet into its own alphabet, and then, after processing, it translates it back into ours. Displayed in those stored images which, if in lead, would constitute the contents of the lower and upper cases of the drawers in each typography shop, this literacy is subject to automation.

When we write, we visualize, making our language visible on paper. When we draw, we make our plans for new artifacts visible. The mediation introduced by the computer use does not affect the condition of language as long as the computer is only the pen, keyboard, or typewriter. But once we encode language rules (such as spelling, case agreement, and so on), once we store our vocabulary and our grammar, and mimic human use of language, what is written is only partially the result of the literacy of the writer. The visualization of text is the starting point towards automatic creation of other texts. It also leads to establishing relations between language and non-language sign systems. Today, we dispose of means for electronically associating images and texts, for cross-referencing images and texts, and for rapidly diagramming texts. We can, and indeed do, print electronic journals, which are refereed on the network. Nothing prevents such journals from inserting images, animation and sounds, or for facilitating on-line reactions to the hypotheses and scientific data presented. That such publications need a shorter time to reach their public goes without saying. The Internet thus became the new medium of publication, and the computer its printing press-a printing press of a totally new condition. Individuals constituting their identity on the Internet have access to resources which until recently were available only to those who owned presses, or gained access to them by virtue of their privileged position in society.

The visual component of computer processing, i.e., the graphics, relies on the same language of zeros and ones through which the entire computer processing takes place. As a result of this common alphabet and grammar (Boolean logic and its new extensions), we can consider language (image translations, or number-image relations such as diagrams, charts, and the like), and also more abstract relations. Creating the means to overcome the limitations of literacy has dominated scientific work. The new means for information processing allow us to replace the routine of phenomenological observation with processing of diverse languages designed especially to help us create new theories of very complex and dynamic phenomena.

The shift to the visual follows the need to change the accent from quantitative evaluations and language inferences based on them, to qualitative evaluations, and images expressing such evaluations at some significant moments of the process in which we are involved. Let us mention some of these processes. In medicine, or in the research for syntheses of new substances, and in space research, words have proven to be not only misleading, but also inefficient in many respects. New visualization techniques, such as those based on molecular resonance, freed the praxis of medicine from the limitations of word descriptions. Patients explain what they feel; physicians try to match such descriptions to typologies of disease based on data resulting from the most recent data. When this process is networked, the most qualified physician can be consulted. When experimental data and theoretic models are joined, the result is visualized and the information exchanged via high-speed broadband digital networks.

Based on similar visualization techniques, we acquire better access to sources of data regarding the past, as well as to information vital for carrying through projects oriented towards the future. Computed tomography, for instance, visualized the internal structure of Egyptian mummies. Three-dimensional images of the whole body were created without violating the casings and wrappings that cover the remnants. The internal body structure was visualized by using a simulation system similar to those utilized in non-intrusive surgery.

The design and production of new materials, space research, and nano- engineering have already benefited from replacing the analytical perspective ingrained in literacy-based methods with visual means for synthesis. It is possible to visualize molecular structures and simulate interactions of molecules in order to see how medicine affects the cells treated, the dynamics of mixing, chemical and biochemical reactions. It is also possible to simulate forces involved in the so-called docking of molecules in virtual space. No literacy-based description can substitute for flight simulators, or for visualization of data from radio astronomy, for large areas of genetics and physics.

Not the last among examples to be given is the still controversial field of artificial intelligence, seduced with emulating behaviors usually associated with human intelligence in action. But it should not surprise anybody that while the dynamics of the civilization of illiteracy requires freedom from literacy, people will continue to preserve values and concepts they are used to, or which are appropriate to specific knowledge areas. Paradoxically, artificial intelligence is, in part, doing exactly this.

When people grow up with images the same way prior generations were subjected to literacy, the relation to images changes. The technology for visualization, although sometimes still based on language models, makes interactivity possible in ways language could not. But it is not only the technology of visualization applied within science and engineering that marks the new development. Visualization, in its various forms and functions, supports the almost instantaneous interaction between us and our various machines, and among people sharing the same natural environment, or separated in space and time. It constitutes an alternative medium for thinking and creativity, as it did all along the history of crafts, design, and engineering. It is also a medium for understanding our environment, and the multitude of changes caused by practical experience involving the life support system. Through visualization, people can experience dimensions of space beyond their direct perception, they can consider the behavior of objects in such spaces, and can also expand the realm of artistic creativity.

The print media, as an overlapping practical experience uniting literacy and the power of sight, are more visual today than at any previous time. We are no longer subjected-sometimes with good reason, other times for dubious motives-to the sequentiality of literacy-dominated modes of communication. An entire shared visual language is projected upon us in the form of comic strips, advertisements, weather maps, economic reports, and other pictorial representations. Some of these representations are still printed on paper. Others are displayed through the more dynamic forms at public information kiosks, or through interactive means of information dissemination, such as computer-supported networks and non-linear search environments, which Ted Nelson anticipated back in 1965. The World Wide Web embodies many of his ideas, as well as ideas of a number of other visionaries.

Parallel to these developments, we are becoming more and more aware of the possibilities of using images in human activities where they played a reduced role within literacy-civic action, political debate, legal argumentation. Lawyers already integrate visual testimony in their cases. Juries can see for themselves the crime being committed, as well as the results of sophisticated forensic tests. Human destinies are defended with arguments that are no longer at the mercy of someone's memory or another's talent for rhetoric or drama. The citizen is frequently addressed by increasingly visual messages that explain how tax dollars are spent and why he or she should vote for one or another candidate. In becoming the Netizen, he or she will participate in social interactions fundamentally new in nature. On the Net, politicians claiming credit for some accomplishment can be immediately challenged by the real image. Political promises can be modeled and displayed while the campaign speech is given. A decision to go to war can be subjected to an instant referendum while the simulation of the war itself, or of alternatives, is played on our monitors. But again, to idealize these possibilities would be foolish. The potential for abusive use of images is as great as that for their meaningful application.

Many factors are at work slowing down the process of educating visually literate individuals. We continue to rediscover the wheel of reading and writing without advancing comprehensive programs for visual education. Illustrative visual alternatives, advanced more as an alibi for the maintenance of literacy-dominated communication, are by the nature of their function inappropriate in the context of higher efficiency requirements. Utilized as alternatives, these materials can be, and often are, irrelevant, ugly, insignificant, and expensive. More often than not, they are used not to enhance communication, but to direct it, to manipulate the addressee. It will take more than the recognition of the role of the visual to understand that visual literacy, or probably several such literacies, comprising the variety of visual languages we need, less confining, less permanent, and less patterned, are necessary in order to improve practical experiences of self-constitution through images. We are yet to address the ethical aspects of such experiences, especially in view of the fact that the visual entails constraints different from those encoded in the letter of our laws and moral principles.

In discussing the transition to the visual, I hope to have made clear that the process is not one of substituting one form of literacy for another. The process has a totally different dynamics. It implies transition from a dominating form of literacy to a multitude of highly adaptive sign systems. These all require new competencies that reflect this adaptability. It also requires that we all understand integrative processes in order to make the best of individual efforts in a framework of extremely divided and specialized experiences of self-constitution. If seeing is believing, then believing everything we see in our day is a challenge for which we are, for all practical purposes, ill prepared.

Unbounded Sexuality

"Freedom of speech Is as good as sex." Madonna

The Netizens were up in arms: The Communications Decency Act must be repealed. Blue ribbons appeared on many Websites as an expression of solidarity. This Act was prompted by the American government's attempt to prevent children from accessing the many pornographic outlets of the Internet. This first major public confrontation between a past controlled by literate mechanisms and a future of illiterate unrestricted freedom seemed to be less about sex and more about democracy. But that the two are related, and defined within the current pragmatics of human self- constitution, has escaped both parties to the dispute.

Seeking good sex

In Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, Karl Marx (a product of the civilization of literacy) addressed alienation: "We thus arrive at the result that man feels that he acts freely only in his animal functions-eating, drinking, procreation, or at most using shelter, jewelry, etc.-while in his human functions, he feels only animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal." How an analysis of industrial capitalism, with its underlying pragmatic structure reflected in literacy, can anticipate phenomena pertinent to the post-industrial, and reflected in illiteracy, is not easy to explain.

Although he referred to economic self-constitution, his description is significant in more than one way. Sexuality is of concern in the civilization of illiteracy insofar as the human being in its multi-dimensionality is of concern. This might sound too broad to afford any meaningful inference from the condition of literacy to the condition of human sexuality, but it is an existential premise. Through sexuality humans project their natural condition and the many influences, language included, leading to its humanization. An understanding of the multiple factors at work in conditioning human experiences as intimate as sexual relations, depends upon the understanding of the pragmatic framework in which they unfold. Child pornography on the Internet is by no means the offspring of our love affair with technology. Neither is pornography being invoked for the first time as a justification for censorship. Nevertheless, the commotion regarding the Communications Decency Act constitutes a new experience that is intimately related to the condition of human existence in today's world.

"SWF seeks unemployed SWM grad student for hideaway weekends, intimate dinners, and cuddling. Must know how to read, and be able to converse without extensive use of 'you know' or 'wicked.'" This announcement (dated October 6, 1983) is one among many that use qualifying initials, but with one twist: "Must know how to read."-moreover, to be articulate. What over ten years ago was formulated innocently (hideaway, intimate dinner, cuddling) would today be expressed quite bluntly: "Looking for good sex." What does reading, and possibly writing, have to do with our emotional life, with our need and desire to love and be loved; that is, what does reading have to do with sex?

Long before Homo Sapiens ascertained itself, reproduction, and all it comprises in its natural and form, ensured survival. Do literacy, language, or sign systems affect this basic equation of life? Mating seasons and habits shed some light on the natural aspect. Colors, odors, mating calls, specific movements (dances, fights, body language) send sexual signals. Molecular biology places the distinction between hominids and chimpanzees at four million years ago. After all this time of freeing themselves from nature, even to the extent of self-constitution in the practical experience of artificial insemination, human beings still integrate color, odor, mating calls, and particular movements into the erotic. But they also integrate the experience of their self-constitution in language. Since the time hominids distinguished themselves, the sexuality of the species started differentiating itself from that of animals. For example, humans are permanently attractive, even after insemination, while animals attract each other only at moments favorable for reproduction. Along the timeline from the primitive being to our civilization, sex changed from being an experience in reproduction to being predominantly a form of pleasure in itself.

Instead of the immediacy of the sexual urge, projected through patterns subject to natural cycles, humans experience ever more mediated forms of sexual attraction and gratification, which are not necessarily associated with reproduction. An initial change occurred when humanized sexual drive turned into love, and became associated with its many emotions. The practical experience of language played an important part in extending sexual encounters from the exclusive realm of nature to the realm of culture. Here they acquired a life of their own through practical experiences characteristic of the syncretic phase of human practical experiences, mostly rituals. During the process of differentiating these experiences-constitution of myths, moral and ethical self-awareness, theater, dance, poetry-sexual encounters were subjected to various interpretations.

Beyond immediacy

The birth of languages and the establishment of sex codes, as primitive as they were, are related to the moment of agriculture, a juncture at which a certain autonomy of the species was reached. Rooted in the biological distinction between male and female, labor division increased the efficiency of human effort. Divisions were also established, some under the model of male domination, others under the model of female domination, pertinent to survival activities, and later on to incipient social life. Eventually, labor division consecrated the profession of prostitution, and thus the practice of satisfying natural urges in a context in which nature was culturized. The prototypical male-dominated structure of the sexual relation between man and woman marked the history of this relation more than female domination did. It introduced patterns of interaction and hierarchies today interpreted wholesale as harmful to the entire development of women.

What is probably less obvious is the relation among the many aspects of the pragmatic context in which such hierarchies were acknowledged. Moreover, we do not know enough about how these hierarchies were transformed into the underlying consciousness of the populations whose identities resulted from experiences corresponding to the pragmatic context. The implicit thesis of this book is that everything that made language and writing possible, and progressively necessary, led to a coherent framework of human practical experiences that are characterized by sequentiality, linearity, hierarchy, and centralism, and which literacy appropriated and transmits. Consequently, when the structural framework no longer effectively supports human self-constitution, the framework is modified. Other aspects of human existence, among them sexuality, reflect the modification.

Reading and writing have much to do with our emotional life. They remove it from the immediacy of drive, hope, pain, and disappointment and give it its own space: human striving, desire, pleasure. They are associated with an infinity of qualifiers, names, and phrases. With language, feelings are given a means for externalizing, and they are stabilized. Expectations diversify from there. Structural characteristics of the context that makes language necessary simultaneously mark the very object of the self- constitutive experience of loving and being loved. There are many literary and visual testimonies to how the erotic was constituted as a realm of its own: From Gilgamesh, the Song of Solomon, Kama Sutra, Ovid's Art of Love, through Canterbury Tales and the Decameron, to the erotic literature of 18th and 19th century Europe, down to the many current romance novels and handbooks on lovemaking. No matter which of them is examined, one inference becomes clear: the pragmatic context of the continuous human self-constitution effects changes in the way people are attracted to each other. Love and integration of sexual experiences, in the manifold of acts through which hominids move from the self-perpetuation drive to new levels of expectation and new intensities of their relations, is also pragmatically conditioned.

Writing, as a practical experience of human self-constitution, is conducive to relations between male and female that are different from random or selective mating. It is bound to continue along a time sequence severed from the natural cycle of mating, reshaped into the marriage contract and the family alliance. Literacy, as a particular practical experience of language, regulates the sexual, as it regulates, in a variety of forms, all other aspects of human interaction. In the literate erotic experience, expectations pertinent to the pragmatics of a society in search of alternative means of survival evolve into norms. The inherited experience of female-male relations, affected through the experience of rituals, myths, and religion, is condensed in literacy. Encoding hierarchy, some languages place women in a secondary position. There is almost no language in which this does not happen. "Many men and women" is in Arabic ("rijaalan kafiiran wa-nisaa'aa") literally "men many women." In Japan, women speak a Japanese reserved to their sex alone. In the English wedding ceremony, the woman had to repeat that she would "love, honor, and obey" the husband. To this day, Orthodox Jewish men give thanks to God that He did "not make me a woman."

With the demise of literacy, the sexual experience gets divorced from procreation. Statistics of survival in the past world of limited available resources, of natural catastrophes, of disease, etc., cease to play any role in the illiterate sex encounters. Sexuality becomes a diversified human experience, subject to divisions, mediations, and definitely to the influence of the general dynamics of the world today. As markets become part of the global economy, so does sexuality, in the sense that it allows for experiences which, in limited communities and within prescribed forms of ceremony (religious, especially), were simply not possible. From the earliest testimony regarding sexual awareness up to the present, everything one can imagine in respect to sex has been tried. So often placed under the veil of secrecy and mystery, sex is no less frequently and vividly, to say the least, depicted. Yet a rhetorical question deserves to be raised: Does anyone know everything about sex?

The land of sexual ubiquity

Borges, in his own way, would have probably mapped the sexual realm: Freud aside, to know everything about sex would require that one be everyone who ever lived, lives, and eventually will live. Such a Borgesian map is indeed detailed but leads no further than ourselves. Connect all sex-related matter that is on the Internet today- from on-line striptease and copulation to legitimate sex education and the passionate defense of love-and you will still not have more than a partial image of sexuality. When one considers all the books, videotapes, songs, radio and television talk-shows, private discussions and public sermons, the subject of sex would still not be exhausted. If sex were an individual matter-which it is, to a large extent-how could we meaningfully approach the subject without the risk of making it a personal confession, or worse, a pretentious discourse about something any author would unavoidably know only through the many and powerful filters of his or her culture? But maybe sex is less private than we, based on prejudice, ignorance, or discretion, assume.

Ritualized sex was a public event, sometimes culminating in orgies. It took a lot of taming, or acculturation, for sex to become an intimate affair. Myths acknowledged sexual habits and propagated rules coherent within the pragmatic framework of their expression. Like myths, many religions described acceptable and unacceptable behavior, inspired by the need to maintain the integrity of the community and to serve its goals of survival through lineage and proprietary rights, especially when ales began to dominate in society. Art, science, and business appropriated sex as a subject of inquiry, or as a lucrative activity. Sex is a driving force for individuals and communities, an inescapable component of any experience, no matter how remote from sex.

Sexual ubiquity and the parallel world of self-awareness, embodied in forms of expression, communication, and signification different from the actual sexual act, are connected in very subtle ways. Once sexual experiences are appropriated by culture, they become themselves a sign system, a symbolic domain, a language. Each sexual encounter, or each unfulfilled intention, is but a phrase in this language written in the alphabet of gestures, odors, colors, smells, body movement, and rhythm.

We are the sexual sign: first, in its indexical condition-a definite mark left, a genetic fingerprint testifying to our deepest secrets encoded in our genetic endowment; second, in iconicity, that is, in all the imitations of others as they constitute their identity in the experience of sexuality. As many scholars have hastened to point out, we are also the sign in its symbolism. Indeed, phallic and vulvar symbols populate every sphere of human expression (and obsession). Nevertheless, our own self-constitution in the sexual act confirms a double identity of the human species: nature, involved in the struggle for survival, where the sheer power of numbers and strategies for coping with everything destructive make for continuous selection (Darwin's law of natural selection); and culture, in which humans pursue a path of progressive self-definition, many times in conflict with the natural condition, or what Freud and his followers defined as the psychological dimension. The two are related, and under specific circumstances one dominates the other. In my opinion, Peirce's encompassing notion that the sign is the person who interprets it integrates the two levels.

In the pragmatic framework, experiences of self-constitution result from the projection of natural characteristics in the activity performed, as well as from the awareness of the goals pursued, means incorporated, and meanings shared. Does the pragmatic perspective negate explanations originating from other, relatively limited, perspectives? Probably not. An example is furnished by the theories explaining sexuality from the viewpoint of the conflict between sex (libido) and self-preservation (ego) instincts, later substituted by the conflict between life instincts (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos, self-destruction). Such theories introduce a language layer into a subject which, although acknowledged, was simply not discussed, except in religious terms (mainly as prohibitions), or in poetry. As with any other dualistic representation, such theories also end in speculation, opposing the experience to the scheme adopted. The scheme functions in extreme cases, which psychoanalysis dealt with, but explains sexual normalcy-if such a thing can be defined, or even exists-to a lesser extent, and inconsistently. The labels remain unchanged-Eros, Logos, Thanatos-while the world undergoes drastic alterations. Some of these alterations affect the very nature of the sexual experience as human beings unfold under new pragmatic circumstances, some of extreme alienation.

The literate invention of the woman

The case I am trying to make is for the acknowledgment of the conflict between a new state of affairs in the world and our perspectives, limited or not by the literate model of sexuality. The current situation recalls the world before literacy, before the expectation of homogeneity, and before the attempt to derive order and complexity through linear progression. The atom of that sexual world was the genderless human being, a generic existence not yet defined by sexual differentiation. The male-female distinction came as a surprise-the realization of seeing the same and its negative, as in the case of a stone and the hole that remains after it is unearthed. Some read the genderless world as androcentric, because the generic human being it affirmed had a rather masculine bent. The significance of whatever such a genderless model embodied needs to be established in the pragmatic realm: how does difference result from same, if this same is an archetypal body with characteristics celebrated copiously over time? Painting, medical illustration, and diagrams, from the Middle Ages to the 17th century, focus on this genderless person, who seems today almost like a caricature.

The pragmatics of the time period just mentioned were conducive to a different image of genders. The sense of excitement associated with human advances in knowing nature certainly spilled over into every other form of human experience, sex included. A new scale of mankind required that the efficiency of human activity increase. This was a time of many innovations and groundbreaking scientific theories. It was also a time of diversified, though still limited, sexual experiences, made possible by a framework of creativity different from the framework of the Middle Ages. Discoveries in many domains shook the framework of thinking according to Platonic archetypes, appropriated by the Catholic Church and used as explanatory models for all things living or dead. Pragmatics required that the one-sex model be transcended because limits of efficiency (in thinking, medical practice, biological awareness, labor division) were reached within the model. The world of practical experiences of this time unfolded in the Industrial Revolution. With literacy established, some sexual attitudes, consonant with the pragmatic circumstance, were enforced. Others were deemed unacceptable, and qualified as such in the literate language of church, state, and education. From the ubiquity of natural sexuality to what would become sexual self-awareness and sexual culture, no matter how limited, the journey continued in leaps and bounds.

To acknowledge the woman as a biological entity, with characteristics impossible to reduce to male characteristics, was not due to political pressure-as Thomas Lacquer, a remarkable writer on the subject, seemed to believe-but to pragmatic needs. It simply made sense to know how the body functions, to acknowledge morphology, to improve the quality of life, however vaguely acknowledged as such, by addressing the richness of the human being. Interestingly enough, the order in nature and matter found by science contradicted the new experience of variety, sexuality included, made possible by the scientific revolution. A gulf opened between reality and appearance, motivating a healthy empirical program, well extended in the realm of sexual encounters.

Back in the medium aevum, Maximus of Torino thought that "the source of all evil is the woman," probably embodied in the prototypical Eve. The social importance of women in the context of the empirical program, leading to the need for generalized literacy and better knowledge of the human body, discredited this prejudice of the Middle Ages, and of any age since. Sexuality made the transition to the two-sex world with a vengeance. Reproduction still dominated, since incipient industry needed more qualified workers in its own reproduction cycles, and productivity triggered the need to maintain consumption. But the unnatural dimension widened as well. The context was population growth, limited means of birth control, and levels of production and consumption characteristic of the pragmatics of high efficiency.

Those who think that the relation between industry, sexuality, and reproduction is far-fetched should recall the birth policies of countries obsessed with industrial growth. In what was communist Romania, workers were needed to do what there were no machines to do: to produce for the benefit of the owners of the means of production. To a similar end, the Soviets handed out medals to mothers of many children. The government structure, bearing the characteristics of literacy, clashed with the harsh pragmatic framework existing in the former communist countries. The result of the clash was that women avoided birth at all cost.

Ahead to the past

Longer life and the ability to enjoy the fruits of industry altered attitudes towards sex, especially reproduction. Sexuality and marriage were postponed to the third decade of life as people acquired more training in their quest for a better life. Children were no longer a matter of continuity and survival. After decades of denying the strength of nature's drive towards self-perpetuation of a species, today we again recognize that sexual life starts very early. But this realization should not have come as a surprise. Juliet's mother was worried that Juliet was not married at the age of 13. Beyond the realization of early sexuality, we notice that adolescents have multiple sex partners, that the average American is bound to have 37 sex partners in his or her lifetime, that prohibitions against sodomy are ignored, and that half the population is involved in group sex. Statistics tell us that 25% of the adult population uses pornography for arousal and another 30% uses contraptions bought in sex shops; 33- 1/3% of married couples have extra-marital affairs; the average marriage lasts 5 years; the open practice of homosexuality increases 15% annually. Incest, bestiality, and sexual practices usually defined as perverse are reaching unheard of proportions. It's not that changes in sexual experience take place, but that practices known from the earliest of times assert themselves, usually by appealing to the literate notion of freedom. As with many aspects of the change human society undergoes, we do not know what the impact of these sex practices will be. Probably that is the most one can say in a context that celebrates permissiveness as one of the highest accomplishments of modern society. Such changes challenge our values and attitudes, and make many wonder about the miserable state of morality. We already know about the cause and physical effects of AIDS. We do not even know how to wonder what other diseases might come upon humanity if the human relation with animals moves in the direction of bestiality. "Is this the price we pay for democracy?" is asked by people accused of having a conservative leaning. Enthusiasts celebrate an age of unprecedented tolerance, indulgence, and freedom from responsibility. But no matter to which end of the spectrum one leans, it should be clear that these considerations are part of the pragmatics of sexuality in the civilization of illiteracy. Shorter cycles are characteristic not only of production, but also of sexual encounters. Higher speed (however one wants to perceive it), non-linearity, freedom of choice from many options, and the transcendence of determinism and clear-cut dualistic distinctions apply to sexuality as they apply to everything else we do.

Although it is a unique experience, impossible to transmit or compare, and very difficult to separate from the individual, sex is widely discussed. Media, politicians, and social scientists have transformed it into a public issue; hypocrites turn it into an object of derision; professionals in sexual disorders make a good living from them. Sex is the subject of economic prognosis, legal dispute, moral evaluation, astrology, art, sports, and so on. One should see what is made public on the World Wide Web. Highly successful networked pages of pornographic magazines are visited daily by millions of people, as are pages of scientific and medical advice. Questions referring to sexuality in its many forms of expression increase day by day. Questions about sex have also extended to areas where the sexual seems (or seemed) excluded-science, technology, politics, the military. For example, the contraceptive pill, which has changed the world more than its inventors ever dreamed of, and more than society could have predicted, has also changed part of the condition of the sexual. The abortion pill (with a name-RU486-that reminds us of computer chips) only accentuates the change, as do many scientific and technological discoveries conceived with the purpose of sexually stimulating the individual or augmenting sexual pleasure.

Emancipation-social, political, economic, as well as emancipation of women, children, minorities, nations-has also had an impact on sexual relations. As such, emancipation results from different pragmatic needs and possibilities, and reflects the weaker grip of literate norms and expectations. Emancipation has reduced some of sexuality's inherent, and necessary, tension. It freed the sexual experience from most of the constraints it was subjected to in a civilization striving for order and control. Still, individual erotic experiences have often culminated not in the expected revelations, stimulated by the use of drugs or not, but in deception, even desperation. This is explained by the fact that, more than any activity that becomes a goal in itself, sexuality without the background of emotional contentment constitutes individuals as insular, alienated from each other, feeling used but not fulfilled. Lines of a similar sway were written by opponents of sexual emancipation, and as a suggestion of a price humans pay for excess. These lines were articulated also by firm believers in tolerance, free spirits who hardly entertain the thought of punishment (divine or otherwise).

Concerns over human sexuality result from the role of scale and the erotic dimension. Within a smaller scale, one does not feel lost or ignored. Small-scale experiences are constraining, but they also return a sense of care and belonging. The broader the scale, the less restrictive the influence of others, but also the more diminished the recognition of individuality. In the modern megalopolis, the only limits to one's sexual wishes are the limits of the individual. Nonetheless, at such a scale, individuality is continuously negated, absorbed in the anonymity of mediocre encounters and commercialism. The realization that scale relates not only to how and how much we produce, and to changes in human interaction, but also to deeper levels of our existence is occasioned by the sexual experience of self-constitution in a framework of permissiveness that nullifies value. The human scale and the altered underlying structure of our practical experiences affect drives, in particular the sexual drive, as well as reproduction, in a world subjected to a population explosion of exponential proportions.

The entire evolution under consideration, with all its positive and negative consequences, has a degree of necessity which we will not understand better by simply hiding behind moral slogans or acknowledging extreme sexual patterns. No person and no government could have prevented erotic emancipation, which is part of a much broader change affecting the human condition in its entirety. The civilization of illiteracy is representative of this change insofar as it defines a content for human experiences of self-constitution, including those related to sexuality, which mark a discontinuity in sexual patterns. Sex dreams turn into sex scripts on virtual reality programs within which one can make love to a virtual animal, plant, to oneself, projected into the virtual space and time of less than clear distinctions between what we were told is right and wrong. Telephone sex probably provides just as much arousal, but against fees that the majority of callers can hardly afford. Less than surprising, lesbians and gays make their presence known on the Internet more than in literate publications. Discussions evolve, uncensored, on matters that can be very intimate, described in titillating terms, sometimes disquietingly vulgar, obscene, or base, by literate standards. But there are also exchanges on health, AIDS prevention, and reciprocal support. Gay and lesbian sexuality is freely expressed, liberated from the code language used in the personal columns of literary publications.

Freud, modern homosexuality, AIDS

The godfather of modern homosexuality is Freud (independent of his own sexual orientation), insofar as sexual expression remains a symbolic act. Homosexuality, evading natural selection and eliciting acceptance as an expression of a deeply rooted human complex, is part of the ubiquitous sexual experience of the species. The fact that homosexuality, documented in some of the earliest writings as a taboo, along with incest and bestiality, predated Freud does not contradict this assertion. Homosexual Eros has a different finality than heterosexual Eros. The extent of homosexuality under the structural circumstances of the civilization of illiteracy is not only the result of increased tolerance and permissiveness. Neither is it merely the result of freedom resulting from an expanded notion of liberal democracy. It is biologically relevant, and as a biological expression, it is projected into practical experiences constitutive of individuals, men or women, acknowledged as different because their practical experience of self-constitution identifies them as different. Their experience, though necessarily integrated in today's global world, has many consequences for them and for others.

While research has yet to confirm the hypothesis of structural peculiarities in the brain and genes of homosexuals, the specifics of the self-constitution process through practical experiences in a world subject to natural selection cannot be overlooked. Genetics tells us that the borderline between genders is less clear-cut than we assumed. Be this as it may, homosexuality takes place under a different set of biological and social expectations than do heterosexuality and other forms of sexuality. It is an act in itself, with its own goal, with no implicit commitment to offspring, and thus different in its intrinsic set of responsibilities and their connection to the social contract. But for this matter, so is heterosexuality under the protection of the pill, the condom, or any other birth control device or method, abortion included.

A different sense of future, moreover an expectation of instant gratification, is established in the sexual experience of homosexuality. Exactly this characteristic acknowledges the underlying structure of the pragmatics of high efficiency that makes homosexual experiences possible, and even economically acceptable. Acknowledged also is the scale of humankind. Survival is much less affected by fruitless sexuality than within a limited scale of existence and activity. The freedom gained through birth control methods and the freedom to practice non-reproductive sexual relations, such as homosexual love, are in some ways similar. It is impossible not to notice that the development under discussion displays a shift from a domain of vulnerability in regard to the species-any imbalance in procreation, under conditions of severe selection, affects the chances of survival-to the domain of the individual.

The extreme case of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is transmitted sexually (among other ways), reintroduced moral concerns at a time when morality was almost dropped from erotic language and expelled from the human erotic experience. The frenzy of sexual freedom and the confusion resulting from the spread of AIDS present contradictory images of a much broader development that affects human erotic behavior, and probably much more than that. Nobody, no doomsayer on record, whether coming from a literate perspective or already integrated in the pragmatics of the civilization of illiteracy, predicted the new vulnerability which AIDS makes so painfully evident, inside and outside the homosexual segment of the population. The integrated global nature of human life brought Africa, with its large AIDS-infected population, close to countries that reached a different (not to use the word higher) level of civilization. AIDS impacted on the sense of invulnerability, assumed by individuals in industrialized countries as almost a right. This invulnerability is now drastically tested, despite the enormous effort to address AIDS. The disease suddenly put globality in a new light. Statistics connect the sense of danger experienced in Hollywood by HIV-infected movie stars, fashion designers, and dancers to the desperation of the disenfranchised in the first world-drug addicts, the urban poor, and prostitutes-and to the disenfranchised and working poor of the Third World.

Far from being a new phenomenon, the homosexual and lesbian preference, or lifestyle as it is euphemistically called, reaches a status of controversial acceptance in the civilization of illiteracy. The paradox is that while the choice of homosexuality over heterosexuality is facilitated by the pragmatic context of the civilization of illiteracy, the activism of homosexuality solicits recognition within the structures characteristic of literacy. It is very ironic that gay activism, stimulated by the many consequences of the AIDS epidemic, attempts to reverse time, fighting for equal access to exactly those means in which the values and prejudices that condemn homosexuality are embedded. It looks like homosexuals want to rewrite the book or books in which they are damned, instead of freeing themselves from them. Homosexuals want their voice to be heard in church and politics. They want their cause present in ethical writings, and their rights encoded in new laws and rules. They want to enlighten others by making their experience known as art, literature, and social discourse. The genetic condition of the homosexual choice needs to be considered together with the variety of contexts pertaining to the diversity of the civilization of illiteracy that make its unfolding possible.

There is a need to be aware that, between the function of procreation and divergent sexual behavior, a whole gamut of human cultural experience continues to unfold and challenges settled standards. This experience goes beyond language and the literate structure of a linear, sequential, hierarchic, centralized, deterministic pragmatics of limited choice. Human language, as a projection of human beings living within a context appropriate to their self-preservation and development, participated in the taming of our sexual drive. Illiteracy leads to its endless diversification, affecting sexuality in all its manifestations, such as patterns of mobility and settlement, family and community life, social rules, and the encoding of values in moral, economic, and educational systems.

Orality and sexuality were characterized by immediateness, and a reduced sense of space and time. Sex equaled instinct. With writing, and thus the possibility of what later would become literacy, a new set of underlying elements was acknowledged. Sexuality was subjected to the experience of accepted rules-the do's and don'ts appropriate to expectations of efficiency, and their resulting values, corresponding to the scale of humankind and the natural condition. Reproduction still dominated sexuality, while rules of optimal human interaction, encoded in religion or social expectations, started to permeate erotic behavior. To a great extent, language in its literate form expresses the awareness of the various erotic dimensions as they were socially acknowledged at any given time. Literacy enrolled sexuality in the quest for higher productivity and sustained consumption characteristic of the pragmatics associated with the Industrial Revolution. Once conditions making literacy necessary are overruled by new conditions, sexuality undergoes corresponding changes. Basically, sexuality seems to return to immediateness, as it integrates many mediating elements. Sexuality unfolds in an unrestricted set of varieties, escaping some of its natural determination. In keeping with the shorter and shorter cycles of human activity, sexuality turns into an experience of transitory encounters. Since it is a form of human expression, it ascertains its condition as yet another sign system, or language, among the many participating in the practical experiences of our new pragmatic context. It now bridges dramatically between life and death, in a world where the currency of both life and death is, for all practical purposes, devaluated.

Sex and creativity

Experts from fields as different as brain research, cognitive science, and physiology agree that a distinct similarity between the practical experience of self- constitution in sexual acts and in creative efforts of art, scientific discovery, and political performance can be established. It seems that they all involve a progression, reach a peak, experienced as enormous pleasure and relief, and are followed by a certain feeling of emptiness. Like any creative experience, the erotic experience is one of expression. To express means to constitute oneself authentically, and to project hope that the experience can impact others. From this stems the possible language, or semiotics, of the erotic: how it is expressed, what the erotic vocabulary (of sounds, words, gestures, etc.) and grammar are. The semiosis of the erotic includes the participation of the language of sexual relationships, without being limited to it.

Having reached this understanding, we can apply it to the observation that Homo Eroticus is a subject who continuously negates naturalness (from what and how we eat to how we dress, etc.) while simultaneously regretting the loss. Not surprisingly, sexuality is continued in the practice of producing, reading, viewing, and criticizing erotic literature, printed images, video, film documentaries, CD-ROM, or virtual reality. Real- time interactive erotic multimedia captures even more attention. In parallel, humans try to be authentic, unique, and free in their intimate sphere. They scan through image- dominated books, some more than vulgar, subscribe to magazines, face their own sexuality on videotapes, register for sex initiation seminars, or take advantage of group sex encounters. Millions land on pornographic Websites or create their own sex messages in the interconnected world. They do all this in an attempt to free themselves from natural necessity and from the conformist frame of literate Eros, including the many complexes explaining painful real or imaginary failures.

Living in an environment in which science and technology effectively support human experiences of overcoming the constraints of space, time, and material existence, humans freed sexuality from the influence of natural cycles. These, as we know, can even be altered as pragmatic conditions might require for sportswomen and ballerinas. New totems and taboos populate this environment in which Eros, as a reminder of distant phases of anthropological evolution, continues to be present. Like any other creative act, the sexual act involves imagination, and the urge to explore the unknown. It is irrepeatable, yet another instance of discovering one's identity in the uniqueness of the experience.

Although continuously programmed through endlessly refined means, humans maintain a nostalgia for the authentic, but accept, more often unconsciously than not, a mediocre syntax of the sexual impressed upon them from the world of celebrity and success. This syntax is a product of erotic experts, writers, and imagemakers. It is a contentless semantics-the meaning of erotic encounters fades in the meaning of the circumstance-and an absurd pragmatics-sexuality as yet another form of competition, deliriously celebrated by mass media.

While artificial insemination was a scientific breakthrough, it is also symptomatic of the process analyzed here, in particular of the changes in the underlying structure leading to the civilization of illiteracy. Artificial insemination is part of this background; so is the entire genetic research that resulted in our ability to design not only new plants and animals with expected characteristics, but also human beings. Specialization reached a point where the market can satisfy a new type of consumption, in this case represented by artificial insemination, under acceptable economic conditions. Whether a pill, or aesthetic insemination, will ever make those who desire to be artists become creative is still to be seen. (The same holds true for science, politics, and any other creative career.) But we have already seen the dissemination of tools (mainly computer- based) that give many the illusion of becoming abruptly talented, as some women discover that they are abruptly fecund because they found the right pill, or the right gynecologist, to make the impossible happen.

As part of contemporary society's generalized illiteracy, erotic illiteracy is eloquently illustrated by the pervasiveness of sex in art. The transition from pornography to artistic pornography corresponds to the search of those human obsessions that legitimize art's appropriation of territories considered taboo. As some see it, once freed from the constraints implicit in the pragmatic framework relying on literacy, art and sexuality intensified their reciprocal influence. Aesthetic concerns changed from elaboration and method to improvisation and process. The expectation of education or therapeutics gave way to triggering excitement, more obliquely sexual excitement. Striptease has moved from the back alleys of bigoted enjoyment into movie theaters, museums, prime time television, the Internet. And so has the language of arousal, the voice of pleasure, the groan of post-coital exhaustion, or disappointment from teleporn services to the pay-per-session Websites, where credit card numbers are submitted without fear of their being used beyond payment for the service. In certain countries still under a literate regimen, the problem of pornography has been solved by administrative prohibitions; in others, a solution arises from blind market logic.

The market acknowledges the various aspects of sexuality in the civilization of illiteracy through products and services geared towards all those involved. Many market semioses work in this direction-from the pornographic sites on the Internet to the red light districts where risk can be generously rewarded. Sometimes the market's attention leads to unexpected changes in what is marketed, and how previous acceptable codes of sexual behavior are revised and new codes publicly sanctioned. The many forms of advertisement catering to homosexuals, sexploitation, gendered sexuality, group experiences, while never using one qualifier or another, are quite explicit in identifying their public and the patterns of behavior characteristic for this public. Means used for this purpose correspond to those of the civilization of illiteracy. There is, probably, no other medium of more precise narrow casting of sexual wares, from legitimate to scandalously base, than that of the networked world.

In the framework of literacy, the erotic (as all other creative contributions) was idealized in many respects. Language projected the erotic experience as one that transcended sexuality, leading to stable and selective male-female relationships within the boundaries of the family characteristic of industrial society. In time, various value representations, symptomatic of a peculiar understanding of the differences between man and woman, and stored in the language of customs and rituals, took over the substance of the erotic and made form predominant. Literacy and the ceremonies celebrating the erotic-especially marriage and wedding anniversaries-are connected far beyond what most would accept on first reflection. The fact that the civilization of illiteracy took over these ceremonies, and created a service sector able to provide a substitute for an instance that used to signify commitment only proves how ubiquitous the expectation of high efficiency is. The vows that made marriage a social event, sanctioning the implicit sexual component of the contract, and sometimes celebrating more prejudice than tolerance, are expectations expressed in literate language and submitted for public validation. Whether newlyweds knew what they signed-or did not know how to sign-does not change the fact that the institution was acknowledged in the integrating reality of language.

Equal access to erotic mediocrity

Once the homogeneous image of society breaks, and sexuality more than previously turns into another market commodity (prostitution, in its hetero- and homosexual forms), once morals and direct commitments are substituted by rules of efficiency and population control, the language of the erotic is emptied. It is useless to accuse people of lower moral standards without understanding that, under new conditions of human experience, these standards simply embody ways of achieving the efficiency that this civilization of illiteracy strives for. To own your partner, as the marriage certificate is interpreted by some, and to buy pleasure or perversion as one buys food or clothing, are two different contexts for the self-constitution of the individual. It is much cheaper-and I cringe to state this so bluntly-to buy sexual pleasure, regardless how limited and vulgar it can be, than to commit oneself to a life of reciprocal responsibility, and unavoidable moments of inequity. The economic equation is so obvious that facing it, one ends up discouraged. But this equation is part of the broader equation of high expectations defining the illiterate practical experience of self- constitution in a world of a very large scale. In this equation, access to pornographic sites on the Internet can indeed appear to some as an issue of freedom of speech or freedom of choice.

Even those living outside the platinum and diamond belt of wealth and prosperity partake in the illiterate expression of sexuality as this created global markets of prostitution, pornography, and vulgarity, or widely opened the doors to sexual experimentation. From food, music, and photography, to video, films, and clothing, almost everything seems to address sexuality, moreover, to stimulate it. Crime and sex drive the market (the art market included) more than anything else. All age groups are addressed on their own biological and cultural terms; all backgrounds, including ethnic and religious, are involved in the fabric of sex messages. One million children are forced yearly into the sex market, the majority of them from poor countries. People who do not know how to read or write, and who probably never will, live under the seduction of the Calvin Klein label and will imitate the lascivious moves of the models through which they learn about them. Enormous numbers of people who might not have appropriate shelter, or enough food, buy Madonna videos and indulge in the fantasy that sexual freedom embodies in their particular illiterate expression.

Today, humans no longer share a literate notion of the sexual, but display a multitude of attitudes and involve themselves in a variety of experiences, which include the expectation of a common denominator, such as the family used to be. Humans tamed their own nature and discovered, at the peak of what seemed to become a collective sense of invulnerability, that there are still points of individual vulnerability. Some are reviving hopes of chastity and clean marriages, of generalized heterosexuality-in short, of a return to the safe shores of an idealized erotic experience of the past. Sexuality, however, always had its bright and dark sides. Suffice it to recall the explicit images in the ruins of Pompeii, or those in Indian and Japanese art. Sometimes, not even our most aggressive sex magazines, porno shops, Hollywood crap, and Internet sites equal their boldness. But people have managed to hide the dark side, or at least what could be construed as such, and to propagate, through literacy, the sublime erotic poem, the clean erotic novel, the romance, the love songs and dances, and everything else testifying to the sublime in love. What is new in the context of the civilization of illiteracy is that one side no longer excludes the other. To be is to be different, even if the biological equation of only two sexes seems so limiting.

Becoming more indirect and transitory, human relations affect sexuality and the ability to cope with what is defined as deviant erotic behavior in respect to tradition. AIDS will not turn back events that made the current pragmatic context necessary. Rather, it will add to the demystifying of love and sex, and thus effectively bridge between genetic research and the self-perpetuation drive of the species, rationalized in formulas meeting higher levels of efficiency, resources, and human reproduction. Such formulas, more sophisticated than the progressions Malthus used, are already tested by various organizations concerned with strategies for avoiding human self-destruction by overpopulation. A condom is cheaper than giving birth; all the pills women swallow over a lifetime are far less costly than taking care of one child. It should not surprise that Japan, committed to all the values of literacy and the sexuality attached to them, is reluctant to adopt the pill. The country has a very low birth rate, so low that its leaders are justified in fearing that soon Japan will not have enough people to fuel the economy through production and consumption. Still, Japan sees a relation between the pill and the state of morality as part of the cultural homogeneous fabric on which it relies. Nobody really doubts that the globality of human experience, to which Japan contributed through its productive genius probably more than any country, will catch up with it. Sexually, the literate Japanese are no less daring than the illiterate Americans.

To continuously tend towards having more at the cheapest price-in many ways an expression of rape of other people's work and resources-means to exhaust not only the object, but also the subject. Rape, one of the most heinous crimes people commit, generalized in political and economic rape, projects sexuality and its powerful action even outside the biological realm of human life. To want all (especially all at once) means to want nothing in particular. At the end of the total sexual experience lies nothing but disappointment for some; for others, the next experience. Profoundly subjective, deeply individual, unique and irrepeatable, human sexuality has meaning only to the extent that it remains an integrating factor, relating individual destiny to that of the species. The similarity between the creative and sexual acts might explain why changes similar to those occurring in erotic experience can be identified in the artistic, scientific, or political practice of the civilization of illiteracy. Unless we understand the many implications of such changes, we would only leap into a vortex of wild conjecture. Family is the part of the experience of human self-constitution in which such implications are most likely to have a profound effect.

Family: Discovering the Primitive Future

A paradox has developed: Homosexuals want to establish families and to have them acknowledged by society. Adults who have children choose to avoid the family contract. Well over 30% of the children born in the USA are born out of wedlock. In the pragmatic equation of human self-constitution, these facts bear deeper signification.

Commenting before a television camera after a celebrity divorce trial, an onlooker remarked that there is more communication in preparing a pre-nuptial agreement than during a marriage. As exaggerated and imprecise (communication between whom-the couple or their representatives?) as this remark probably is, it nevertheless captures some traits of family life in our age. Indeed, families are constituted on the basis of economic agreements, mediated by lawyers and financial consultants. The risk of family breakdown is carefully integrated in the calculations establishing the viability of the marriage. Children are part of the calculation-minus the long-lasting emotional effects-as are the odds for illness, disability, and liabilities, such as living parents and siblings who might need assistance, or obligations due to previous marriages. The curves registering amount of time the recently married spend together reveals that once the agreement is signed, dialogue shrinks to less than eight hours a week, which is well below the time spent watching television-almost seven hours a day-or devoted to physical exercise. If surfing the Net is part of the newlyweds' life, there is even less dialogue.

Typically, both partners in the marriage work, and this affects other aspects of family life besides dialogue. When children arrive, the time parents spend with them decreases progressively from the days following birth through the critical years of high school. It is reported that on the average, youngsters in the USA get their parents' attention for less than four hours a week. In some European countries, this time can reach eight to ten hours. On the Asian sub-continent, many children lose contact with their parents before the age of six. Statistics show that over a quarter of the American student population planning to enroll in college never discuss their high school programs, or necessary preparation courses, with their fathers. Close to half this amount never discuss their plans with their mothers (single or not). The same holds true for students in Italy, France, and Belgium.

Divorce percentages, abortion rates, number of partners over one's lifetime, and hours spent with the family in meaningful exchange of ideas or in common tasks express a condition of the family that reflects the dynamics of today's human practical experiences. Over 16 million children under the age of eighteen years live with one parent (mainly the mother). Economics (income level, joblessness, opportunity) plays a critical role in the life of the young and of their progenitors.

All the changes leading to the civilization of illiteracy affect the experience of family life, and result in radical changes of the family model itself. Faster rhythms of experiences leading to casual relationships and to forming a family are on record. Shorter cycles during which the experience is exhausted result in increasingly unstable relations and families. Permanence is no longer the expectation in marriage. Throughout society, clear-cut distinctions between morally right and wrong are being replaced by situation ethics. Increased mediation, through counselors, lawyers, doctors, and financial planners, explains the new efficiency of the family as short-lived interaction and cooperation. The factors mentioned characterize the new pragmatic framework of human existence in which a new kind of interpersonal commitment is made and a new type of family is established, not unlike the short-lived corporations that are exhausted as soon as their product's potential has been reached.

In this pragmatic framework, family-like interactions harking back to the civilization of literacy, with its hierarchy and central authority and the promise of stability and security, are considered the only alternative to the new situation of the family. The people who consciously seek this alternative discover that the family is bound by relatively loose connections and that reciprocally advantageous distributed tasks replace family unity. Mediated and segmented experiences and vague commitments, which evolve into a frame of vague morality, dominate family life today. Marriages of expediency, undertaken to solve some difficulty-such as resident status in some countries, health insurance, care for one's old age, better chances at a career- illustrate the tendency.

Once the conditions for the perpetuation and dissemination of values associated with literacy are no longer granted, at the current globally integrated scale of humankind, family life changes fundamentally. Even the notion of family is questioned. Family unity, reflected in the coherent pragmatic framework afforded by literacy, is replaced by individual autonomy and competition. An array of options greater than the one feasible at the scale characteristic of agricultural or industrial economy, presents itself to adults and children in their practical experiences of self-constitution. Nobody escapes the temptation of trying and testing in the multiple of choices that are characteristic of the civilization of illiteracy.

There are many facets to what is called family. The concept displays ample variety in its perceived or construed meaning. Sexual instincts manifested as attraction, associated with the awareness of the consequence of reproduction, might lead the list in defining what it took to establish a family. At the same level of importance is the need to establish a viable unity of economic, cultural, and psychological significance, a framework, sanctioned by religious and political entities, for carrying out obligations significant to the community. These, and a number of additional elements, such as morality based on the pragmatics of health, inter-generational exchange of information and aid, social functions ensuring survival and continuity through cooperation and understanding with other families, are tightly connected. The nature of this interconnectedness is probably a much better identifier of what, under given socio- historical circumstances, is considered and experienced as family.


Dictionaries point to the broader meaning of an extended notion of family-all living in a household-with the root of the word extending to all the servants, as well as to blood relations and descendants of the same progenitor. What is probably missing from such a definition is the understanding of interconnectedness, more specifically, awareness of the role played by agents of connection, among which language, in general, and literacy, in particular, become relevant.

Much has been written concerning the change from animal-like sexual drive to the formation of family; much, too, about the many specific forms of practical experiences through which families were established and maintained. The history of the human family captures the nature of the relations between man and woman, parents and offspring, near and distant kin, and between generations. Natural aspects of production and reproduction, and cultural, social, political, and ethnic elements are also expressed through the family. Its reality extends even to the area of interdependencies between the language of individuals constituting families as viable survival units, and the language of the community within which family is acknowledged. Whether female- or male-dominated, as the pragmatic context afforded, the family ascertains a sense of permanency against the background of need and flux. It is another constitutive practical experience involving the projection of individual biological characteristics in the context of life and work, an experience that progressively extended beyond biology into its own domain of expectations and values, and finally into its own effectiveness.

In search of a family nucleus, we arrive at female, male, offspring. The biological structure is maintained by some bond, probably a combination of factors pertaining to survival (the economy of family), emotions, sexual attraction (which includes psychological aspects), and ways of interacting with the extended family and with other families (social aspects). But beyond this, little else can be stated without causing controversy. Within each family, there is a maternal and a paternal line. In some family types, mother and father together feed the children, introduce them to survival tactics, and train their family instincts. In other cases, only one parent assumes these functions. The implicit linearity of family relations unfolds through new family associations.

Anthropological research reports in detail how families are established. The pragmatic aspect is decisive. In Melanesia, the goal is to acquire brothers-in-law who will join the woman's family in hunting, farming, and other activities. Margaret Mead described the rule of not marrying those one fights. Expressed in language, this rule has a normative quality. Nevertheless, in some tribes in Kenya, enemies marry to ensure that they become friends. The language expressing this strategy is more suggestive than imperative. Research also documents variations from the nuclear model. The Nayar, a population in India, consecrates a family in which children belong to the maternal line; fathers visit. The woman can have as many lovers as she desires. The semiosis of naming children reflects this condition. Rules established over time in some countries are indicative of peculiar pragmatic requirements: polygamy in societies where marriage is the only form of protection and fulfillment for women; polyandry in societies with a high man to woman ratio; uxorilocation (the new couple resides in the wife's home territory), and virilocation (the new couple resides in the husband's home territory).

The scale at which family self-constitution takes place affects its effectiveness. When this scale reaches a certain threshold or critical size, structural changes take place. The family, in its various embodiments, and within each specific pragmatic framework, reflected these major changes in the human scale of mankind at many levels. From the first images documenting families over 25,000 years ago, in the Paleolithic Age, to the paintings at Sefar (Tassili des Ajjer, 4th century BCE), and to many other subsequent forms of testimony, we have indicators of change in family size, the nature of family hierarchy, inheritance mechanisms, restrictions and prohibitions (incest foremost), and above all, change in the family condition when the pragmatic context changes. The testimony extends to cemeteries: It matters who is buried with whom or close to whom; to the evolution of words: What Beneviste called glottochronology; to contracts. Marriage contracts, such as the cuneiform tablet of Kish, dated 1820 BCE, or contracts documenting the sale of land, in which the family tree of the sellers is reproduced as testimony that the entire family accepts the transaction, shed light on the evolution of family. When Aristotle stated "Each city is made up of families," he acknowledged that a stage of stabilized family relations had been reached, well adapted to the stabilizing pragmatic framework facilitated by the new practical experience of writing.

By Aristotle's time, togetherness was designated through a name. The expectation at this scale of human relations was: without a name there is no social existence. Characteristics of sign processes pertinent to self-constitution as members of various family types become characteristic of the family. That is, the structure of family-based semiotic processes and the structure of the family are similar. Rudimentary signs, incipient language, oral communication, notation, and writing are stages in the semiosis of means of expression and communication. The sign processes of family develop in tandem.

The quest for permanency

At the time literacy became possible and necessary, it embodied an idiom of effective relations, both synchronically-at a given instance of those relations-and diachronically-over time, such as from one generation to another, each attached to the same use of language in writing, reading, and speaking. It is precisely the need to achieve efficiency, in every human endeavor, that assigns to the family the function of co-guarantor of tradition. Even before the possibility of literacy, language carried the do's and don'ts transmitting rules, based on the practical experience, that ensured survival through cooperation and new ways to satisfy direct needs and respond to expectations-rules that affected the efficiency of each practical experience.

The family appropriated these requirements, shaping them into a coherent framework for efficient togetherness. Directness, sequentiality, linearity, centralism, cooperation, and determinism marked the family experience as it marked other experiences of human self-constitution. Family members relied directly on each other. As one male assumed the role of provider, and the female, or females, of caretaker, a certain structure of dependence was put in place, resulting in hierarchy and sub- hierarchies. Family activity involved repetitive and sequential phases related to survival: reproductive cycles of animals; the progression of seasons and its relation to agriculture (rainy and dry, cold and hot, long days and short days). The pragmatics of survival seemed determined; there was little choice in method and timing. The family took shape in a world of cause-and-effect, which also determined religious practices.

The source of each rule for successful family life was direct practical experience; the test of validity was the effectiveness appropriate to the specific scale of humanity. The do's changed over time, as experience confirmed their efficiency. They became a body of accepted knowledge from which moral ideals are extracted, laws derived, and political action inspired within the context of literacy. In the industrial equation, output (products, end results, increase or profit) should equal or exceed input (raw materials, energy, human effort). The don'ts, adopted by religion, law, and rudimentary medical praxis, were engraved in language even more deeply. They were encoded together with punishments that reflected the urgency behind preserving the integrity of the family- based pragmatic framework, in the experience of the agricultural and, later on, the industrial model. The association between act and result was continuously scrutinized in a world of action and reaction. In a world of experience mediated through literacy, rules were followed for their own sake; or rather, for the sake of the permanence that literacy embodied.

That at some time sexual relations outside marriage could be the cause of so many prohibitions and dire punishment, mainly for women, does not bear as much significance on the state of morals as upon the pragmatic implications of the act of infidelity and wantonness. These implications refer to lineage, continuity, and inheritance, psychological effects on other family members, health, and status of offspring born out of wedlock. Rules regarding family integrity were encoded in the language of custom, ritual, and myth. Later on they were encoded in the language of religion, philosophy, ethics, law, science, ideology, and political discourse. Eventually, they were recorded in the rules of the market. Filtered over time through a variety of experiences resulting in success or failure, they are acknowledged in culture, and adopted in the language of education, and probably most directly in the language of market transactions. To give birth meant to continue the sequence and enhance the chances of survival; to rear children to adulthood meant to afford new levels of efficiency. More people could be more effective in ensuring survival in a pragmatic framework of direct action and immediacy. Beyond a certain scale, it became effectively impossible to coordinate the complex of families that went into the entire family. City life, even in early cities, was not propitious to extended families. During this period, the strategy of labor division took over undifferentiated, direct execution of tasks.

Over time, as the scale of human experience changed, community expectations were reflected in what used to be the domain of the individual or that of families. The term over time needs some clarification. The first phases to which we refer are of very slow change. From the initial indications of family-like relations up to the establishment of language families, the time span is greater than 15,000 years. From nuclei practicing agriculture to the first notation and writing, the time is in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 years. From then on, the cycles became more compressed: less than 2,000 years to the time religions were established, another 1,000 years to settlement in cities. Each moment marks either progressive changes in the pragmatic framework or radical change, when the scale of human life and work required different means to meet efficiency expectations. Language acquisition, settlement of populations, development of writing, the emergence of philosophy, science and technology, the Industrial Revolution, and the civilization of illiteracy are the six changes in the scale of humankind, each with its corresponding pragmatic framework. Many agents of influence contribute to the change from one pragmatic framework to another: climactic conditions, natural selection, the environment, religions, communal rules, distribution of resources, and the experience of the market. Regardless of the difference in languages, language use is probably the common experience through which natural changes are acknowledged and social differentiation effected.

Exactly what made literacy necessary-the need to achieve levels of efficiency corresponding to the human scale that led to industrial society-made the corresponding type of family necessary. Families reproduced the needed working force and transmitted the literacy required to attain the efficiency of qualified work. Such work was accomplished in a setting fundamentally different from that of immediate, direct, practical experiences with nature (farming, animal husbandry), or small-scale craftsmanship. Literacy was fostered by the family as a means of coordination and as a universal language of human transactions. This is how family fulfills the function of co- guarantor of education. Conversely, among the forms through which the future contract of literacy was acknowledged, family is one. The pragmatic need for permanency reflected in the expectation of the stable family has many consequences inside and outside family life. These can be witnessed in the spirit and letter of contractual obligations people enter under the coordinating power of the literate commitment. Education, law, politics, religion, and art are impregnated with this spirit. As the ultimate family-the homogeneous family of families-the nation asserts its permanency as a reflection of the permanency of its constituent atoms. When deterioration occurs in the conditions that make literacy possible and necessary, many of the permanencies associated with literacy, including the interpersonal relations adapted to it, or the homogeneity of nations, fail. As we entertain the prospect that nations, as definable political entities, might disappear, we automatically wonder whether the family, as a definable social entity, will survive-and if yes, in what form.

What breaks down when family fails?

The downfall of nations and empires has been attributed to the breakdown of the family. The weakening of family has been cited as a cause of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Anti-abortionists and other traditionalists in the United States blame the breakdown in traditional family values for many of the social ills of our day. Now that the royal children in Great Britain are divorced, people wonder how long the monarchy will last.

One of the symptoms of the civilization of illiteracy is the perceived breakdown of family. Simultaneously, other institutions, such as schools, the church, the military, embodying permanency and stability, are undergoing drastic reassessment. In a broad sense, a transition from one way of life to another has been taking place. But things are a little more confusing since what used to be is not always actually replaced by something else, but rescaled, turned into a possibility among many, in a dynamics of ever-expanding diversity and wider choices. Many have argued that the breakdown of the traditional family was inevitable. They bring up cultural, ideological, and socio- economic arguments-from the liberation of women and children to the exhausted model of the patriarchal structure. All these arguments are probably partially right. After previous economies of scarcity and limited means of production, human experience at the global scale has brought about a wealth of choices and means of affluence that question the very premise of the family contract.

In a context of rapid change from the practical experience of authority to the pragmatics of endless choice, subsumed under the heading of freedom, the permanency of the family structure comes under the methodical doubt of our new patterns of praxis. The tension between choice and authority was experienced in family life in the specific context of human relations based on hierarchy and centralism. New questions have a bearing on sexuality, parent-child relations, interactions among families, and the whole social fabric. Likewise, the transition of what was projected as self-control-with elements of self-denial, for the sake of family, a form of internalized authority-to the discovery of new frontiers, and the alternative pursuit of self- indulgence, follows the same path. These new frontiers and alternatives make values appear relative and undermine the spirit of sharing implicit in the traditional experience of family. Sharing is replaced by strategies of coordination and wealth preservation, all involving many mediating elements, such as political power, the legal system, taxation, charity.

It is argued, probably with good reason, that the high rate of divorce-the socially sanctioned breakdown of a family, but probably only relatively indicative of the breakdown-is not meaningful unless put in a broader context: how many people still marry, how many remarry, how much longer people live. The high rate of divorce at the end of World War II is symptomatic of events above and beyond the structural characteristics of family constitution, re-constitution, or breakdown. The rate of divorce in the years following the war, especially in the last 10-15 years, is nevertheless connected to the underlying structure of a pragmatic framework within which permanency, whether that of language, family, values, nations, laws, art, or anything else, becomes a liability because it affects the dynamics of change. One out of two marriages-and the proportion is changing quite fast-ends in divorce. This is, nevertheless, only one aspect of broader modifications making such a rate more of a qualifier than an accident in human pairing.

The dynamics of reproduction-births per marriage, average number of children per family, children living with one parent, infant mortality-is significant from the perspective of one of the most important functions of family. In the pragmatic context of today's integrated world, the need to have many children in order to maintain continuity and viability is different, even in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, or Africa, than at any previous time. The species has practically freed itself from the direct pressure of natural selection. What is at work, even in areas of extreme poverty, is a perverted mechanism of interdependencies echoing what herders in East Africa expressed as: "He who has children does not sleep in the bush." The family has ceased to be the sole source of welfare. Its functions are taken over by the community, the state, even international organizations. The fact that in some parts of the world this structural change is not acknowledged, and very high birth rates are on record, shows that the result of ignoring the pragmatic exigencies of this new age adds to the burden, not to the solution.

Another phenomenon difficult to assess is the single woman who decides to give birth. If individual or social material resources are available, moral and educational needs or expectations still remain to be addressed. Individualism fostered to the extreme partially explains the trend, but cannot satisfactorily indicate the many aspects of this new phenomenon characteristic of the civilization of illiteracy. If one reads the statistics, single parenthood appears like a sure winner in the lottery of poverty and frustration. The problems of children who will be growing up with a mother single by choice will be the source of much sociological and psychoanalytical research in the future. But existence is more than numbers in ledgers, or psychological predicaments. Self-fulfillment, the instinct to nurture and to ensure continuity are all at work in such cases.

The homosexual family

No group has done more in the way of forcing us to rethink the definition and role of family as homosexuals have. Within the civilization of illiteracy, homosexuals assert their identity in the public eye. Gay and lesbian groups fight for the ratification of the homosexual family, which could not even be conceived of within the pragmatics associated with literacy. Their fight corresponds to a practical experience that is not motivated by the self-perpetuation drive of the species, but by other forces. These are economic, social, and political-the right to enjoy the same benefits as members of heterosexual families. Interestingly enough, social principles adopted in the age when pragmatics required that society support childbirth, family nurturing, and education are extended today, under totally different circumstances, in ignorance of the necessities that were reflected in these principles. A tax deduction was an expression of social co- participation, since society needed more people, better educated youth, a stable framework of family life. The economy and the military could not succeed without the fresh flesh of new generations.

Gays and lesbians challenge the traditional notion of family in a context that no longer requires hierarchy and that redefines roles that have become stereotypes and undemocratic. They propose a model on a continuum in which each partner can be provider and assume household duties to any degree. There are no clear-cut roles, no clear-cut hierarchy, and no long-term commitments. Children are not the consequence of sexual relations but of desire and choice. This choice has two aspects of special significance for the pragmatics of our age. One concerns the human desire to form an alliance in the form of family, which seems almost instinctual. It may be difficult to recognize a natural inclination in a context (homosexuality) that negates propagation of the species. It is this threat to survival that caused so many taboos to be placed on homosexuality in the first place. These taboos took on other dimensions when encoded in a literacy that ignored the pragmatics.

The second aspect has to do with the extent to which homosexuals' desire for a family constitutes its own validity in the pragmatic framework of our time. To what extent does the desire to have a family reveal characteristics of human self-constitution in the current context? In a world in which there is a high rate of births out of wedlock, a world in which the traditional family is no guarantee of relationships free of abuse and exploitation, a world with great numbers of children in orphanages or in foster care, any desire to place children in a loving family context is worthy of attention.

What constitutes a family in an age whose pragmatics is not defined by the values perpetuated in and through literacy? The new definition might go along these lines: main provider (the father role); second provider (the mother role), who is also manager of the household. The two roles are not polarized; each provider participates in household work and in salaried work outside the home, as circumstances require. A child is a dependent under the age of 18 years (or 22 years if in college), for whom the providers are legally responsible. A grandparent is qualified through age and willingness to assume the role. Aunt/uncle is someone with fraternal ties to the providers. The definitions can go on. In considering these literate definitions, we can see that they apply to the situation of the current traditional family as well, in which father and mother both work, in which a child may live with and be cared for by a parent's second or third spouse, in which distance from or lack of blood relations calls for ad hoc relatives. The most vital implications concern our culture as it has been passed down over the centuries through literate expression, laden with values that literacy perpetuates and endows with an aura, in defiance of the new pragmatics and the new scale in which humans operate.

The homosexual family and its occasional focus on adopting children reflects the fact that we live in a world of many options, and consequently of very relative values. Their desire for a family, under circumstances that are far from being conducive to family life, is as valid as that of an unmarried woman who wants to give birth and rear a child (the one-parent household). It is as valid as the desire of infertile couples who use every means the market offers to have a child, through costly medical intervention or by hiring surrogates. In the civilization of illiteracy, each person forms his or her own definition of family, just as people form their own definitions of everything else. The only test of validity is, ultimately, effectiveness. In the long run, the biological future of the species will also be affected, one way or another, as part of the effectiveness equation.

To want a child

The new pragmatics ultimately affects the motives behind forming a family in the civilization of illiteracy. Marriage, if at all considered, has become a short-term contract. Its brevity contradicts marriage's reason for being: continuity and security through offspring and adaptation to life cycles. The attitudes with which partners enter the family contract result in a dynamic of personal relations outside of that sanctioned by society. Vows are exchanged more as a matter of performance than of bonding. Natural instincts are systematically overridden through mediating mechanisms for providing nourishment, acquiring health care, and settling conflicts. Child rearing is the result of pragmatic considerations: What does a couple, or single parent, give up in having a child? Can a mother continue working outside the home?

In order to correctly qualify answers to these questions, we would need to acknowledge that many characteristics of the individuals constituting a family, or seeking alternatives to it, are reflected in the family experience, or in experiences that are parallel to it. Economic status, race, religion, culture, and acculturation play an important role. Literacy assumed homogeneity and projected expectations of uniformity. The new pragmatic framework evidences the potential of heterogeneous experiences. Data indicating that the average numbers of divorces, single-parent households, number of partners, etc. vary drastically among groups of different biological, cultural, and economic backgrounds shows how necessary it is to realistically account for differences among human beings.

Let us take a look at some statistical data. But before doing that, let us also commit ourselves to an unbiased interpretation, free of any racial prejudice. Almost 60% of Black children in the USA are living in a one-parent household. Of these children, 94% live with their mothers. It was documented that 70% of the juveniles in long-term correctional facilities grew up without a father. To make any inference from such data without proper consideration of the many factors at work would only perpetuate literacy-based prejudices, and would not lead to a better understanding of the new circumstances of human self-constitution. Our need to understand the dynamics of family and what can be done to effect a course of events that is beneficial to all involved cannot be served unless we understand the many characteristics of the practical experience of self-constitution of the Black family, or of any non-standard Western family.

Under the expectations of literacy, a prototypical family life was to be expected from all. As the expectation of homogeneity is overridden by all the forces at work in the civilization of illiteracy, we should not be surprised by, and even less inclined to fasten blame on people who constitute themselves in ways closer to their authenticity. Multiplication of choice is-let me state again-part of the civilization of illiteracy. Modern, enlightened laws introduced in some African countries prohibit polygamous families. With this prohibition in place, a new phenomenon has occurred: Husbands end up having extra-marital affairs and support neither their lovers nor their children, which they did under polygamy. Paradoxically, activists in the Women's Liberation movement are seriously considering the return to polygamy, as an alternative to the increasing number of deadbeat dads and the misery of abandoned wives and children. There is no necessary relation between the two examples, rather the realization that within the civilization of illiteracy, tradition comes very powerfully to expression.

Children in the illiterate family

Nobody can characterize families of the past (monogamous or polygamous) as unfailingly unified and showing exemplary concern for offspring. Children, as much as wives and husbands, were abused and neglected. Concern over education was at times questionable. The projected ideal of authority and infallibility resulted in the perpetuation of patterns of experiences from which we are still fighting to free ourselves. Notwithstanding these and other failures, we still have to acknowledge that a shift, from individual and family responsibility to a diffuse sense of social responsibility, characterizes the process affecting the status of children. The family in the civilization of illiteracy embodies expectations pertinent to progressively mediated practical experiences: from childbirth-an almost industrial experience-to education; from entering the family agreement, mediated by so many experts-lawyers, priests, tax consultants, psychologists-to maintaining a sense of commonalty among family members; from embodying direct interaction and a sense of immediacy to becoming instances of segmentation, change, and interaction, and instances of competition and outright conflict. The institution of the family must also counteract sequentiality and linearity with a sense of relativity that allows for more choices, which the new human scale makes possible. This new pragmatic framework also allows for higher expectations.

Like any other institution, the institution of marriage (and the bureaucracy it has generated) has its own inertia and drive to survive, even when the conditions of its necessity, at least in the forms ascertained in the past, are no longer in place. In short, the breakdown of the family, even if equated with the failure of the individuals constituting it-children included-is related to the new structural foundation of a pragmatic framework for which it is not suited as a universal model, or to which it is only partially acceptable. This does not exclude the continuation of family. Rather, it means that alternative forms of cooperation and interaction substituting the family will continue to emerge. Just as literacy maintains a presence among many other literacies, the family is present among many forms of reciprocal interdependence, some expanding beyond the man-woman nucleus. To understand the dynamics of this change, a closer look at how the new pragmatic framework of the civilization of illiteracy affects experiences pertinent to family is necessary here.

The history of the family, independent of its various embodiments (matriarchal, patriarchal, polygamous, monogamous, restricted or extended, heterosexual or homosexual), is in many respects the history of the appropriation of the individual by society. The offspring of primitive humans belonged to nobody. If they survived to puberty, they continued life on their own, or as members of the group in which they were born, as nameless as their parents. Children and parents were amoral and competed for the same resources. The offspring of the humans constituting their own identity, and their own universe parallel to that of nature, belonged more and more to what emerged as the family, and by extension to the community (tribe, village, parish). The child was marked, named, nurtured, and educated, as limited as this education might have been. It was given language and, through the experience of work, a sense of belonging. In all known practical experiences-work, language, religion, market, politics-the succession of generations was specifically acknowledged. Rules, some pertaining to the preservation of biological integrity, others to property and social life, were established in order to accommodate relations between generations.

Over centuries, family ownership of children decreased while that of society increased. This is reflected in the various ways church, school, social institutions, and especially the market claim each new generation. In this process, mediation becomes part of family life: the priest, the teacher, the counselor, the language of advertisement, direct marketing, and much, much more is insinuated between children and their parents. The process intensifies as expectancies of better life for less effort become predominant. Responsibilities, procreation included, are distributed from the parents to the practical experiences of genetics. Test tube production of babies is an alternative to natural procreation. More to come. As a matter of fact, both procreation and adoption are dominated by strong selective methods and design procedures. Genetic traits are identified and matched in the genetic banks of adoptable children. Surrogate mothers are selected and contracted based on expectations of behavior and heredity. Sperm banks offer selections from high IQ or high physical performance bulls. Other mediators specify ideal cows, surrogate mothers whose offspring are treated like any other commodity-"satisfaction guaranteed." If the product is somehow unsatisfactory, the dissatisfied parents get rid of it.

Obviously, the language and literacy expected for the success of the biochemical reaction in the test tube is different from that involved in the constitution of the family. It is also different from the literacy involved in the change from instinctual sexual encounters to love, procreation, and child rearing. In each of the procedures mentioned, new languages-of genetics, for example-introduce levels of mediation that finally affect the efficiency of procreation. As nightmarish as some of these avenues might seem, they are in line with the entire development towards the new pragmatics: segmentation-the task is divided into sub-tasks-networking-to identify the desired components and strategies for synthesis-and task distribution. Children are not yet made on the Internet, but if the distinction between matter and information suggested by some geneticists is carried through, it would not be impossible to conceive of procreation on networks.

A new individuality

The process of mediation expands well further. Family life becomes the subject of practical experiences involving family planning, health, psychology, socialized expectations of education, the right to die. The private family owned their offspring and educated it to the level of its own education, or to the level it deemed advantageous, consistent with the progress of literacy. To the extent that this family was involved in other experiences, such as religion, sport, art, or the military, children grew up partaking in them. Once one aspect of the relation between environment, home, family, and work changes-for example, living in the city reshapes the nature of the dependence on the environment, the house is one of several possible, family members work at different jobs-the family is made more and more part of a bigger family: society. In turn, this belonging dissolves into solitary individualism. Nothing any longer buffers the child from the competitive pressure that keeps the economic engine running. Industrial society required centers of population while it still relied on relatively nuclear families that embodied its own hierarchy. The human scale reflected in industrial society required the socialization of family in order to generate an adequate workforce, as well as the corresponding consumption. With networking, children as much as adults are on their own, in a world of interactions that breaks loose from any conceivable constraints. There is no need to fantasize here, rather to acknowledge a new structural situation of consequences beyond our wildest imagination.

Literacy unified through its prescriptions and expectations. It facilitated the balance between the preserved naturalness and the socialized aspect of family. It projected a sense of permanency and shielded the family from the universe of machines threatening to take over limited functions of the body: the mechanical arm, the treadmill. As a human medium for practical experiences involving writing and reading, literacy seemed to represent a means of resistance against the inanimate. It helped preserve human integrity and coherence in a world progressively losing its humanity due to all the factors that the need for increased efficiency put in place (machines, foremost). It eventually became obvious that procreation had to be kept within limits, that there is a social cost to each child and to each mother giving birth. Moreover, family structural relations needed to be reconsidered for the expected levels of efficiency to be maintained and increased, as expectations took over desires. The new pragmatic framework is established as this borderline between the possible and the necessary. The civilization of illiteracy is its expression.

At the family level, the civilization of illiteracy corresponds to increased segmentation, affecting the very core of family life, and mediation. The family can no longer be viewed as a whole by the many mediating entities constituting the market. The market is with us from birth to death. It deals in every aspect of life, and extends the pressure of competition in each moment of our existence. The market segments medical care. It is most likely that each family member sees a different doctor, depending on age, sex, and condition. It segments education, religion, and culture. It is not uncommon that family members constitute their identity in different religious experiences, and some of them in none, as it is not uncommon that their educational needs run the gamut from a modicum of instruction to never-ending study. They live together, or find togetherness on the network matrix-one running a business on some remote continent, the other pursuing solitary goals, and some adapting to foreign cultures (less than to foreign languages).

The market has broken society into segments and the family into parts on which it concentrates its message of consumption. There is not one market entity that views the family as a whole. Children are targeted on the basis of their economic, cultural, and racial background for everything from food to clothing to toys and recreation. And so are their respective natural or adoptive parents, grandparents, and relatives. We can all decry this as manipulation, but in fact it corresponds to the objective need to increase commercial efficiency through narrow marketing. Accordingly, a new moral condition emerges, focused on the individual, not on the family. Part of the broader pragmatic framework, this process stimulates the relative illiteracy of the partners constituting the family. This illiteracy is reflected in varied patterns of sexual behavior, in new birth control strategies, in a different reciprocal relation between men and women, or between individuals of the same sex, and in as-yet undefinable codes of family behavior. The condition of the child in the civilization of illiteracy corresponds to the same dynamics. Children are less and less cared for at home, often entrusted to specialized caretakers, and finally started on their way through the vast machine called the education system.


It makes no sense to decry the hypocrisy of double (or multiple) standards and the loss of a morality associated with the misery of people obliged to remain together by forces they consider legitimate (religion foremost). In the dynamics of the civilization of illiteracy, forces kept under the control of rules and norms established in the practical experience of literacy are unleashed. It would be difficult to speak about progress where one sees the demise of family, the erosion of private life, the increased number of one- parent households, of early and very early maternity, of incest, rape and increased child abuse, of obsession with contraceptives or ignorance of their use, and the threat of sexually transmitted diseases and drugs. Still, before hurrying value judgments, one would be better advised to consider the entire picture and to assess what makes all these occurrences possible, indeed, what makes them necessary.

It might well be true that what we perceive as the sources of morality and happiness-the family, children, love, religion, work, and the satisfaction associated with all of these-are exhausted. It might well be that fresh sources must be sought, or invented, or at least not eliminated because they do not fit the mold of previous choices. Even the thought that morality and happiness are altogether unnecessary deserves to be considered. They are loaded with the expectation of permanency and universality rendered impossible in the new pragmatic framework of permissiveness, local values, instant gratification, change, and interconnectedness.

The nuclear family of the civilization of literacy has been absorbed in the illiterate dynamics of societal functioning. It is coming out of the experience restructured. On the other hand, socially acceptable patterns of development are encouraged through the public education system, where the chief objective is the socialization of children, not the dissemination of knowledge. Ethnic characteristics are progressively, although timidly, acknowledged. The seemingly losing battle against drugs leads many parents and social researchers to wonder whether legalization would be more efficient than spending immense amounts of money and energy to fight the underground market. In this world of mediation, science and technology make genetic engineering possible in the form of influencing the profile of the offspring, ways to avoid what does not fit the fashionable, ways to induce early in development (almost at the embryonic stage) preferences and cognitive characteristics.

Together with everything pertaining to the human being self-constituted in the framework of the civilization of illiteracy, the family goes public in the stock market of the many enterprises involved in the self-perpetuation and the well being of the species. Its value is no longer a matter of those constituting it, of its goals and means, but of the return on the investment society makes in it. As a competitive unit within the pragmatic framework associated with literacy, the family freed itself from the constraints implicit in literacy that affect its efficiency. It became a contract, one among the growing number, in whose expression literacy gives way to the alternative litigation language of the law, in respect to which, with the exception of lawyers, everyone else is illiterate. Favorable taxation supports children-euphemistically called deductions when they are really additions-but not beyond what is socially expected of them, at least in the USA: to become agents of consumption and increased efficiency as soon as possible. In this sense, the tensions between generations are simply refocused-society is willing to make available social help in the form of transitory family substitutes. The problem is not addressed, only its symptoms. The languages of counseling and psychiatry at work here are another instance of specialized literacy. They substitute for family communication while projecting limited and limiting psychological explanations upon all those involved.

In an age that expects efficiency to lead to satisfaction, if not happiness, the family relies on specialists when problems arise: psychiatrists, counselors, specialized schools. Sometimes the specialists are imposed when society perceives a need to intervene, especially in cases of suspected child abuse. It is reflective of the pragmatics of our time that the elderly receive attention in the market of mediations and specializations on a less obvious level. They are considered only to the extent that they are viable consumers. Once upon a time, and still in isolated cases, such as the Amish and Mennonites in the USA, age was to be honored for its own sake, a value kept alive through literacy. While many elderly enjoy the benefits of better healthcare and economic sufficiency, they effectively divorce themselves from the family in enjoying what the market offers them. Their participation in the family is a matter of choice more than necessity. The success of the Internet among the elderly, in need of communication and support groups, is a very telling phenomenon. Networks of reciprocal support, as nuclei of self-organization, emerge independent of any form of social intervention. Their viability is based on this dynamics.

The struggle between the value of life in the civilization of literacy and that of illiteracy can be seen in hospitals and nursing homes where the aged are treated on machine-based analogies, abandoned or entrusted to specialists in the care of the dying. While aging and death cannot be eliminated, the market provides ways to avoid them as long as we can afford to.

It used to be that the new generation continued the family work-farming, carpentry, pottery, law, business, banking, publishing. This happened in a context of continuity and relative permanence: the work or business remained relatively unchanged. Literacy was appropriate for the transfer of know-how, as it was for the maintenance of family-based values and successive assumption of responsibilities regarding the family, moreover the community. These pragmatic elements no longer exist the way they did.

Today, even within the same generation, the nature of business evolves, and so does the nature of the values around which family is established. In addition, ownership changes as well; businesses are more and more integrated in the market; they become public entities; their shares are traded with no regard to the object those shares represent. The consequence is what we perceive as lack of family continuity and bonding. The new nature of the family contract is such that its basis of affection is eroded. Sequentiality of work is replaced by cycles of parallel activity during which generations compete as adversaries. This is why the family contract is shifted more and more to the market, depersonalized, indexed like one among many commodities. This contract is no longer literacy-bound, but rooted in circumstances of distributed activities of intense competition and networking. Once demythified, family relations are reassessed; continuity is severed. The market acknowledges the segmentation of family-no longer an economic entity in its own right-and in turn accentuates it. The baby business, the infant market, teenagers, and so on to the senior market are well focused on their respective segments as these embody not just age groups, but foremostly expectations and desires that can be met at the level of each individual.

How advanced the past; how primitive the future

No matter how intense the desire to maintain a neutral discourse and to report facts without attaching teleological conclusions to them, it turns out that the language of family, probably more than the language of science, machines, or even art, religion, sports, and nourishment, involves our very existence. Where should somebody place himself in order to maintain some degree of objectivity? Probably at the level of the structural analysis. Here, everything affecting the status of family and the condition of morality appears as a network of changing interrelations among people involved in the practical experiences of defining what a human being is. It seems, at times, that we relive experiences of the primitive past: the child knew only his or her mother; women started giving birth at an early age (almost right after menarche); children were on their own as soon as they could minimally take care of themselves. But we also build an ideal image of the family based on recollections of the less distant past: permanent marriages ("until death"), respect for parents, mother cooking meals for which the whole family sits down, father bringing wood for the family hearth, children learning by participating, assuming responsibilities as their maturity permitted. This idealized image is also the bearer of prejudices: women's subservient role, the authoritarian model passed from one generation to another, frustration, unfulfilled talents.

So the paradox we experience is that of a primitive future: more animality (or, if you want a milder term, naturalness) in comparison to a civilized (or at least idealized) past. There is no cause for worry, especially in view of the realization that despite our success in labeling the world (for scientific and non-scientific purposes), the majority of human behavior is determined (as already pointed out) independent of labels. Taking into account that the notion of permanency is related to relatively stable frames of reference makes it easier to explain why the high mobility of our age results in changes, both physical and psychological, that undermine previous expectations. Losing the discipline of the natural cycle that affected human work for centuries, human beings freed themselves from a condition of subservience, while at the same time generating new constraints reflected in the nature of their reciprocal relations. What does it mean to become used to something-environment, family, acquaintances-when this something is changing fast, and with it, we ourselves?

The Industrial Revolution brought about the experience of labor-saving machinery, but also of many new dependencies. In Henri Steele Commanger's words, "Every time-saving machine required another to fill the time that had been saved." One might not agree with this description. But it would be hard to contradict its spirit by taking only a cursory look at all the contraptions of illiteracy filling the inventory of the modern household: radio, photo camera, TV set, video recorder, video cassette player, WalkmanT, CD player, electronic and digital games, laser disc player, CD-ROM, telephone, computer, modem. The one-directional communication supported by some of these machines affected patterns of interaction and resulted in audiences, but not necessarily in families, at least not in the sense acknowledged in practical experiences of family life. With the two-directional communication, supported by digital networks, human interaction takes on a new dimension. Choices increase. So do risks.

Once the substance of one's experience is substituted by mediations, even the rationale for communication changes, never mind the form. Families separated by virtue of assignments (war, business) at remote locations, or in pursuit of various interests (sport, entertainment, tourism), exchange videotapes instead of writing to each other, or focus on telephone conversations meant to signal a point of reference, but not a shared universe of existence and concerns. They discover e-mail and rationalize messages to a minimum. Or they become a Web page, available to whoever will surf by. All these changes-probably more can be acknowledged-took place concomitant with changes in our expectations and accepted values. With the increased gamut of choice, attachment to value decreases. When all emotions come from soap operas, and all identity from the latest fashion trend, it becomes difficult to defend notions such as sensitivity and personality. When love is as short as the random encounter, and faith as convincing as reading a person's palm or tarot cards, it is impossible to ascertain a notion of reciprocal responsibility or the moral expectation of faithfulness. On the other hand, when the need to achieve levels of efficiency dictated by a scale of humankind never experienced before and by expectations and desires in continuous expansion is as critical as we make it, something is given up-or, to put it the other way around, somebody has to pay for it. With the sense of globality-of resources, actions, plans- comes the pressure of integration of everybody into the global market, and the expectations of consumption attached to it. Many-to-many communication is not just a matter of bandwidth on digital networks, but of self-definition, also.

The family used to reflect the perceived infinity of the universe of existence., despite the family's finite and determined internal structure. With the awareness of limited resources, in particular those of the natural support system, comes the realization that alternative practical experiences of life and cooperation become necessary in order to generate new pragmatic frameworks for increased efficiency and enhanced dynamism. The indefinite expansion of what people want and the progressive incorporation of higher numbers of human beings into the market through which affluence, as much as misery, can be achieved, results in the devaluation of life, love, of values such as self-sacrifice, faithfulness, fairness. The moral literate philosophers of the 19th century-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, William James-thought that the answer lay in our recognition that the world is not only for enjoyment. One can imagine a TV debate (interrupted by commercials, of course) between them and the romantic proponents of the ideology of progress-John Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith, David Hume. It's safe to wager that the audience would zap over their literate debate, while they would enjoy the illiterate 30-second spots. None of the philosophers would establish a Web site, as none would be terribly excited about the discussion forums on the Internet-not a place for intellectual debate. Who would read their elegant prose? To say more at this point would almost preempt the argument: The family in the civilization of illiteracy ascertains new forms of human interaction. It departs from the expectation of conformity for a model that acknowledges many ways to live together and, even more important, how we transcend our own nature in this process. We might, after all, be much more than we know, or trust that we could become.

A God for Each of Us

On the Memetic Algorithms Web page on the Internet, H. Keith Henson illustrates the lifelike quality of memes by recounting an episode from his time as a student (University of Arizona, 1960). Having to fill out a form on which religious affiliation was to be disclosed, he chose the denomination Druid, after having initially tried MYOB (the acronym for Mind Your Own Business). As he stated, "It was far too good a prank to keep it to myself." Replication mechanisms, in addition to a healthy dose of social criticism, soon had the university record almost 20% of the student body as Reform Druids, Orthodox Druids, Southern Druids, Members of the Church of the nth Druid, Zen Druids, Latter-Day Druids, and probably a number of other variations. Once the question regarding religious affiliation was removed from the entry form, the chain of replication and variation was interrupted.

There are many aspects of the relation between religion and language embedded in the anecdote. In some of the themes to be discussed in the coming pages, the humorous aspects will resonate probably less than questions on how religious experiences extend from early forms of human awareness to the current day.

Using, or even inventing, advanced technology, asking the most probing questions, experiencing injustice and pain, being subjected to antireligious indoctrination, or even repression, does not result in the abandonment of religion. Ignorance, primitive living conditions, extreme tolerance and liberalism, the possibility to freely choose one's religious affiliation from the many competing for each soul might lead to skepticism, if not to outright rejection of Divinity. In other words, conditions that seem to support religious beliefs do not automatically lead to practical experiences of human self-constitution as religious. Neither do adverse conditions generate atheists, or at least not the same kinds. There is no simple answer to the question of why some people are religious, some indifferent, and others actively against religion. Enlightenment did not result in generalized atheism; the pressure of the church did not generate more believers. Scientific and technological progress of the magnitude we experience did not erase the verb to believe from among the many that denote what people do, or no longer do, in our day. To believe, and this applies to religion as it applies to all other forms of belief, is part of the practical experience of human self- constitution. It involves our projection in a world acknowledging distinctions that are pragmatically significant and synchronized with the dynamics of life and work.

The world of nature is not one of belief but of situations. We humans perceive the world, i.e., project ourselves as entities, forming images of the surroundings in our mind, through many filters. One of them is our continuously constituted beliefs, in particular, our religious faith. Webster's dictionary (probably as good a source as any reference book) defines religion as "belief in a divine superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshipped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe." Religion today is far less a coherent and consistent practical experience than it was in previous pragmatic frameworks.

The manifold relation between literacy and religion can be meaningfully understood by explaining the pragmatic context of the constitution of religion. Its further development into different theologies, and its embodiment in various churches and other institutions connected to religion, also help in this understanding. The centralized and hierarchic structure of religion, the basic notions around which theology evolves, and the dynamics of change in religion and theology that reflect adaptive strategies or goals of changing the world to make it fit a theology, have a strong bearing on the values that formed and transformed literacy. Truly, language and religion, especially language after the experience of writing, developed practically in tandem. The transition from ritual to myth to incipient religion is simultaneously a transition from primitive expression, still tightly connected to body movement, image, and sound, to a more self- organized system of expression becoming communication. During the process, presented here in compressed form, writing appears as a result of interactions between the experiences of language and religion.

That writing is a premise for pragmatic requirements that will eventually lead to literacy has already been generously explained. It has also been pointed out that with writing emerges the perspective of literacy into whose reality many more practical experiences will eventually crystallize. Literacy and religion are intertwined in ways different from those characteristic of other human practical experiences. In the historic overview to be provided, these peculiarities will be pointed out. Expression, as a practical experience of human self-constitution, interrupts the slow cycle of genetic replication, and inaugurates the much shorter cycles of memetic transmission-along the horizontal axis of those living together, and along the vertical axis in the quickly succeeding sequence of generations. The role of scale of human experience, the relation between religious, ethical, aesthetic, political, and other aspects, the relation between individual and community, and between right and wrong will also be addressed in their context. In addition, logical, historic, and systemic arguments will be employed to clarify what religions have in common.

In anticipation of a short history, it should be clarified that living in a religion of one God (such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam), or of many (as the Hindu world entertains), or of a mixture of pantheism and mysticism (as in the Chinese or Japanese worlds), even living in animism, does not imply identification with its history, nor even with its national or ethnic confines or premises. Islamic enthusiasm and Christian retreat in our day is not a matter of the validity of one religion over the other, but rather a matter of their pragmatic significance. United in accepting Allah as their God, or a broadly defined way of living according to the Koran, Moslims are far less united than the less religious, and less homogeneous, Christians. But in giving up the clear-cut distinctions between right and wrong, and especially involving relativity in the search for options leading to higher efficiency, we constitute ourselves in a framework of vagueness and relativity-different from the transcendental value of Hinduism, or from the clear-cut values of contemporary Islam-which can no longer rely on the certainty embodied in literacy-based praxis, and which leads us to subject human existence to doubt.

In realizing the broad consequences of a pragmatics based on the desire to achieve levels of efficiency appropriate to a given scale of human experience, we can understand why some conflicts involving forces identifying themselves with religions from the past against forces of the present appear as religious conflicts. The most vivid examples can be found in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the southern republics of the defunct Soviet Union. Through a religious past to which they have lost any meaningful connection, Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosnians try to reconnect to the world of experiences to which they traditionally belong. In the Central Asian conflicts, allegiances are confused-Sunni from Tadjikistan align themselves with the Shiites of Iran, while the Uzbeks pursue the hope of a new pan-Turkish empire.

In a different vein, the sanctity of life celebrated in Taoism, as well as in Judaism and Christianity, ends at the doors of the shiny palace of cheap, replaceable values of planned obsolescence, eventually of the human being itself. In hope of redemption, many give their lives, probably not understanding that they close the cycle of potential practical experiences just as drug addicts, suicidals, and murderers do, obviously in different contexts and with different motivations. This might sound too strong, but it is no more extreme than the extremes of existence and faith, or lack thereof.

Friends and foes of religion will agree that, for better or worse, it has played an important role in the history of humankind. The complement to this agreement is less clear: We cannot define what replaced, or could replace, religion. The new world order brought about by the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union and East Europe raises even more questions regarding religion: Are the extremist-not to say fanatical- forms of religion that replace official atheism religion or disguised forms of ethnic or cultural identification? To which extent do they reflect pragmatic reintegration in the global economy or safe isolationism? Practical experiences of religious nature were all affected by a change in their details: different ways of preserving religious doctrine, a different attitude towards authority, a change from self-denial to indulgence, but not in the fundamental acceptance of Divinity.

Characteristics of religions are still in flux. For instance, religious events embedded in various cultures take on a merely ceremonial role in today's world, aligning themselves with the newest in music, imagery, interactive multimedia, and networks. Believers as well as casual spectators have access to religious ceremonies through Websites. Probably even more telling is the appropriation of social, political, and moral causes, as religion ascertains itself in our time as open, tolerant, and progressive, or conversely as the guardian of permanent values, justifying its active role outside its traditional territory. This ascertainment is dictated by the pragmatic framework of the dynamic reality in which religion operates, and not by the memetic replication of its name. This is, of course, the reason for not limiting our discussion to variation and replication, no matter how exciting this might appear.

But who made God?

The variety of religions corresponds to the variety of pragmatic circumstances of human identification. Regardless of such differences, each time children, or adults, are taught that God made the world, the oceans, the sun, stars, and moon, and all living creatures, they ask: But who made God? Trying to answer such a question might sound offensive to some, impossible to others, or a waste of time. Still, it is a good entry point to the broader issue of religion's roots in the pragmatic framework. The commonalties among the majority of religions, to which comparative studies (especially those of Mircea Eliade) point, are significant at the structural level. We have, on the one hand, all the limitations of the individual human-one among many, mortal, subject to illness and defeat, object of passion and seduction, deceitful, limited in understanding of the various forces affecting one's projection as part of nature, and as part of the human species. On the other hand, there is the uniqueness of the immortal, untouchable, impervious, omniscient, entity (or entities) able to understand and unleash forces far more powerful than those of nature or of men, an entity (or entities) upon which depends the destiny of all that exists. Through belief, all the limitations of the human being are erased. It is quite instructive, as well as impressive, how every limitation of the human being, objective and subjective, is counteracted and given a life of its own in the language housing the progression from man to gods or to God, on one side, and to the practice of religion, on the other.

The various gods constituted in the world's religious texts also recount what people do in their respective environment, natural or tamed to some degree. They tell about what can go wrong in their life and work, and what community rules are most appropriate to the pragmatic context. The value of rain in the Middle East, the fine- tuning of work to seasonal changes in the Far East, the significance of hope and submission in the Indian subcontinent, the increased role of animal domestication, the extension of farmland, the role of navigation in other parts of the world are precisely encoded in the various religions and in their books. These books are bodies of explanations, expectations, and norms pertinent to practical experiences, written in very expressive language, ambiguous enough to accommodate a variety of similar situations, but precise in their identification of who is part of the shared religious experience, and who is outside, as foreign and undesirable, or foreign and subject to enticement.

The plurality of religious experiences

What makes religion necessary is a subject on which it would be foolish to expect any degree of consensus. What makes it possible, at least in the forms experienced and documented from ancient times to the modern, is language, and soon after language, writing-although Japanese Shintoism, like Judaism, began before writing-and reading, or more to the point, the Book. For the Judeo-Christian religions, as well as for Islam, the Book is the sufficient condition for their development and persistence. When the Book grew into books, it actually became the center of religious praxis. This is reflected in the nature of religious rituals, an extension of mytho-magical experiences previous to writing. They were all meant to disseminate the Book, and make its rules and prescriptions part of the life of the members of the respective community.

The timeline of the practical experience of religious human self-constitution suggests significant commonalties among the various religions. The way the notion of God was constituted is only one of these commonalties. What separates religion from pre-religious expression (such as animism) is the medium in which each is articulated. The subject is relatively constant. Acknowledgment of forces beyond individual understanding and desire to overcome confusion or fear in facing difficult and inexplicable aspects of life and death go hand in hand. A perceived need to pursue avenues of survival which promise to be successful because of the implied expectation that forces residing in the unknown would be, if not directly supportive, at least not actively opposed, is also discernible.

But when rationalizing the coming of age of religion, one automatically faces the broader issue of the source of religion. Is it given to humans by some perceived superior force? Does it result from our involvement with the environment of our existence and from the limits of our experience? When praxis began to differentiate, mytho-magical experiences proved unadaptable to the resulting pragmatic framework.

Farming and animal husbandry replaced scavenging, hunting, and foraging. Communities started to compete for resources (manpower included). Efficiency of human work increased, resulting in more forms of exchange and leading to accumulation of property. Relations among people within communities became complex to the extent that arguments, attributed to forces outside direct practical experiences, were necessary to instill and maintain order. The process was multi- faceted, and still involved myths, the magical, and rituals. All three-still retraceable in some parts of the world-were carried over to religion, progressively forming a coherent system of explanations and prescriptions meant to optimize human activity. The sequence is known: Practical experiences conveyed by example from one individual to another, or orally from one to several.

Where the unknown forces were ritually conjured in new forms of human practical self-constitution, these practical experiences were progressively unified and encoded in forms apt to further support the new scale achieved in the insular communities around the world. Abraham, accepted almost equally by Jews, Christians, and Moslems, lived at around 2,000 BCE and proclaimed the existence of one supreme God; Moses in the 13th century BCE; the six sacred texts of the Hindus were compiled between the 17th and 5th centuries BCE; Taoism-the Chinese religion and philosophy of the path-came to expression around 604 BCE, and Confucius's teachings on virtue, human perfectibility, obedience to Providence, and the role of the sage ruler shortly afterwards; Buddhism followed within decades, affirming the Four Noble truths, which teach how to exist in a world of suffering and find the path to inner peace leading to Nirvana. This listing is meant to highlight the context in which the practical experience of religious self-constitution was expressed in response to circumstances of life and work that necessitated a coherent framework for human interaction.

The Torah, containing the five books of Moses dedicated to the basic laws of Judaism, was written around 1,000 BCE. It was followed by the other books (Prophets and Writings) and form the Old Testament. The Greeks, referring to all seven books (the Septuagint), called the entire work ta biblia (books). This collection of books is dedicated to the theme of creation, failure, judgment, exodus, exile, and restoration, and introduced prescriptions for conduct, diet, justice, and religious rites. The themes were presented against the broad background in which laws pertinent to work, property, morals, learning, relations between the sexes, individuals, tribes, and other practical knowledge (e.g., symptoms of diseases, avoidance of contamination) were introduced in normative form, though in poetic language.

The pragmatic framework explains the physics of the prescriptions: What to do or not do in order to become useful in the given context, or at least not to be harmful. It also explains the metaphysics: why prescriptions should be followed, short of stating that failure to do so affects the functioning of the entire community. What was kept in writing from the broader oral elaborations that constituted the covenant (testament) for practical experience was the result of pragmatic considerations. Writing was done in consonantal Hebrew, a writing system then still at its beginning, on parchment scrolls, and thus subject to the limitations of the medium: How much text could be written on such scrolls in a size that facilitated reading and portability.

Between these books and what much later (translations notwithstanding) came from the printing presses following Gutenberg's invention, there is a difference not only in size, but also in sequence and in substance. Over time, texts were subject to repeated transcriptions, translations, annotation, revision, and commentary. The book that appeared to be given once and for all kept changing, and became subject to interpretations and scrutiny ever so often. Still, there is a fundamental element of the continuity of its expressed doctrine: life and work, in order to be successful, must follow the prescribed patterns. Hence the implicit expectation: read the book, immerse yourself in its spirit, renew the experience through religious services meant to extol the word.

But since alternate explanatory systems were progressively developed-science not the last-parallel to relative fixed pragmatic frames sanctioned in early religion, a certain separation of religion from practical experience took place. Religion consecutively constituted its own domain of human praxis, with its own division of labor, and its own frame of reference. Christianity, Islam, the Protestant Reformation, and various sectarian movements in China, Japan, the Indian subcontinent (neo- Confucianism, Zen, the Sikh religious movement) are such developments.

We have heard about such expatiations and hear as well about conflicts triggered around them, but fail to put these conflicts in the perspective that explains them. Within a given context, a new growth triggers reactions. Members of the Baha'i religion (a faith that began in the 19th century) are subjected to the repression of Muslims because its program is one of unity of religions, not subordination of some to others. The expectation of universal education, or active promotion of equality between sexes, corresponds to a pragmatics different from that from which Islam emerged, and for that matter, many other religions. The Religious Society of Friends, i.e., the Quaker movement, was a reaction to the corruption of the church as an institution. It spells out a program in line with the requirements of the time: reaching consensus in meetings, doing away with sermons, pursuing a program of education and non-violence. It was also subjected to repression, as each schism was, by the powers that were in place.

These and many other developments mark the long, as yet unfinished, process of transition from religion to theology and church, and even to business, as well as the process of permutation of religion into culture, in particular from religion to secular culture and market. The Book became not only many different books, but also varied experiences embodied in organized religion. Alternative perspectives were submitted as different ways to practice religion within a pragmatic context acknowledged by religion.

And the word became religion

In the circular structure of survival in nature, there was no room for metaphysical self-constitution, i.e., no practical need to wonder about what was beyond the immediate and proximate, never mind life and death. When the practical experience of self-constitution made rudiments of language (the language of gestures, objects, sounds) possible, a sense of time-as sequences of durations-developed, and thus a new dimension, in addition to the immediate, opened. This opening grew as awareness of oneself in relation to others increased in a context of diversified practical experiences. Acknowledging others, not just as prey, or as object of sexual drive, but as associates (in hunting, foraging, mating, securing shelter), and even the very act of association, resulted in awareness of the power of coordination. Thus the awareness, as diffuse as it still was, of time got reinforced. Be-Hu Tung ventured a description of the process: "In the beginning there was no moral or social order. People knew only their mothers, not their fathers. Hungry, they searched for their food. Once full, they threw the rest away. They ate their food with skin and hair on it, drank blood and covered themselves in fur and reeds." He described a world in its animal phase, still dependent on the cycles of nature, perceiving and celebrating repetition.

Myth and ritual responded to natural rhythms and incorporated these in the life cycle. Once human self-constitution extended beyond nature, creating its own realm, observance of natural rhythms took new forms. This new forms were more able to support levels of efficiency appropriate to the new condition achieved in the experience of farming. It was no longer the case that survival equaled finding and appropriating means of subsistence in nature. Rather, natural cycles were introduced as a matrix of work, modulating the entire existence. Once the experience of religion was identified as such, religious praxis adopted the same matrix. In almost all known religions, natural cycles, as they pertain to reproduction, work, celebrations, education, are detailed. Cooperation and coordination progressively increased. A mechanism of synchronization beyond the one that only accommodated natural cycles became necessary. In retrospect, we understand how rules of interaction established in the nature-dominated pragmatic framework turned into the commandments of what would be asserted through written religion.

We also understand how animistic pre-religious practice-embodied in the use of masks and charms, in worship of the untouched natural object (tree, rock, spring, animal), and the employment of objects meant to keep harm away (tooth, bone, plant) took new forms in what can be defined as the semiotic strategy of attaching the religious word (more broadly, the Book) to the life of each member of the religious community. The need to establish the community, and to identify it through action, was so pressing that ceremonies were put in place to bring people together for at least a few times during the year. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, one can distinguish an affection for coordination of effort, expressed in the depiction of rowers on boats, builders of pyramids, warriors. The written word of the Hebrews was inspired by the experience of hieroglyphics, taking the notion of coordination to a more abstract level. This level provided a framework for synchronizing activity that brought ritual closer to religion. This added a new dimension to ceremonies based on natural cycles, gradually severing the link to the practical experience of interaction with nature.

Notation evolving into the written word was still the domain of the very few. Accordingly, religious reminders were strongly visual, as well as aural, a state of affairs that continued in the religions that sprouted from Judaism and established themselves after the fall of the Roman Empire. The populations adhering to these religions were largely illiterate, but derived important characteristics from religions based on the written word-the Word that was equated with God. Nailed to the doorways or inscribed over portals, converted into many types of charms, the words of a religious creed became elements of the synchronizing mechanism that religion embodied in the pragmatic framework of its constitution. Prayer punctuated the daily routine, as it continues to do in our day. The seasons and the cycles of nature, embodied in the mytho-magical, were reinterpreted in religious celebrations, which referenced the natural cycle, and appropriated pre-religious rituals. Cycles of activity aimed at maintaining and increasing the outcome of work for survival were thus confirmed. A community's well-being was expressed by its ability to satisfy the needs of its members and achieve a pattern of growth. Still heavily dependent upon natural elements (rain, floods, wind, insects, etc.), as well as subjected to attacks from neighbors, communities developed strategies for better use of resources (human included), storage, and defense mechanisms. These strategies were carefully encoded in the respective religious covenants.

The religions that have survived and developed seem to gravitate around a core of very practical writings and associated visual reminders of the power they invoke in connection to the pragmatic identity of the community. The book was the standard; those who constituted the organization of religion-the priesthood-could usually read the book. Scribes, even some of the priests, could write and add to the book. The majority listened and memorized, resorting to better memory than we exercise today, memory that their practical experience required. They subscribed to religious patterns, or carried out rituals on a personal or communal level.

It is helpful to keep in mind that religious involvement was facilitated by the fact that religion is not only pragmatically founded, but also pragmatically ascertained and tested. Rules for farming, hunting, preparing food; rules for hygiene and family relations; rules for conducting war and dealing with prisoners and slaves were expressed against the background of an accepted supreme reference, before evolving into future ethical rules and legal systems. Those rules which were not confirmed, progressively lost authority, were "erased" from the people's memory, and ceased to affect the rhythm of their lives. The written word survived the oral, as well as the living who uttered it or wrote it down. This word, abstracted from voice, gesture, and movement, and abstracted from the individual, was progressively assigned a more privileged place in the hierarchy. The writings seemed to have a life of their own, independent of the scribes, who were believed to be only copiers of everlasting messages entrusted to them.

Written words express the longing for a unified framework of existence, thought and action. Within such a framework, observance of a limited number of rules and procedures could guarantee a level of efficiency appropriate to the scale at which human activity took place. This is a world of human practical experiences transcending natural danger and fear. It is a universe of existence in which a species is committed to its further self-definition in defiance of nature while still dependent upon it. Religion as a human experience appears in this world as a powerful tool for the optimization of the effort involved, because it effectively constitutes a synchronizing mechanism. In the practical experience of religious writing and the associated experience of reading or listening to a text, the word becomes an instrument of abstraction. Accordingly, it is assigned a privileged position in the hierarchy of the many sign systems in use. Memetic replication appropriately describes the evolution of religious ideas, but not necessarily how these ideas are shaped by the pragmatic framework.

Tablets, scrolls, and books are blueprints for effective self-constitution within a community of people sharing an understanding of rules for efficient experiences. The outcome is guaranteed by the implicit contract of those self-constituted as believers in the supernatural from which the rules supposedly emanate. In search of authority, this world settled for unifying motivations. The rules of animal, and sometimes even human, sacrifice, and those of religious offerings were based on the pragmatics of maintaining optimal productivity (of herds, trees, soil), of entering agreements, maintaining property, redistributing wealth, and endowing offspring. The immediate meaning of some of the commitments made became obscured over time as scale changed and the association to nature weakened. The rules were subsequently associated with metaphysical requirements, or simply appropriated by culture in the form of tradition. To ensure that each individual partook in the well-being of the community, punishments were established for those violating a religious rule. Immediate punishment and, later, eternal punishment, although not in all religions, went hand in hand as deterrents.

The involvement of language, in particular of writing and reading, is significant. As already stated, the individual who could decipher the signs of religious texts was set apart. Thus reading took on a mystical dimension. The division between the very few who wrote and read and the vast majority involved in the religious experience diminished over a very long time. More than other practical experiences, religion introduced the unifying power of the written word in a world of diversity and arbitrariness. Under the influence of Greek philosophy, the Word was endowed with godlike qualities, implicitly becoming a god. Seen from a given religious perspective, the rest of the world fails because it does not accept the word, i.e., the religion. The irreligious part of the world could be improved by imposing the implicit pragmatics that the religion carried; it could submit to the new order and cease to be a threat. At this time, religion entered the realm of the abstract, divorced from the experience with nature characteristic of religions originating in the oral phase of human self-constitution. It is at this time that religion became dogma.

All over the globe, in the worlds of Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and later Islam, the conflict between communities embracing a certain creed and others, in pre-religious phases or dedicated to a different religion, is one of opposing pragmatics in the context of increased differentiation. In other words, a different religious belief is a threat to the successful practical self-constitution of one group. To get rid of the threat is a pragmatic requirement, for which many wars were fought. Some are still going on. With each religion that failed, a pragmatic requirement failed, and was replaced by others more appropriate to the context of human self- constitution. That these conflicts appeared under the aegis of conflicting deities, represented by leaders regarded as representatives of divinity, only goes to show how close the relation is between the underlying structure of human activity and its various embodiments.

In a world of unavoidable and even necessary diversity, religion maintained islands of unity. When interaction increased among the various groups, for reasons essentially connected to levels of efficiency required for current and future practical experiences, patterns of common activity resulted in patterns of behavior, increased commonalty of language, accepted (or rejected) values, and territorial and social organization. The commonalty of language, as well as the commonalty of what would become, during the Middle Ages, national identity (language and religion being two of the identifiers), increased steadily.

From among the major changes that religion underwent, the most significant are probably its reification in the institution of the church and the constitution of vast bodies of discourse regarding its intrinsic logic, known as theology. Once asserted as an institution, religion became the locus of specific human interaction that resulted in patterns based on the language (Latin, for some in the Western Christian world, and Arabic in the Islamic East) in which religion was expressed. Religious practical experience progressively distanced itself from the complexities of work and socio- political organization, and constituted a form of praxis independent of others, although never entirely disconnected from them. The organization of religion concerns the pattern of religious services at certain locations: temple, church, mosque. It concerns the institution, one among many: the military, the nobility, guilds, banks, sometimes competing with them. It also concerns education, within its own structure or in coordination, sometimes in conflict, with other interests at work.

A multitude of structural environments, adapted to the practical aspects of religious experience appear, while religion progressively extricated itself, or was eliminated, from the pragmatics of survival and existence. The institution it became dedicated itself to pursuing its own repetitive assignments. At the same time, it established and promoted its implicit set of motivations and criteria for evaluation. In many instances, the church constituted viable social entities in which work, and agriculture in particular, was performed according to prescriptions combining it with the practice of faith. Rules of feudal warfare were established, the day of rest was observed, education of clergy and nobility were provided. From the Middle Ages to the never abandoned missionary activity in Africa, Asia, and North and South America, the church impacted community life through actions that sometimes flew in the face of common sense. The effort was to impose new pragmatics, and new social and political realities, or at least to resist those in place.

Whether in agreement or in opposition, the pattern of religious experience was one of repeated self-constitution of its own entity in new contexts, and of pursuing experiences of faith, even if the activity as such was not religious. In this process, the church gained the awareness of the role of scale, and maintained, though sometimes artificially, entities, such as monasteries, where scale was controllable. Autarchy proved decreasingly possible as the church tried to extend its involvement. The growing pragmatic context had to be acknowledged: increased exchange of goods, reciprocal dependencies in regard to resources, the continuous expansion of the world-a consequence of the major discoveries resulting from long-distance travel. In recent years the challenge has come from communication-in particular the new visual media-requiring strategies of national, cultural, social, and even political integration.

From the scrolls of the Torah and from the sacred texts of the Rig Veda and Taoism, to the books of Christianity, to the Koran, to the illuminated manuscripts copied in monasteries, and to the Bible and treatises printed on the presses of Fust and Schöffer (Gutenberg's usurpers) in Mainz, Cologne, Basel, Paris, Zurich, Seville, and Naples-over 4,000 years can be seen as part of the broader history of the beginning of literacy. This history is a witness to the process, one of many variations, but also one of dedication to the permanency of faith and the word through which it is reified.

Replications of all kinds mark the memetic sequence, and so religion appears in retrospect as propagation of a special kind of information, generated in the human mind as it started labeling what we know, as well as what is beyond our direct understanding. What did not change, although it was rendered relative, is the acknowledgment and acceptance of a supreme authority, known as God, or described through other names such as Allah and Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge, and the nature of the practical experience of self- constitution as believer. If Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius, and the Japanese and Indian religious leaders were alive today, they would probably realize that if religion had any chance, it could no longer be founded on the written text of the Book or books, but in the practical experiences of the civilization of illiteracy. By no accident, the first category on one of the Web sites dedicated to religion is entitled Finding God in Cyberspace.

The educated faithful-a contradiction in terms?

The pragmatic requirement of optimally transmitting experience essential to a group's permanency was recognized as one of the main functions of language. It should come as no surprise that education was carried out, if not exclusively then at least to a high degree, in religion. Neither should it surprise that religion appropriated literacy as one of its programs once the scale of human activity that made literacy necessary was reached. In the context of nation-states that adopted religion as one of their identifiers, the entire history of the relation between society and religion can be seen in a different light. As we know from history, the quest for power frequently brought state and religion into conflict, although one needed and relied on the other. In the unifying pragmatic framework of industrial society, their alliance was sealed in literacy programs. These were simultaneously programs for higher efficiency and for the maintenance of values rooted in religious belief, as long as these did not adversely affect the outcome of work or of market transactions.

Parallel to the initially dominant religious view of life, change, origins, and future, alternative views were expressed as the result of self-observation and observation of the outside world. Philosophy, influenced by religion and by religious explanations of the world, of men, of society and its change, is one example. Sciences would diverge from philosophy, multiplying alternate models and explanatory contexts. These were usually carefully construed so as not to collide with the religious viewpoint, unless they bluntly rejected it, regardless of the consequences of such an attitude. There were also heresies based on an individual's notions, or holdovers from past religions. During the Renaissance, for instance, such holdovers derived from studies of the Bible, which led to the Reformation. Ideas not rejected as heresy were usually within the scope of the church. These ideas were expressed by men and women who founded orders. They were put into practice by religious activists or made into new theologies.

There is no religion that does not go through its internal revisions and through the pain of dividing schisms. On today's list of religious denominations, one can find everything, from paganism to cyberfaith. The rational explanation for this multiplication into infinity is not different from the explanation of any human experience. Multiplication of choices, as innate human characteristic, applies to religious experiences as it does to any other form of pragmatic human self-constitution. The practical experience of science, diverging more and more from philosophy and from religious dogma, also followed many paths of diversification. So did the unfolding of art, ethics, technology, and politics. The unifying framework offered by the written word, as interpreted by the monolithic church, was progressively subjected to distinctions that the experience of literacy made possible. When people were finally able to read the Bible for themselves-a book that the Catholic church did not allow them to read even after the Reformation-protest started, but it started after the Renaissance, when political entities were strong enough to defy the papacy with some degree of success.

The illiterate warriors of centuries ago and the sometimes illiterate, at least unlettered, worshipper and military insurgent of today belong to very different pragmatic frameworks. The former did not have to be able to read or write in order to fight for a cause superficially (if at all) related to the Book. One had only to show allegiance to the institution guarding souls from hell. In the scale characteristic of these events, individual performance was of extreme importance to the community, as we know from the stories of King Frederick, Joan of Arc, Jan Hus-or, to change the reference, from the story of Guru Nanak (the first guru of the Sikhs, a religion prompted by the Muslims' persecution of Hindus at about the time Columbus was on his last expedition to the New World), Martin Luther, George Fox (founder of the Quaker movement), and many others. The educated faithful of the past probably obtained access to the established values of culture and to the main paradigms of science as these confirmed the doctrine defended by the church. An educated faithful in contemporary society is torn between accepting a body of knowledge ascertaining permanency, while experiencing change at a pace for which no religion can prepare its followers. Indeed, from the unity of education and faith-one meant to reinforce the other-the direction of change is towards their contradiction and disparity. The secular web is not only that of the Internet infidels, but also of a broad segment of the population that has no need for either.

Challenging permanency and universality

For many, the survival of religion is itself a miracle. For many more, it is indicative of human aspects not sufficiently accounted for in science, art, or social and political life. Its role in a new pragmatic framework of fast change, mediated activity, alienation, decentralization, and specialization, is obviously different from that it played in the time of religious constitution and in a reduced scale of humankind. Religion did not start out to deceive, but to explain. Its practices, while seeming violent, empty, extreme, demagogic, cunning, or even ridiculous at times, fulfill a purpose deemed pragmatic at the inception. The old and familiar are reassuring, if only by resort to endurance. The promise of redemption and paradise gain in attraction the more people face change and uncertainty. While the original purpose of religion was modified over time, the practice is kept up precisely because novelty and progress, especially in their radical form, are difficult to cope with. Once old values are questioned in the light of succeeding pragmatic circumstances, under new patterns of self-constitution, the result is complacency and deception, if there is no alternative. Religion and literacy ultimately find themselves in the same predicament.

Religious diversification reflects each new scale at which human practical experience takes place. Changes in the pragmatic framework in which people constitute themselves as religious result in tension between the variability of the elements involved in work or new aspects of social life and the claims of the eternal. This tension triggers numerous rethinkings and consequent rewritings of the books, as well as the generation of numerous new books of new forms of faith. Christianity and Islam are revisions; within them other revisions (schisms) took place, such as the Roman and Orthodox churches, the Sunni and Shiite. Other sects and religions, schisms, and reformations and protestations (movements claiming to reconstitute the original status, whatever that means), are to a great extent rewritings based on acknowledging new contexts-that is, new pragmatic requirements. Once upon a time, the Book was supposed to address everyone in the small community in which it came to expression. Over time, many books addressed their own constituencies-adherents to certain teachers, to particular saints, or to some subset of the religious doctrine-within a larger community. The success of these sub-groups grew in proportion to the diversification of human praxis and to the function of education exercised on a broader and broader scale.

From the religion of small-scale human activity to the churches of universal ambitions, many modifications in the letter and the spirit of the respective books occurred. They ultimately reflect alterations of values that religious institutions had to adapt to and justify. The tribes that accepted the Book as a unifying framework- embodiment of tradition which became law-as well as the followers of the prescriptions in the Hindu scriptures of Veda and Upanishad, the followers of the Enlightened One (Buddha), the practitioners of Taoism and Confucianism, also acknowledged a sense of community. It is the same sense of community held, at a different scale and with different goals, by the nation-state.

The spread of religions, parallel to military conquest, resulted in the spread of the respective religious books, and of the letters that the books were written in. This is not necessarily the same as the spread of literacy. Religion established its own state, the Holy Roman Empire (which is now down to the size of Vatican City) that transcended national boundaries and languages, and was considered universal. In the language of Islam, umma is the world community of Moslems, while wattan is the Motherland. The Moslem armies, defeated at Poitiers by the Catholic Charles Martel, were also disseminating the religion, language, and culture of the world community they envisioned. The Crusades, in turn, and the religious wars that plagued Europe did not spread literacy as much as they attempted to defend or establish the dominance of a way of living meant to ensure an order that promised eternal life.

In the scale of today's human practical experience, efficiency in general is almost independent of individual performance. It is independent of the degree of faith, ethical behavior, family status, and other characteristics of what religion calls good, and which ethics appropriates as a desired set of social expectations. Within a small scale of existence and work, things belong together: the practical and the spiritual, politics and morals, the good and the useful. Religion is their syncretic expression. The need for specialization and mediation changed the nature of pragmatic relations. Various realms of human practical experience are severed from each other. As this takes place, the religiously grounded system of values based on unity and integration-after all, this is what monotheism, in its various embodiments, represents-is submitted to the test of new circumstances of human self-constitution.

Among the many explanations of the events of the late sixties, at least the phenomenon of the attraction exercised by the various churches of meditation and their gurus is reflective of the crisis of monotheism, and of the culture that grew around it. An increasing number of esoteric, exotic, scientific, or pseudoscientific sects today bear witness to the same. The difference is that these sects are no longer isolated, that almost the entire religious dimension of people is connected to some sect, be it even one that used to be a dominant church.

Religion-based values or attitudes are carried over into the new segmented practical experiences of work, family, and society, and thus into the realm of politics, law, and market relations. Originating from sexual drive, love is one of the experiences from which family, friendship, art, and philosophy derived over time. Once written in the Book as a different form of love, once ascertained as a practical experience, it bridges between its natural biological basis and its cultural reality as a characteristic of a framework of human interaction in which individuals project their biological and cultural identity. Written about in religious books, love starts a journey from naturalness to artifact. Expressed as intelligence, temperament, appearance, or physical ability (our natural endowment), love is subjected, in conjunction with the experience of writing the Book, to a set of expectations expressed as though they originated from outside the experience.

In this process, there is no passive participant. The written word is permeated by the structural characteristics of the act of preferring somebody to somebody else, one course of action from among many, and, more generally, something over something else, according to religious values. The implicit expectation of permanency (of faith, love, or ownership) results from the pragmatic reasons acknowledged by the Book(s). A consensus essential for the survival and well being of the community is reached by acknowledging forces from outside, and accepting their permanent and quasi-universal nature. In a universe of immediacy and proximity, change other than that experienced in natural cycles is not anticipated.

Divinity makes sense only if constituted in practical experiences from which a notion of eternity and universality result. The written words exalting unity, uniqueness, eternity, and the promise of a better future are the result of the practical experience, since in the realm of nature only the immediate and the proximate are acknowledged. Forever marked by this experience of time and space beyond the immediate, the written language of religion, together with the written language of observations connected to the awareness of natural cycles (the moon, the seasons, plagues), remains a repository of the notion of permanency, universality, and uniqueness, and an instrument for hierarchical differentiation.

Whenever constituted in activities related to or independent of religion, language, as a product of and medium for human identification, projects these structural characteristics upon whatever the object of practical experience is. Once written, the word seems to carry into eternity its own condition. With the advent of literacy, as this is made possible and necessary by a different scale of human praxis, literacy itself would appear as endowed with the quality of eternity and universality, triggering its own sense of exaltation and mission, lasting well into our day. For millions of citizens from countries south of Russia, who once gave up their roots to show allegiance to the Soviet Empire, to return to Arabic writing after being forced to adopt the Cyrillic means rediscovering and reconnecting to their eternity. That some of them, caught in the geo- political confrontation of their neighbors, adopt the Roman alphabet of their Turkish Moslem brothers, does not change the expectation.

Religion and efficiency

In the literate forms of language experiences, not only religion, but also science and the humanities, literature, and politics are established and subjected to the practical test of efficiency. Each projects a notion of permanency and universality, which is influenced by the practical experience of religion, sometimes in contradiction to the archetypal experience resulting in the notion (or notions) of God (or gods). Now that the pragmatic framework of the very ample scale of human practice makes permanency and universality untenable, the tendency to escape from the confines of religion becomes evident. There is a strong sense of relativism in science, an appropriate self- doubt in humanistic discourse, and an appropriate understanding of the multiplicity and open-endedness in almost every aspect of our social and political life.

This was not achieved through and in literacy, but in disregard of it, through the many partial literacies reflecting our practical self-constitution. The reality of the global nature of human experience, of interconnectedness, of its distributed nature, and of the many integrative forces at work, renders the centralism implied in the Book(s) obsolete for many people. At the same time, let it also be noted that this reality makes the Book even more necessary than ever for many, and at different levels of their practical life. The many religious literacies of these days-promoting permanent modes of life, exotic and less exotic codes of behavior, ways of eating and dressing, hopes for a happy future or some form of afterlife-maintain dualistic schemes of good and bad, right and wrong, sacred and secular in a world of extremely subtle and painfully vague distinctions. The question whether love and reason can undergird community awareness, social action, political activism, and education if, as seems to be the case, their connection to faith continues to decline, belongs to the same dualistic perspective. This perspective is common to both partisans and enemies of religion. It used to be the backbone of the ideology of religious suppression-either under communism, or wherever a dominant religion takes upon itself the eradication of any other religion. And it is becoming the argument of the many emancipatory movements promoting the religions of atheism and agnosticism as a substitute for religion. The subject is ultimately one of faith, concerning very intimate aspects of individual self-assessment, but not necessarily the institution of creed. Still captive to dualism, brought about and nourished by experiences constitutive of literacy, we have problems coping with a world where the enemy is us and where religion is different from what it was at the time of its inception, or the time we were first were exposed to it.

In view of these developments, we wonder how the rules and values established in the original religious framework are to survive. If the literacy through which these rules come to us is seen only as a vessel, a means of expressing values and criteria for evaluation, then any other means could perform the same function. The Crystal Cathedral of television fame, no less than the Web sites of many churches, proves the point.

Since we are our language, and we constitute ourselves as spiritual and physical entities in the experience of language, writing cannot be seen as a passive medium, nor reading as a mechanical rendition. Accordingly, the medium through which religion is expressed affects the religion, changes its condition. Applied to contemporary religious experience, this argument is confirmed again and again. From the entire practical experience of religion, what survives is the liturgy, transformed into a performance of limited cathartic impact.

Merchandising completes this new condition of faith. For millennia, a community considered its priests vital to its survival. In the civilization of illiteracy, the situation is reversed. Ministers, and to some extent priests, depend on a community for their survival. Ministers are in the business of selling themselves as much as they are in the business of selling their church or even God. Some evangelists remain independent in the sense that they package their own programs for presentation to large crowds in tents, in auditoriums, or on television. These religious enterprises create a vast business empire around a persona. As long as the enterprise can deliver what the preacher promises-through his performance act and the merchandise he sells to the faithful-then the tele-congregants-no less fascinated by celebrity than the rest of society-will buy him.

A newer phenomenon is less personality dependent and more message- oriented, but the goal is the same: ministers need to make a living. Relying on information polled from hundreds of middle-class non-churchgoers, some enterprising ministers came up with a product bound to please: nothing boring or aggressive; cost- efficiency; comfortable seating; no organ. According to a study by the Harvard Business School, the resulting church was the embodiment of the phrase "knowing your customers and meeting their needs." Church attendance grew by relying on customer recommendation. Soon, the ministers franchised their operation in localities with a target market: 25-to-40-year-old seekers ("a growing market"), with middle to upper middle class salaries.

Other seekers look in different directions. Almost anyone with a message can establish a religion, and sometimes entire sects are based on just a few words from the Bible (the Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, or the snake handlers of the Appalachians, or the Pentecostals). Participatory forms of worship are another trend. They may derive inspiration from the book, but they aim to involve avenues of perception not bound to literacy: song, dance, meditation, the inhaling of aroma, touching minerals. Some religions hark back to nature, animism, and what can be called neo-paganism, as in the Wikka religion. No matter how far back some of these religions claim to go, they are religions of the civilization of illiteracy. They do not repeat the original pragmatic framework but respond to today's framework of self-constitution and the individual needs or desires of the people who constitute themselves as religious through these new manifestations.

While observations made in language can be subjected to confirmation, religious assumptions are expressed through the inner reality of language, and are only subject to language correctness. It is impressive how language houses concepts for which there is no referent in practical experience, but which are constituted exactly because some aspects of practical experience cannot be otherwise explained. In the history of how ideas, generalities, and abstractions are formed, the experience of religion is of particular interest. Values and beliefs that cannot be submitted to the physical senses, but can be comprehended through language-written, read, sung, danced, and celebrated-are transmitted through religion.

Many assume that the new status of religion in our day is due not only to market pressure and obsession with consumption, but also to the advancement of science. Supposed to debunk the rationality of faith and offer its own rationality as the basis of new ways of understanding the origin of life, the role of human beings, the source of good and evil, and the nature of transcendence, science introduces a positivist conception of facts, irreconcilable with that of the relativity of religious images. Research in artificial intelligence discovered that "97% of human activity (is) concept- free, driven by control mechanisms we share not only with our simian forebears, but with insects." If this is indeed true, the role of rationality, religious or scientific, in our practical experiences of self-constitution has to be revisited. The various manifestations of religion subtly address this need because they recognize dimensions of human experience that cannot be reduced to scientific explanations and logic, or cannot be explained without explaining them away in the process. One interesting tendency in the civilization of illiteracy is less to assimilate the new science and technology-as was the case only 20-30 years ago-and more to subject it to what religion considers right.

Fundamentalism of any kind corresponds to the dynamics of this illiterate society, in the sense that it promotes a very limited and limiting subset of the language of religion, in a world segmented into more religious denominations than ever before. If over 350,000 registered churches serve the religious needs of the population in the USA, and almost as many meeting places are available to small groups of believers, nobody will seriously argue that people are less religious, rather that they are religious in a different way, often integrating the latest in science and technology. Among the most active Internet forums, religion maintains a presence supported by the best that technology can offer. With each new scientific theory unveiling the deeper structure of matter, more subtle forms of interconnectedness among phenomena, new sources of creativity, and new limits of the universe, the need for religion changes. To cope with complexity means either to have a good command of it-which seems less and less possible-or to accept a benevolent underwriting. The challenge of complexity generates its own need for creed. Social, economic, and political realities are not always encouraging. Integration based on pragmatic motives increases, as does individual anxiety. No matter how much we learn about death, we are still not free of its frightening randomness. Realistically speaking, the belief in an afterlife and the dedication to cryonics are less far apart than they seem at first glance.

Religiosity in the civilization of illiteracy

Some will argue, probably with good reason, that religion in the civilization of illiteracy is but another form of consumerism, or at least of manipulation. No matter what the religious occasion, and if it is still indeed of religious motivation, the market celebrates its highest results in anticipation of holidays (the former holy days). The 40,000 car dealerships, many designed as car cathedrals, and almost 35,000 shopping malls get more visitors during the holiday season than do churches. In addition, even ceremonies whose significance is fundamentally different today than during previous periods, generate more business than religious awareness. The language of ceremonies is entrusted to consultants in marriage, confirmation, baptism, bar mitzvah, and death. Texts related to circumstances of practical experiences different from those of our day are written and read, or, to be more precise, performed without either understanding what kind of pragmatics made them necessary or realizing the discrepancy between past and present pragmatics. This is why they ring so hollow in our day.

When permanence is exalted, faithfulness promised, acceptance of biblical or other precepts (of the Koran, of Far Eastern pantheistic religions) ascertained, literacy and religion are only mimicked. Talaba, the 100 rubles (or whatever the currency of choice) per month paid by Shiite missionaries from Iran, brings many Tadjiks, Uzbeks, and Turkmenians to the new religious schools of Islam. Chances are that a higher bidder from another religion would spoil the game. Under the new pragmatic circumstances of human self-constitution, change, variety, self-determination, individualism, negation of authority, divine or secular, and skepticism are decisive for reaching the levels of efficiency demanded by a dynamic scale of existence.

Today's world is not one of generalized atheism. It is, rather, one of many partial religious literacies, sharing in some basic symbolism, although not necessarily in a unifying framework for its consistent interpretation. Many do not believe, for reasons of science or convenience, in the religious explanation of the origin of the universe and life. Or they do not care for the message of love and goodness embedded in almost every current manifestation of faith. They see in every religious book the handwriting of some groups who, in order to impose their values, invented the image of a supreme force in order to achieve, if not authority, at least credibility.

We live in an environment of compromise and tolerance, infinite distinctions, fast sequences of failure and success, challenged authority and generalized democracy. In today's huge and ineffective social mechanism, in the integrated and networked world, individual failure does not affect the performance of the system. Illiteracy, while dangerous under circumstances characteristic for the pragmatic of the recent past, only marginally affects the levels of efficiency reached. Religiosity, of consequence in the same pragmatic framework, plays no role whatsoever in the illiterate practical experiences of human self-constitution. Calling such assessments heresies, as some might be inclined to do, does not really answer the question of whether religious law can still serve, alone or together with other laws, as the binding tie of community-as it does not address the broader issues of whether literacy can serve as the binding tie of community. Because of their pragmatic nature, characteristics of religion and structural characteristics of language are fundamentally similar. If we want to understand the condition of religion today, we have to specifically address the pragmatic circumstances of self-constitution within the civilization of illiteracy.

In the events of tele-evangelism there is no place for literacy. But the video church, and computer-aided religion, the bible on CD-ROM, or CD-I, the vacation village for believers, and religious tourism are mainly forms of entertainment. Their validity is divorced from the concept of the exalted individual, critical in the context of a small- scale community. Consequently, the religious dimension of transcendence is annihilated. Ours is the time of the eternal instant, not of some vague eternity promised as reward after the present. Partially banalized through abuse of the word, concepts such as dignity, decency, and human values have become the clichés of the video church, with as many gospels as there are preachers. Religiosity today differs from the religiosity of previous pragmatic frameworks insofar as it corresponds to the accentuated insularity of the individual.

As long as the viewer is only a digit away on his or her remote control from a pornography channel, from the latest quote on the stock market, of from a commercial message-for denture adhesive, gastric relief, and home pregnancy tests-it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between sanctity and triviality, righteousness and venality. The global community of tele-viewing is splitting into smaller and smaller groups. And TV, as a pulpit of missionary activity, reveals itself as only syntactically different from the missionary work of advertisement. Mass religion proves to be as impersonal as the market. In effect, it severs the relations between religion and the mysterious, still unexplained aspects of human existence. A virtual reality package can be as good as the performance of having the blind see, and the cripple leave the wheelchair to enter the 100-meter dash. The virtual cathedral, the stadium, and the mass audience addressed in front of the camera are themselves of a scale inadequate to both the teaching disseminated and the nature of religious experience, no matter how far the effort to change the vocabulary goes.

The language of the books is rooted in experiences to which the tele-viewer no longer has a direct relation. They cannot be substituted in a medium adapted to change and variety. The categories that religious discourse centers on-faith, goodness, transcendence, authority, sin, punishment-were established in a pragmatic framework totally different from that of the present. Today, existence offers variety, immediate satisfaction, and protection from the whims of nature. The sense of danger has changed. The equity accumulated by the church in these categories may be enough to entitle claims of ownership, given people's inertia, but not to maintain them as effective means of affecting current practical experiences. It might well be true that three out of five Americans now believe there is a hell, and that people in other countries share the same assumption, but this has no bearing on their self-constitution in the world of quickly changing scenarios for fulfillment outside faith. Networking and distributed work are better synchronized with the pragmatics of high efficiency of our day. Software for interactive multimedia keeps track of a person's religious patterns, and provides prayer and interpretation integrated in the same package.

In its attempt to adapt to a new framework of human activity, religion adopted social causes (renouncing its metaphysics), scientific terminology (renouncing agnosticism), or the means of entertainment (renouncing its asceticism). With each step outside the boundaries of religion, the transcendental dimension is sacrificed. This dimension is embedded in the medium of literacy through which religious practical experience became a fixture in society. When the word does not satisfy, believers resort to other means of expression, some older than religion. It is not unusual to have a religious celebration during the day in some Catholic churches in Brazil, and at night, on the same altar, a chicken sacrificed to Yemenyá. The literate celebration, of European import, and the illiterate sacrifice to which a different group of believers connects, are impossible to reconcile. In this framework, freedom of choice, as vulgar or trivial as those choices might be, takes precedence over authority. In Brazil, "Graças a Deus!" is paired with the practice of African cults (Candomblé, Umbanda, Macumba), just as "Allah-hu-akbar" is with shamanistic or Buddhist celebrations in Azerbaidjan and Kazakstan. These are particular expressions of religion in the civilization of illiteracy, as much as TV evangelism is. For as much as religion was submitted to the word, performance always seems to get the upper hand.

To blindly ascertain permanence against the background of change would only further undermine religious practice. This is why the new religions focus on the immediate and produce the reward as fast as it is expected. The continuous proliferation of new religious denominations, soon to be as many as there are people who constitute the networks of human interaction in today's pragmatic context, reflects also the ability of the church to adapt. But this was not religion's reason for being in the first place, and will not represent more than what actually happens when we all wear the same shoes, or shirts, or hats but read a different label on each, when we all eat the same food that is only packaged differently, when we all vote for the same politics (or lack of same) while maintaining party affiliations. When each has his or her own god, God ceases to exist.

With the end of the civilization of literacy, partial religious literacies emerge, developing their own languages, their own organizations, their own justification. The heterogeneity of the world, its intrinsic relativity, and its dynamics of change mark religious practical experiences in ways not dissimilar to those of scientific, artistic, political, educational, moral, and many other experiences. Consumption of the language of religion in ceremonies and holidays that promote the expectation of more and cheaper, on which the quest for unlimited satisfaction of needs and desires is based, does not qualify anyone as religious or literate. Neither does secularism for that matter, no less illiterate, and no less subjected to the same expectation of high efficiency which undermines the core of any religion.

Secular religion

In our day of increased secularism, the extent to which religion permeates people's lives, whether faithful, indifferent (neutral), or actively antireligious, is probably difficult to assess. The separation of church and state is powerfully anchored in constitutions and declarations of independence, while new presidents, kings, emperors, state officials, and members of the judiciary still swear on the books of their religious faith, invoke their respective gods as the ultimate judge (or help), and openly, or covertly, participate in the rituals inherited from theological practical experiences. The dominant symbolism of our day has a religious aura. It seems that both the faithful and the secularists of all nuances entered a mutual agreement in sanctioning what came to be known as civil religion. People pledge allegiance to the flag, get emotionally carried away when the national anthem is played, and partake in the celebration of holidays, never questioning their justification. These elements of civil religion come to us in perverted forms, divorced from the pragmatic context within which they were constituted. To swear on the Bible was specifically prohibited ("You are not to swear at all, not by heaven, for it is God's throne, nor by earth, for it is his footstool…" Matthew 5:33-36). Swearing-in ceremonies take place in the open in order to make them manifest to the gods. In some countries a window is still opened when an oath of office is recited. Holidays, meant as occasions of religious recollection, or to instill a sense of solidarity, remain only what each person makes of them. Even more, in countries making a point of avoiding the domination of one religion over another, the holidays of the dominant religion become the holidays of the entire nation, enjoyed foremostly as market celebrations.

To notice the contradictory nature of the presence of religion in contexts of secular practical experiences, some directly contrary to religious beliefs, means to notice how some of the motivations of religion expatiate in a context contradicting the legitimacy of the theological experience in our day and age. This became clear even within the particular circumstances of revolutions whose stated goal was to eradicate religion through state oppression or by education. The French Revolution discovered, soon after the king and other members of the power elite were decapitated, that the authority of its ideals, embodied in the call for liberty, equality, fraternity, was not enough, despite being housed in the same body of literacy as religion was, to substitute for the higher authority of Divinity.

The Soviet Revolution hoped that theater or cinematography would substitute for religion, or at least for church. Some of its ideologues experimented with a secular god- building strategy, inventing a sui generis higher force to which people could relate, and on which hope could be placed. They tried, very much in the spirit of the utopian Marx, to deify the collective force of the working class in order to inspire a religious sense of community. Enormous energy was invested in designing new rituals. Many of the atheist artists of the Russian avant-garde served the cause they thought opened the gates of artistic freedom and universal love. Their own escape from the realm of literacy into the realm of imagery-intended to replace the confining texts of religion and ideology-should have warned them about the impossibility of the task at hand. Disappointed by their own naiveté, but incapable of acknowledging failure, some of them wound up embracing the new civic religion of gods and holidays, as shallow as the theology around which they were built.

What we identify in all these elements is the continuation of structural characteristics pertinent to religion and to the medium of its expression, i.e., literacy in a fundamentally different context. The encompassing principles of tolerance, equality, and freedom contradict the spirit on which religion and literacy were based. They weaken our convictions of what is right and efficient in view of the desired end, and of endurance as a group. The decline of morals in a context in which moral behavior does not affect efficiency is not due to the decline in religiosity, but to the general perception, justified or not, that morality and religion do not count; or that they play no role in making people happy. The sanctity of life gone, there is little sanctity left in forms of celebrating it: birthdays, communions, marriage, funerals. Between birth and death, the audience at our rites of passage diminishes painfully. We know that death is very personal, but communities, for pragmatic reasons, used to confront death and its consequences, many related to inheritance, not relegate it to specialists in the various aspects of dying. Death is reduced to a biological event leading only to biochemical decomposition: No fun, no direct practical significance for others, except in the inheritance process, a market event for funeral parlors and pushy clergy.

Appropriation of life events in the civilization of illiteracy equals the structuring of small languages of post-literate celebrations, taken over by baptism, communion, and marriage consultants, all alienated from the religious meaning they had, moreover from the initial pragmatic motivation. Literacy stood as the rulebook for all these direct, integrated, sequentialized, deterministic occurrences. The illiterate celebrates the randomness and the relative and makes everything a festival of randomness-crime, deadly disease, a riot, a bargain, a love affair.

Religion and church tried to instill permanency. Baptism was the initiation rite that opened the cycle. Confirmation entailed acceptance in the community. Marriage, once and forever, introduced a sense of unity and continuity. The last rites freed one from life for an afterlife in which the deceased still watched over the living faithful. Today, each of these moments is associated with a civil ritual: birth is recorded in the town or city hall. The child must have a social security number by the age of two. At age five, children must enter school. Children no longer join the community as responsible members at the age of 12 or 14 years, but they are given rights that they sometimes cannot handle. Marriage and the establishment of family come much later than in earlier pragmatic contexts. Extracted from the religious context, family life is a strange mixture of biological convenience and contractual obligations. Death, always the focus of religion, is defined in terms of its effects on efficiency. The fine distinction between clinical death and total death only shows how priests, the final witnesses to the end of a life, are replaced by the technologists who keep the heart beating under the alibi of "sanctity of life." Life ends as it begins, as an entry in the record books, for tax purposes.

Japanese parents-to-be might still consult an ekisha (a sort of fortune teller) in order to choose the proper name for a newborn infant, already thinking about the marriage (names should fit in order to ensure harmony); others will have difficulty in understanding the similarity between choosing a name and the observance of agricultural cycles, as both were religiously encoded in minute rules centuries ago. These people will even cringe at the discourse in a monastery where the priest might indulge in the discussion of the unity between inner order (of the individual) and outer order. The fact that mandala, traded all over the world, once represented that order escapes their personal experience.

Religions distinguished between nature and cosmos. Whether explicitly stated or not, nature was seen as earthbound, the source of our existence, the provider. Cosmos, beyond our reach, should not be interfered with. The experience of extraterrestrial research expanded the notion of nature. In today's integrated world, resources and environmental concerns also contribute to the expanded notion of nature pertinent to our activity and life. Our worries about pollution of earth, oceans, and skies are not religious in nature. Neither is the distinction between what is feasible and what is desirable. The Ten Commandments tell us what we should not do, while the devil called desire whispers into our ears that nothing is forbidden unless we really do not care for it. The relation between the wholeness of the being and its parts is subject to maintenance, just as the automobile is. Once gods were described as jealous and intolerant. Now they are presented as accommodating a world of diversified experiences and heterogeneous forms of worship, including Satanism. Our pragmatic context is one of generalized pluralism, embodied in the many choices we pursue in the practical experience of self-constitution. When the pragmatics of self-constitution can be based on rationality, the churches of the civilization of illiteracy are houses of secular religion.

A Mouthful of Microwave Diet

Have you ever ordered a pizza over the Internet? It is an experience in illiterate cooking. The image on the screen allows clients to prepare the most individualized pizza one can think of: they decide what the shape, size, and thickness of the crust will be; which spices and how much; what kind of cheese; and which toppings. They can arrange these the way they want, layer them, and control how much tomato sauce, if any, should be used. Done? Ask your children, or your guests, whether they want to correct your design. The on-line chef is open to suggestions. All set? The pizza will be delivered in 20 minutes-or it's free. The entire transaction is illiterate: selection is made by clicking an image. With each choice, prices are automatically calculated and listed. Addition is as error-free as it can get. Taxes are calculated and automatically transferred to the IRS. A voice announces over the Internet, "Food is ready! Thank you for your order. And please visit us again."

No, this is not fantasy. Pizza shops and hamburger joints figure visibly on the Internet (still in its infancy). Their structure and functioning, as well as the expectations connected to them, are what defines them as belonging to the civilization of illiteracy. But the picture of what people eat and how their food is prepared is more complicated than what this example conveys. This chapter will describe how we arrived at this point, and what the consequences of the fundamental shift from the civilization of literacy in our relation to food are.

Food and expectations

How does one connect food to literacy? In the first place, how we eat is as important as what we eat and how we prepare it. There is a culture of dining, and an entire way of viewing food-from obtaining raw ingredients to preparation and to eating-that reflects values instilled in the civilization of literacy. Food and eating in the civilization of illiteracy are epitomized not only by the pizza outlet on the Internet, by McDonalds, Burger King, and the frozen dinner waiting to be thrown into the microwave oven, but also by the vast industry of efficient production of primary and secondary foodstuffs, the anonymous, segmented processing of nutrition. It is not an individual's literacy that characterizes the meal, but the pragmatic framework in which people emerge and how they project their characteristics, including dietary and taste expectations, in the process.

The hunger-driven primitive human and the spoiled patron of a good Italian restaurant have in common only the biological substratum of their need, expressed in the very dissimilar acts of hunting and, respectively, selecting items from a menu. Primitive beings are identified by projecting, in the universe of their existence, natural qualities pertinent to the experience of feeding themselves: sight, hearing, smell, speed, force. Restaurant patrons project natural abilities filtered through a culture of eating: taste, dietary awareness, ability to select and combine. These two extremes document a commonalty of human self-constitution. Nevertheless, what is of interest in the attempt to understand food and eating in the civilization of illiteracy are actually differences. The nuclei of ancient incipient agriculture, which were also the places of origin for many language families, are distinct pragmatic frameworks relevant also to the experience of cooking. Within agriculture, absolute dependencies on nature are changed to relative dependencies, since more food is produced than is needed for survival. The food of this period is cause for some of the rituals associated with the elements involved in producing it. The layers between animal hunger and the new hunger, filter new experiences of satisfaction or illness, of pleasure or pain, of self-control or abuse. Symbolism (concerning fertility, agriculture, power) confirms patterns of successful or failed practical experiences against the background of increased awareness of the biological characteristics of the species. Notation and writing contribute to the change of balance between the natural and the cultural. But the difference between the primitive eater and the person who awaits his dinner at a table derives from the distinctive conditions of their existence.

In the pragmatic framework that constitutes the foundation for literacy, expectations regarding food were already in place: slow rhythm, awareness of the environment, environment and natural cycles, labor division according to sex and age (the female was usually the homemaker and cook). Food preparation was characterized by its intrinsic sequentiality, by linear dependencies among its variables. Cooking was inspired and supported by the sequence of seasons, local stock, and relative immediacy of needs, affected by weather conditions, intensity of effort, and celebration pertinent to seasons or special events. In short, the relation to food was governed by the same principles that notation and writing were.

In the civilization of illiteracy, personal attitudes towards preparing food and eating, whether at home or in a restaurant, are affected by a different pragmatic framework. Probably more is known about food in the civilization of illiteracy than at any other time in the history of agriculture and cuisine. But this knowledge does not come from the direct experience of the food, i.e., how it is grown and processed. Human beings in the civilization of illiteracy know better why they eat than what they eat. It is not what is in the food that concerns many people, but what the food is supposed to do for them: maintain and service the body through the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, and protein; help people cope with residue; and, eventually, conjure meaning as a symbol in a universe of competing symbolisms. Fashion extends to food, too!

People feed themselves today according to expectations different from those of primitive human beings-hunters, farmers, craftsmen, and workers involved in pre- industrial experience. Needs are different, and food resources are different. Many layers of humanity stand between an individual projecting animal hunger in a world of competing animals and an individual expressing desire for French cuisine, in its authentic variations, in its snobbish form, or in its fast food versions, fresh or frozen, regular or dietetic. Pizza, spaghetti, falafel, sushi, tortillas, cold cuts, and egg rolls figure no less on the list of choices. Many filters, in the form of various taboos and restrictions, as well as personal tastes, are at work. Meaning is incidentally elicited as one chooses the recipe of a celebrity cook, or decides on a certain restaurant.

The hungry primitive human, the human beings working the land in the agricultural phase, the farmers, craftsmen, soldiers, and scholars of the pre-industrial age expected only that food would still their hunger. More is expected from the eating experience today, and some of these expectations have nothing to do with hunger. People take it for granted that they can buy any type of food from anywhere in the world, at any time of the year. Globality is thus acknowledged, just as the sequence of seasons is ignored. In between these two extremes is the literate eating experience, with its own expectations.

The experience of eating reflected a way of life, a way of self-constitution as civilized, progressive, literate. Here are the words of Charles Dickens, recorded during his visit to the United States in 1842. He gave a vivid summary of American eating habits west of the big eastern cities (Boston, New York) as he observed them on steamboats and in inns where stagecoaches stopped for the night in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri. I never in my life did see such listless, heavy dulness [sic] as brooded over these meals: the very recollection of it weighs me down, and makes me, for the moment, wretched. Reading and writing on my knee, in our little cabin, I really dreaded the coming of the hour that summoned us to table; and was as glad to escape from it again as if it had been a penance or a punishment. Healthy cheerfulness and good spirits forming part of the banquet, I could soak my crusts in the fountain with Le Sage's strolling players, and revel in their glad enjoyment: but sitting down with so many fellow-animals to ward off thirst and hunger as a business; to empty each creature his Yahoo's trough as quickly as he can, and then to slink sullenly away; to have these social sacraments stripped of everything but the mere greedy satisfaction of the natural cravings; goes so against the grain with me, that I seriously believe the recollection of these funeral feasts will be a waking nightmare to me all my life. Dickens was the epitome of the literate experience, and he was addressing a literate audience that had literate expectations in the experience of dining: what time meals were held, who sat where and next to whom, the order in which certain foods were served, how long a meal should last, what topics could be discussed. Literate characteristics persist in the literate frameworks of political and formal dinners: hierarchy (who sits where), the order in which food is presented, the types of dishes and eating utensils.

Fishing in a videolake

Many questions come to mind with respect to how, and what, and when, people eat and drink. Human beings still project their reality in the environment through biological characteristics-the ability to see, smell, taste, move, jump, etc.-but some in unnatural ways. Not only do we help vision with glasses and hearing with aid devices, but even taste and smell are helped through the appropriate chemistry, in order to buffer some odor and enhance others. From odorless garlic to tofu smelling of pork chops, everything is within the possibility of biochemistry. At the extreme, nutrition is altogether removed from the context of nature. This is the case not just with people who are fed artificially, through tubes, pills, or special concoctions.

What does this have to do with literacy? How is it influenced, if at all, by the increased illiteracy of the new condition of human activity? The answers are far from being trivial. An editorialist from Germany, a country of solid, if not necessarily refined, eating instincts, went to great lengths to explain the alienation of nourishment in our age. The final scene he described is comic and sad at the same time. Some artificially obtained nutritive substance, molded in the shape of fish, is fried and served to a video- literate who eats the food while watching a videotape about fishing. The ersatz experience of tele-viewing is probably disconnected from the experience of river, trees, sunshine, and fish biting the hook, not to mention the taste of fresh fish. Dwindling stocks of fish is one reason why we can no longer afford the nourishment that results from direct involvement with nature. Not everyone can or wants to be a hunter, a fisherman, or a farmer. The romanticism of literacy, and of the utopian ideologies it helps express, would lead some to believe that this is possible, even desirable. But maybe not, since the new scale of humankind does not go unnoticed, even by those still clinging to the continuity and permanency embodied in literacy.

Values, rules, and expectations such as health considerations, efficiency, and taste are embodied in programs and procedures for which machines are built, new substances designed, and waste reprocessed. It might make some people shiver, but about 50% of a person's average caloric intake is the result of artificial synthesis and genetic engineering. Louis de Funés (in a 1976 French film directed by Claude Zidi) almost wound up as part of the food processed at Tricatel, a new factory that produces tasteless food based on the rules and looks of French cuisine, which the factory effectively undermines. The comedian, performing as a food inspector, has to decide what the real thing is and what is the fake. Competing with this burlesque, a national program, Awakening of Taste, under the aegis of the Minister of Culture, was set up to encourage French students in primary schools to rediscover the true national cuisine. That such a program parallels the effort of the Académie Française to maintain the purity and integrity of the language is a convenient argument concerning the interdependence of the ideal of literacy and that of haute cuisine.

The movie satirizes the human being's relation to food and technology. Eating something reminiscent of a fish, whether farmed or synthetically produced, while having video nostalgia for fishing is not an exception. In the mental gardens we plant each spring, when magazines and television shows present images of the beautiful tomatoes we might enjoy in a few months, there is a virtual space for every practical experience we gave up in order to satisfy our desire for more at the lowest price. The tomato in the civilization of illiteracy, hydroponic or garden grown, ripens faster, is perfect in form, and tastes almost like we think it should.

Irony and science fiction aside, we are indeed engineering proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. They are designed to optimally maintain the human being and enhance his or her performance. This can be seen as a new phase in the process of transferring knowledge pertinent to nourishment from the encompassing and dominating medium of literacy to the many partial literacies- chemical, biological, genetic-of the civilization of illiteracy. Having in mind the image of where we currently stand and the direction in which we are heading, we can trace human self-constitution with the practical experience of food.

Language and nourishment

The relation between what people eat, how they prepare their food, how they serve and how they eat it, is accounted for in language, especially in its literate use, in many ways. Experiences of our continuous constitution through work, personal life, habits, defense, and aggression are expressed through language and other manifestations of our nature and culture. The same holds true for such peculiarities as the way people eat, entertain, dress, make love, and play. Language, as one among many expressive means, is a medium for representation, but also for diversifying experiences. It supports the research of new realms of existence, and participates in the maintenance of the integrity of human interdependencies as they develop in work, leisure, and meditation.

When the question "Why are there fewer alcoholics in China, Korea, Japan, and India?" was asked, answers were sought in culture. Reformulated as "Why can't Asians tolerate alcohol?" the question shifted the focus from what we do or do not do- the filters of exclusion or preference-to biology. Environmental, cultural, social, psychological, and cognitive characteristics can be acknowledged once the biological substratum is brought to light. Many people of Asian origin display an intolerance to alcohol that is due to a metabolism peculiar to their race. The intolerance to alcohol is associated with the lack of a catalytic enzyme, which under normal circumstances does not affect the functioning of the body. Only when alcohol is consumed do unpleasant symptoms appear: the face becomes flushed, skin temperature rises, the pulse quickens. Europeans, black Africans, and North American Indians are not affected in the same way. But they are subject to other genetically determined food sensitivities. For example, lactose intolerance is highest in Blacks.

The example given above tells us that the projection of biological characteristics into the universe of people's existence results in the image of differences among various groups of people and among individuals. People noticed these peculiarities before science existed in order to explain them. Relating the effect to a cause-a certain food or drink-people incorporate this relation into their body of experiences. Established connections become rules that are intended to ensure optimal individual and group functioning. Rules pertaining to food and ways of eating were eventually encoded and transmitted through literate means.

In short, patterns of work and life are affected. They point to various levels at which human practical experiences and the experience of nourishment are interconditioned. A first level regards nourishment and our biological endowment. A second level is nourishment and the environment-what we can afford from the world surrounding us. A third level is nourishment and self-consciousness-what best suits our life and work. Over time the interdependency changes. And at moments when the scale of mankind reaches a threshold, it is drastically redefined-as in our times, for instance.

On a larger scale, food- and drinking-related instances prompt vast servicing activities and the establishment of networks of distributed tasks. Today, diet engineers, caterers, geneticists, nutritionists, are set up to provide whatever fits the occasion, the guest list, dietary prescriptions, and astrological or medical recommendations. A formal dinner can become a well mediated activity, with many prefabricated components, including table manners-if the commissioning party so desires. Associated or not to the menu, a preparatory seminar in what to wear, how to use utensils (if more than plastic spoons and knives are used), what kind of conversation with the entrée, and which jokes before, or after, or instead of the wine, educates for the event. In fact, the buffet, a configuration from which each can assemble his or her menu, not unlike the on-line order form for the Internet pizza, is more and more preferred. It is less confining than the literacy-based sequence of the three-course meals-structured as introduction, thesis, and conclusion, known under the labels appetizer, main entrée, dessert.

Sequence and configuration revisited

With writing and reading, the experience of feeding oneself and one's family expanded to partaking in the experience of food preservation and sharing. French Assyriologist Jean Bottero read recipes, in cuneiform writing on clay tablets from around 1700 BCE, for food cooked at important occasions for people in power. That this was "cuisine of striking richness, refinement, sophistication, and artistry" should not necessarily impress us here. But the description of the ingredients, some no longer known or in use, of the sequence, and the context (celebration) deserve attention: "Head, legs and tail should be singed. Take the meat. Bring water to boil. Add fat. Onions, samidu, leeks, garlic, some blood, some fresh cheese, the whole beaten together. Add an equal amount of plain suhutium." This is a stew of kid, a meal for an exceptional occasion.

The pragmatic framework that made this cooking possible also made writing possible and necessary. Over time, this connection became even closer. Between the experiences of language and that of eating and drinking, a continuum of interactions can be noticed. Language distinctions pertinent to the practical experience of cultivating plants, taking care of animals, processing milk, and seasoning food expanded from satisfying needs to creating desires associated with taste. New knowledge is stimulated by experiences different from nourishment, such as new forms of work (cooking included), use of new resources, new tools, and new skills. And so is the expression of logic in the act of preparing, serving, and eating the food. On reading a book of recipes from the Tiberian era of the Roman Empire-De Re Culinaria (The Art of Cooking, attributed to Gaelius Apicius) and De Re Rustica (by Cato)-one can discern how things have changed over 1600 years. Apicius expressed many distinctions in foods and in ways of cooking and eating. He also expressed a certain concern for health. "Digging one's grave with one's teeth," as the expression came to life in connection with gluttony (crisp tongues of larks, dormice marinated in honey, tasty thighs of ostrich are listed), was replaced by elaborate recipes to relieve an upset stomach or to facilitate digestion. The books do not say what everyone ate, and there are reasons to believe that there was quite a difference between the menu of slaves and that of their owners. Advances in identifying plants and in processing food go in tandem with advances in medicine. Writings from other parts of the world, especially China, testify to similar developments.

It was already remarked, by no other than Roland Barthes, that the two basic language systems-one based on ideographic writing, the second on the phonetic convention-put their characteristic stamp on the menus of the Far Eastern and Western civilizations. A Japanese menu is an expression of a configuration. One can start with any of the dishes offered simultaneously. Combinations are allowed. Eating is part of the Japanese culture, a practical experience of self-constitution with strong visual components, refined combinations of odors, and participation of almost all senses. It also reflects the awareness of the world in which the Japanese constitute themselves. Japanese food is focused on what life on an island affords, plus/minus influences from other cultures, resulting from the mobility of peoples. The more concrete writing system of the Far East and the more down-to-earth nourishment, i.e., the closeness to what each source of nutrition is (raw fish, seaweed, rice, minimal processing, strict dietary patterns based on combinations of nutritional ideograms), are an expression of the unity of the pragmatic framework within which they result.

A Western menu is a sequence, a one-directional linear event with a precise culmination. Eating proceeds from the introduction to the conclusion, "from soup to nuts." A meal has a progression and projects expectations associated with this progression. Within the language of our food, there are well formed sentences and ill- formed sentences, as well as a general tendency experience gastronomic pleasure. A literate society is a society aware of the rules for generating and enjoying meals according to such rules. The rules are based on experiences transmitted from one generation to the next, not necessarily in written form, but reflecting the intrinsic sequentiality of language and its abstract writing system. Goethe fired his cook (Lina Louise Axthelm) because she could not realize the distinction between healthy meals and the more sophisticated art of preparing them according to rules of literacy and aesthetic distinction.

On cooks, pots, and spoons

Cooking food-a practical experience that followed catching prey-represents an important moment in human self-definition. As a form of praxis, it parallels the experience of self-constitution through language. It extends, as language does, far beyond satisfying immediate needs, allowing for the establishment of expectations above and beyond survival. Cooking implies generality, but also integrates elements of individuality. Some foods taste better, are more easily digested, support specific practical experiences. For example, some foods enhance prowess. When eaten before a hunt, they can trigger lust for chasing the animal. Some foods stimulate sexual drive, others induce states of hallucination. Cooking was, in many ways, a journey from the known into the unknown. Together with the sensorial experience, intellectual elements were involved in the process. They are observations, of similarities and dissimilarities of certain procedures, of substances used, of the influence of weather, season, tools, etc.; simple inferences, discoveries-the effect of fire, salt, spices. The experience of preparing food, together with many other practical experiences on which it depends or which are connected to it, opens avenues of abstraction. Cooking improves the quality of individual life, and thus empowers members of a community to better adapt to pragmatic expectations.

The constitution of the notion of food quality, as an abstraction of taste, and crafting of tools appropriate to the activity, is of special interest. An example: Pottery, in the natural context where it was possible, became the medium for preserving and cooking. In other contexts, carved stone, carved wood, woven branches, or metal was used, for storing or for cooking, according to the material. Progressively, tools for preparing and tools for eating were crafted, and new eating habits were acknowledged. When the multiple interdependency food-container-cooking-preservation was internalized in the activity of preparing food, a framework for new experiences was established. Some of these experiences, such as how to handle fire, transcend nourishment. The significance of this process can be succinctly expressed: cooked food, which we need to associate to the tools used, is food taken out of the context of nature and introduced in the context of culture. The experience of cooking involves other experiences and then expands into other domains unrelated to nourishment. This experience requires instruments for cooking, but even more an understanding of the process involved, of the effects of combinations and additions, and a strategy for delivery to those for whom cooking was undertaken.

Satisfying hunger in the fight for survival is an individual experience. Preparation of food requires time. In the experience of achieving time awareness, cooking played a role not to be ignored. If time can be used for different purposes by different people, associated in view of shared goals, then some can tend to the need of prepared food for others, while in turn partaking in their effort of hunting, fishing, agriculture, and craftsmanship. It was a simple strategy of labor assignments, affected by tribal life, family, rituals, myth, and religion: knowledge gained in preparing food disseminated without the need for specialized activity. But once pragmatic circumstances of life required it, some people assumed the function and thus, once a critical mass of efficiency was reached, what we today call the cook was identified. From the not-too- many written recipes that come down to us through the centuries, as well as from religious writings containing precise, pragmatically motivated restrictions, we learn enough about the stabilizing role of writing upon food preparation. We also gain understanding of the new functions played by food preparation: celebration of events, sacrifice to gods, expression of power.

People learn to cook and to eat at the same time. In this process, they come to share values beyond the immediacy of plants, fruits, and a piece of meat. Mediations pertinent to the art of cooking and eating are also part of the language process and become language. Culinary restrictions, such as those set down in some religions, are but an example of this process. They encode practical rules related to survival and well- being, but also to some conventions beyond the physical reality of the food. Language makes such rules the rules of the community; writing preserves them as requirements and thus exercises an important normative role.

Each pragmatic context determined what was acceptable as food and the conditions of food preparation, henceforth the condition of cooks and their particular role in social life. Many cooks, serving at courts of royalty, in monasteries, in the military, became the object of folk tales, fiction, of philosophers' comments. No cook seems to have been highly educated, but all their clients tried to impress through the food served and the wines, or other drinks, accompanying them. In such circumstances, the symbolic function of food indeed takes over the primary function of satisfying hunger. Thus the cook, like the singer and the dancer and the poet, contributes his part to what becomes the art of living. It is probably worth pointing out that memory devices similar to those used by poets and musicians are used by cooks, and that improvisation in preparing a meal plays an important part.

Writing entered the kitchen; and some of the last to resist literacy, when it became a pragmatic requirement, were those who cooked for others. Orality is more stubborn, for many reasons, when it involves the secrecy of food preparation. There are good reasons for this, some obvious even in our day of cracking the most guarded secrets. Indeed, labor division does not stop at the gates of factories. The segmentation of life and labor, increased mediation, and expectations of high efficiency make mass production possible. Almost everything people need to feed themselves, in order to maintain their physical and mental productive powers with a minimum of investment, is provided in favor of productive cycles. In the pragmatic framework of the industrial age, this meant the reproduction of the productive forces of the worker in a context of permanency. The investment in education and training was to be recuperated over a lifetime of work. Nourishment contributed to the same pattern: the family adapted to the rhythms of the practical experience of industry related jobs.

At work, at home, in school, at church, and last but not least in nourishment, acceptance of authority together with the discipline of self-denial were at work. That literacy, through its own structural characteristics (hierarchy, authority, standardization) accentuated all these peculiarities should at this time be evident. On special occasions, accounted for in the overall efficiency of effort, nourishment became celebration. It was integrated in the calendar of events through which authority was acknowledged: Sabbath, religious holidays, and political celebrations were motives for a better, or at least different, menu. Other days were meant to raise the awareness of self-denial (fish on Friday, for instance).

The cook did not necessarily become a literate person, but he or she was a product of the literate environment of practical experiences of pre-industrial and industrial societies. The tools and the culture of spices, ingredients, matching food and dishes, of expressing social status in the dinnerware set out, and the meal, i.e., the structure of the entire statement which a meal constitutes were all subjected to literacy. Labor division made the cook necessary, while simultaneously generating an industrial culture of food. In the equation of the labor market in industrial society, with literacy as its underlying structure, eating equals maintenance of productive and reproductive power. It also means the reproduction of needs at an increasing scale, as well as their change from needs to desires triggering the expansion of industrial production.

In the expectations associated with food there is more than only the voice of hunger. Our system of values, as it was articulated in the literate use of language, is expressed in our hunger, and in our particular ways to satisfy it. Based on this observation, we acknowledge that all the forces at work in structuring democratic social relations also affect the socialization of our nourishment. Uniform quality, and access to this common denominator quality, are introduced in the market, and with them the possibility of stating and maintaining health standards. Within the boundaries of the civilization of literacy and its associated hygiene and health standards, there is little left that can be identified with the country home that cannot be industrialized and made uniformly available. Beyond these boundaries starts a new reality of expectations, of transcended needs, and of technological means to satisfy them within standards of quality that reinforce the notion of democracy.

The identity of food

It is the act of mixing ingredients, boiling or stir-frying them, and the preparation of everything, the testing of different proportions, of new ingredients, of new combinations that results in the food we care for so much. The awareness of the entire process during which humans distanced themselves from nature is reduced in our understanding to some simple facts: instead of devouring the hunted animal, humans cooked it, preserved some parts for other days, learned how to combine various sources of nutrition (animal and plant), noticed what was good for the body and the mind. What is generally not accounted for is the fact that the break from the direct source of food to the experience of preparing is simultaneous with the emergence and establishment of language. Consequent changes are the use of methods for preserving, the continuous expansion of the food repertory (sources of nourishment), the development of better artifacts for increasing the efficiency of production and preparation of foods, and industrial processing. These changes parallel differentiations in the status of language-based practical experiences: the appearance of writing, the emergence of education, progress in crafts, the pragmatic of industrial society.

With the experience of literacy, human awareness of food experienced as a necessity, and as an expression of human personality and identity, increases. Claude Lévi-Strauss, among others, forcefully dealt with this subject. The basic idea-of human dimensions expressed in nourishment-becomes more significant today. None of the many writers infatuated with the subject have noticed that once the limits of literacy, as limits of the pragmatics that made it necessary, are reached, we transcend the age of McDonalds, of synthetic nutritional substances, and of an infinity of prefabricated foods. This is also the age of endless variations and combinations. The human personality and identity are more difficult to characterize. It is expressed in our nourishment, as well as in how we dress-choosing from an infinity of available cloths-our sexual behavior- free to experiment in ever-expanding possibilities: patterns of family life, education, art, and communication. The infinity of choices available in the civilization of illiteracy eradicates any center, and to some extent undermines commonalty, even at the level of the species.

In this civilization, the investment in self is less community-related and more an act of individual choice. These choices are embodied in precise, customized diets based on individual requirements as defined by dietitians. Computer programs control personalized recipes and the production of any meal or menu. The balance of time and energy has changed totally. Experiences of work, free time, and fitness mix. The clear borderline between them is progressively blurred. It is not clear whether one burns more calories today in jogging than in working, but it is clear that discipline, in particular that of self-denial, is replaced by unpredictable self-indulgence. Consequently, to maintain the body's integrity, individual diet and exercise programs are generated, given a new focus through the transition from the economy of scarcity to that of consumption. Illiterate subjects accept that the market decide for them what and when and how to eat, as well as what to wear, with whom to pair, and how to feel. The appearance is that of self-determination. Independence and responsibility are not instant-mix experiences. Whether embodied in fast food chains, in microwave nourishment, in the television cooking shows, there is an illusion of self-determination, continuously reinforced in the seductive reality of a segmented world of competing partial literacies.

The appearance is that one can choose from many literacies, instead of being forced into one. The fact is that we are chosen in virtue of having our identity constituted and confirmed within the pragmatic context. Awareness of and interaction with nature, already affected in the previous age of industrial processing of basic foods, are further eroded. The immediate environment and the sources of nutrition it provides are assimilated in the picture of seasonless and context-free shelves at the supermarket. Space (where does the food come from?) and time (to which season does it correspond?) distinctions, accounted for so precisely in literacy, dissolve in a generic continuum. One does not need to be rich to have access to what used to be the food of those who could afford it. One does not need to be from a certain part of the world to enjoy what used to be the exotic quality of food. Time and space shrink for the traveler or TV viewer, as they shrink for the supermarket patron. They shrink even more for the increasing number of people shopping through the World Wide Web, according to formulas custom designed for them. With brand recognition, brands become more important than the food. The rhythms of nature and the rhythm of work and life are pulled further apart by the mediating mechanisms of marketing. The natural identity of food vanishes in the subsequent practical experience of artificial reality. There is little that distinguishes between a menu designed for the team of the space shuttle, for the military personnel in combat far from home, and the energy calculations for a machine. A little artificial taste of turkey for Thanksgiving, or the cleverly simulated smell of apple pie, makes the difference.

The language of expectations

Beasts of habit, people expect some reminders of taste and texture even when they know that what they eat or drink is the result of a formula, not of natural processes. This is why the almost fat-free hamburger, devised in laboratories for people in need of nourishment adapted to new conditions of life and work, will succeed or fail not on the basis of calories, but on the simulation of the taste of the real thing. This is how the new Coke failed. Non-alcoholic beer and wine, fat- and sugar-free ice cream, low cholesterol egg, vegetable ham, and all substitutes for milk, butter, and cream, to list a few, are in the same situation. In the fast lane of the civilization of illiteracy, we expect fast food: hamburgers, fish, chicken, pizza, and Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Thai, and other foods. The barriers of time and space are overcome through pre-processing, microwave ovens, and genetic engineering. But we do not necessarily accept the industrial model of mass production, reminiscent of literacy characteristics quite different from those of home cooking.

We cannot afford those long cooking cycles, consuming energy and especially time, that resulted in what some remember as the kitchen harmony of smell and taste, as well as in waste and dubious nutritional value, one should add. A McDonalds hamburger is close to the science fiction image of a world consuming only the energy source necessary for functioning. But the outlet reminds one of machines. It is still a manned operation, with live operators, geared to offer a uniform industrial quality. However, the literate structure gives way to more effective functioning. At intervals defined by a program continuously tracking consumption, the restaurant is stocked with the pre-processed items on the menu. None of the cooks needs to know how to write or read; food preparation is on-line, in real time. And if the requirements of the pragmatics of the civilization of illiteracy overcome the current industrial model, the new McDonalds will be able to meet individual expectations no less restricted than those of the Internet pizza providers. If this does not happen, McDonalds and its many imitators in the world will disappear, just as many of the mass production food manufacturers have already disappeared.

The mediating nature of the processes involved in nourishment is revealing. Between the natural and artificial sources of protein, fats, sugar, and other groups recommended for a balanced meal and the person eating them with the expectation of looking, feeling, and performing better, of living longer and healthier, there are many layers of processing, controlling, and measuring. Many formulas for preparation follow each other, or are applied in parallel cycles. After we made machines that resemble humans, we started treating ourselves as machines. The digital engine stands for the brain, pump for the heart, circuits for the nervous system. They are all subjected to maintenance cycles, clean sources of energy, self-cleaning mechanisms, diagnostic routines. The end product of food production-a customized pizza, taco, egg roll, hamburger, gefilte fish-resembles the "real thing," which is produced at the lowest possible cost in a market in which literate food is a matter of the past, a subject of reminiscence.

The new dynamics of change and the expectation of adaptability and permanence associated with the nourishment of the civilization of literacy collide at all levels involved in our need to eat and drink. What results from this conflict are the beautiful down-sized kitchens dominated by the microwave oven, the new cookware adapted to the fast food and efficient nourishment, the cooking instructions downloaded from the digital network into the kitchen. The interconnectedness of the world takes rather subtle aspects when it comes to food. Microwave ovens can perfectly be seen as peripheral devices connected to the smart kitchens of the post-industrial age, all set to feed us once we push the dials that will translate a desire, along with our health profile, into a code number. Three-quarters of all American households (Barbie's included) use a microwave oven. And many of them are bound to become an address on the Internet, as other appliances already are.

The conflict between literate and illiterate nourishment is also documented by the manner in which people write, draw, film, televise, and express themselves about cooking and related matters. This addresses the communication aspects of the practical experience of what and how we eat. The people who could go to their back yard for fresh onions or cabbage, get meat from animals they hunted or tended, or milk their own cow or goat, belong to a pragmatic framework different from that of people who buy produce, meat, cheese, and canned and frozen food in a small store or a supermarket. To communicate experiences that vanished because of their low efficiency is an exercise in history or fiction. To communicate current experiences in nourishment means to acknowledge mediation, distribution of tasks, networking, and open-endedness as they apply to communication and the way we feed ourselves or are fed by others. It also means to acknowledge a different quality.

Once upon a time, writing on food and dining was part of literature. Food authorities have been celebrated as writers. But with the advent of nourishment strategies, literate writing gave way to a prose of recipes almost as idiosyncratic as recipes for the mass production of soap, or cookbooks for programming. Some gourmets complained. Food experts suggested that precision was as good for cooking as temperature gauges. The understanding of how close the act of cooking is to writing about it, or, in our days to the tele-reality of the kitchen, or to the new interactive gadgets loaded with recipes for the virtual reality cooking game, is often missing. When conditions for exercising fantasy in the kitchen are no longer available, fantasy deserts the food pages and moves into the scripts of the national gourmet video programs and computer games-or on Web sites. Moreover, when predetermined formulas for bouillons, salad dressings, cakes, and puddings replace the art of selecting and preparing, the writing disappears behind the information added according to regulation, as vitamins are added to milk and cereals. A super-cook defines what is appropriate, and the efficient formula turns our kitchens into private processing plants ensuring the most efficient result. What is gained is the possibility to assemble meals in combinations of nutritional modules and to integrate elements from all over the world without the risk of more than a new experience for our taste buds. From the industrial age, we inherited processing techniques guaranteeing uniformity of flavor and standards of hygiene. The price we pay for this is the pleasure, the adventure, the unique experience. Food writing is based on the assumptions of uniformity. In contrast, cooking shows started exploring the worlds of technological progress, in which you don't cook because you are hungry or need to feed your family. You do it for competitive reasons, in order to achieve recognition for mastering new utensils and learning the names of new ingredients. In the post-industrial, the challenge is to break into the territory of innovation and ascertain practical experiences of cooking, presentation, and eating, freed from literate constraints.

Coping with the right to affluence

Pragmatic frameworks are not chosen, like food from a menu or toppings from a list. Practical experiences of human self-constitution within a pragmatic framework are the concrete embodiments of belonging to such a pragmatics. A new pragmatic framework negates the previous one, but does not eliminate it. Although these points were made in earlier chapters, there is a specific reason for dealing with them again here. As opposed to other experiences, nourishment is bound to involve more elements of continuity than science or the military. As we have already seen, literacy-based forms of preparing and eating food exist parallel to illiterate nourishment. This is the reason why some peculiar forms of social redistribution of food need to be discussed.

From self-nourishment to being fed

Humanized eating and drinking come with moral values attached to them, foremost the rule of sharing. Pragmatic rules regarding cleanliness, waste, and variation in diet are also part of the experience of nourishment. These associated elements- values, expectations, rules-are rarely perceived as constituting an extension of the practical experience through which humanity distinguishes itself from sheer naturalness. Literacy appropriates the rules and expectations that acknowledge and support ideals and values. Once expressed in the literate text, however, they appear to be extraneous to the process. Changes in the condition of religion, civic education, family, and the legal code, as well as progress in biology, chemistry, and genetics, create the impression and expectation that we can attach to food whatever best suits the situation morally or practically. The self-control and self-denial of previous pragmatic contexts are abandoned for instant gratification.

In the competitive context of the new pragmatics that renders literacy useless, the sense of a right to affluence developed. Parallel to this, institutions, founded on literacy-based experiences, were set up to control equity and distribution. Against the background of high efficiency that the new pragmatics made possible, competition is replaced by controlled distribution, and the experience of self-nourishment is replaced by that of being fed. Absorbed by tax-supported social programs, the poor, as well as others who chose giving up responsibility for themselves, are freed from projecting their biological and cultural identity in the practical experience of taking care of their own needs. Thus part of the morality of eating and drinking is socialized, in the same manner that literacy is socialized. At the same time, people's illiteracy expands in the sphere of nourishment. Today, there are more people than ever who could not take care of themselves even if all the food in the world and all the appliances we know of were brought into their homes. Dependencies resulting from the new status of high efficiency and distribution of tasks free the human being in relative terms, while creating dependencies and expectations.

The problem is generally recognized in all advanced countries. But the answer cannot be so-called welfare reforms that result only in cutting benefits and tightening requirements. Such reforms are driven by short-sightedness and political opportunism. A different perspective is necessary, one that addresses motivation and the means for pursuing individual self-constitution as something other than the beneficiary of an inefficient system. The pragmatics that overrides the need for literacy is based on individual empowerment. As necessary as soup kitchens are under conditions of centralism and hierarchy, the dissemination of knowledge and skills that individuals need in order to be able to provide for themselves is much more important.

Run and feed the hungry

"Sponsorship for a charitable track event. Funds for Third World countries threatened by starvation sought. Register support through your donations." And on a nice sunny weekend, many kind-hearted individuals will run miles around a city or swim laps in a pool in order to raise funds for organizations such as CARE, Oxfam, Action Hunger, or Feed the World. Hunger in this world of plenty, even in the USA and other prosperous countries, derives from the same dynamics that results in the civilization of illiteracy. The scale of humankind requires levels of efficiency for which practical experiences of survival based on limited resources are ill suited. Entire populations are subjected to hunger and disease due to social and economic inequities, to weather conditions or topological changes, or to political upheaval in the area where they live. Short of addressing inequities, aid usually alleviates extreme situations. But it establishes dependencies instead of encouraging the best response to the situation through new agricultural practices, where applicable, or alternative modes of producing food.

Seduced by our life of plenty and by the dynamics of change, we could end up ignoring starving and diseased populations, or we could try to understand our part in the equation. Living in an integrated world and partaking in the pragmatics of a global economy, people become prisoners of the here and now, discarding the very disconcerting reality of millions living in misery. But it is exactly the pragmatic framework leading to the civilization of illiteracy that also leads to the enormous disparities in today's world. Many forces are at work, and the danger of falling prey to the slogans of failed ideology, while trying to understand misery and hunger in today's world, cannot be overestimated. Starvation in Africa, South America, in some East European countries, and in parts of Asia needs to be questioned in light of the abundance of food in Japan, West Europe, and North America. Both extremes correspond to changes in human self-constitution under expectations of efficiency critical to the current scale of humankind.

If human activity had not changed and broadened its base of resources, the entire world would be subject to what Ethiopians, Sudanese, Somalis, Bangladeshis, and many others are facing. Extreme climatic conditions, as well as decreasing fertility of the land due usually to bad farming practices, can be overcome by new farming methods, progress in agricultural technology, biogenetics, and chemistry. Spectacular changes have come about in what is considered the most traditional practice through which humans constitute their identity. The change affected ways of working, family relations, use of local resources, social and political life, and even population growth. It resulted in a new set of dependencies among communities that had afforded autarchic modes of existence for thousands of years. The environment, too, has been affected probably as much by scientific and technological progress as by the new farming methods that take full advantage of new fertilizers, insecticides, and genetic engineering of new plants and animals.

Motivated by literacy-based ideals, some countries took it upon themselves to see that people in less developed lands be redeemed through benefits they did not expect and for which they were not prepared. At the global levels of humankind, when the necessity of literacy declines, dependencies characteristic of literacy-based interactions collide with forces of integration and competition. What results is a painful compromise. Hunger is acknowledged and tended to by enormous bureaucracies: churches, charities, international aid organizations, and institutions more concerned with themselves than with the task at hand. They maintain dependencies that originated within the pragmatics of the civilization of literacy. The activities they carry out are inherently inefficient. Where the new dynamics is one of differentiation and segmentation, the main characteristics of these experiences are those of literacy: establishment of a universal model, the attempt to reach homogeneity, tireless effort to disseminate modes of existence and work of a sequential, analytic, rationalistic, and deterministic nature. Consequently, where nourishment from the excess attained elsewhere is dispensed, a way of life alien to those in need is projected upon them.

Aid, even to the extent that it is necessary, re-shapes biology, the environment, the connection among people, and each individual. Diseases never before experienced, behavioral and mental changes, and new reliances are generated, even in the name of the best intentions. In some areas affected by starvation, tribal conflicts, religious intolerance, and moral turpitude add to natural conditions not propitious to life. These man-made conditions cannot and should not veil the fact that human creativity and inventiveness are prevented from unfolding, replaced by ready-made solutions, instead of being stimulated. Empowerment means to facilitate developments that maintain distinctions and result from differences, instead of uniformity.

Would all the populations facing hunger and disease actually jump from the illiteracy of the past-a result of no school system or limited access to education, as well as of a pragmatics that did not lead to literacy-to the pragmatically determined illiteracy of the future? The pragmatic framework of our new age corresponds to the need to acknowledge differences and derive from heterogeneity new sources of creativity. Each ton of wheat or corn airlifted to save mothers and children is part of the missionary praxis commenced long ago when religious organizations wanted to save the soul of the so-called savage. The answer to hunger and disease cannot be only charity, but the effort to expand networks of reciprocally significant work. The only meaningful pragmatics derives from practical experiences that acknowledge differences instead of trying to erase them. Access to resources for more effective activities is fundamentally different from access to surplus or to bureaucratic mechanisms for redistribution.

Where literacy never became a reality, no organization should take it upon itself to impose it as the key to survival and well being. Our literacy-based medicine, nourishment, social life, and especially values are not the panacea for the world, no matter how proud we are of some, and how blind to their limitations. Human beings have sufficient means today to afford tending to differences instead of doing away with them. In this process, we might learn about that part of nourishment that was rationalized away in the process of reaching higher levels of efficiency. And we might find new resources in other environments and in the peculiar self-constitution of peoples we consider deprived-resources that we could integrate into our pragmatics.

No truffles (yet) in the coop

Our civilization of illiterate nourishment is based on networks and distributed assignments. The change from self-reliance to affluence corresponds, first and foremost, to the change of the pragmatic context within which the human condition is defined. We project a physical reality-our body-that has changed over time due to modifications in our environment, and the transition from practical experiences of survival to the experience of abundance. The room for invention and spontaneity expands the more we discover and apply rules that guarantee efficiency or limit those preventing it. There might be several dozens of sauces one can select from, and no fewer cereals for breakfast, many types of bread, meat, fish, and very many preprocessed menus. It would probably be an exaggeration to say that all taste alike. But it would not necessarily be false to ascertain that behind diversity there are a limited number of changing formulas, some better adapted to succeed in the marketplace than others, and some better packaged than others.

Yes, people are nostalgic. More precisely, people are subjected to the nostalgia- triggering stimuli of mass media: the attraction of the homemade, homestyle, Mom's secret recipe. This is not because the majority of us know what these icons of the past are, but rather because we associate them with what is no longer possible: reassurance, calm, tradition, protection, permanence, care. We also hear the voices of those who demystify the literate cooking of yesteryear: women spent their lifetime slaving in their kitchens. They did so, the argument goes, to satisfy males, only too happy to be taken care of. Both voices, those idealizing and those demystifying the past, should be heard: We enslaved part of nature and took it upon ourselves to annihilate animals or, worse, change their genetic structure. In order to satisfy our appetites, we sacrificed the environment. And, giving in to gluttony, we effectively changed our genetic constitution. The truth, if there is any above and beyond the cultural and economic conditions of cooking, is that transitions from one scale of humankind to another subjected practical experiences of self-constitution to fundamental modifications. Trying to understand some of the patterns of life and work, as well as patterns of access to food or of preparing it, requires that we understand when and why such changes take place.

Language stored not only recipes, but also expectations that became part of our nourishment. The culture of food preparation and serving, the art of discovering new recipes and enjoying what we eat and drink, is more than language can convey. Truffles, the food of kings and nobles, and more recently of those who can afford them, bear a whole history, obviously expressed in language. Whether seen as the spit of witches, a more or less magic aphrodisiac, or a miraculous life-prolonging food, truffles gain in status because our experience, reflected in the language pertinent to cooking, led us to regard them from a perspective different from those who first discovered, by accident, their nutritive value. It is in the tradition of orality that fathers whispered to their sons the secret of places where truffles could be found. Practical experiences involving writing, and later literacy, raised the degree of expectancy associated with their consumption. They affected the shift regarding the eating of truffles from the sphere of the natural (the pigs that used to find them, and liked them probably as much as the gourmets, had to be replaced by specially trained dogs) to the realm of the cultural, where the interests of human beings prevail over anything else. Through language processes paralleled by the semiosis of high gastronomy, truffles enter the market as sign-of a discriminating palate, of snobbery, or of actually knowing why truffles are good.

Language and food interact. This interaction involves other sign systems, too: images, sounds, movements, texture, odor, taste. Through the influence of language and these other sign systems, the preparation of food and the appropriate drinks becomes an art. In the age of illiteracy, the languages of genetics, biology, and medicine make us aware of what it takes to avoid malnutrition, what it takes to maintain health and prolong one's life. Literacy was reinforced in the convention of how people eat, what, when, and how satisfaction or disappointment was expressed. In our new nutritional behavior and in our new values, literacy plays a marginal role (including interaction at the dining table). The artificial truffle is free of the mystique of origin, of the method for finding truffles, of secret formulas (except the trade secret). It is one item among many, cheap, illusory, and broadly available, as democratic as artificial caviar or, as Rousseau would have put it, government by representation.

Identical in so many ways, the cafeterias that extend an industrial model in a post-industrial context feed millions of people based on a formula of standardization. Hierarchies are wiped away. This is no place for truffles. One gets his tray and follows those who arrived before. There is no predetermined sequence. All that remains is the act of selection and the execution of the transaction-an exercise in assemblage not far removed from composing your own pizza on a computer monitor. When the language of available nourishment is standardized to the extent that it is in these feeding environments-elegant coops stocked with shining metal coffee, tea, and soda dispensers, refrigerated containers of sandwiches, cake, fruit-the language of expectations will not be much richer. The increased efficiency made possible this way accounts for the wide acceptance of this mediocre, illiterate mode of nourishing ourselves.

We are what we eat

If we were to analyze the language associated with what, how, when, where, and why we eat, we would easily notice that this language is tightly connected to the language of our identification. We are what, how, why, when, and where we eat. This identification changed when agriculture started and families of languages ascertained themselves. It changed again when the pragmatic framework required writing, and so on until the identity of the literate person and the post-literate emerged from practical experiences characteristic of a new scale of human experiences. Today we are, for quite a broad range of our social life, an identification number of a sort, an address, and other information in a database (income, investment, wealth, debt history) that translates into what marketing models define as our individual expectations. Information brokers trade us whenever someone is interested in what we can do for him or her. Powerful networks of information processing can be used to precisely map each person to the shelf surface available in stores, to the menus of restaurants we visit on various occasions, and to the Internet sites of our journeys in cyberspace. Our indexical signs serve as indicators for various forms of filtering calories (how many do we really need?), fats (saturated or not), proteins, sugars, even the aesthetics of food presentation, in order to exactly match individual needs and desires. Scary or not, one can even imagine how we will get precisely what best suits our biological system, influenced by the intensity of the tennis game (virtual) we just finished, the TV program we watched for the last 30 seconds, or the work we are involved in. To make this happen is a task not so much different from receiving our customized newspaper or only the information we want through Pointscape, saving our monitors from excessive heat and saving us time from useless searches.

In the pragmatic framework where illiteracy replaces literacy, eating and drinking are freed from the deterministic chain of survival and reproduction. They are made part of a more encompassing practical experience. Each time we take a bite from a hot dog or sandwich, each time we enjoy ice cream, drink wine or beer or soda, take vitamins or add fiber to our diet, we participate in two processes: the first, of revising expectations, turning what used to be a necessity into luxury; the second, of continuous expansion of the global market present through what we eat and drink. Many transactions are embodied in our daily breakfast, business lunch, or TV dinner. With each bite and gulp (as with each other product consumed), we are incorporated into the dynamics of expanding the market. The so-called Florida orange juice contains frozen concentrate from Brazil. The fine Italian veal microwave dinner contains meat from Romania. The wildflower honey "Made in Germany" is from Hungarian or Polish beehives. Bread, butter, cheese, cold cuts, jams, and pasta could be marked with the flag of the United Nations if all the people involved in producing them were to be acknowledged. Meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables, not unlike everything else traded in the global market, make for an integrated world in which the most efficient survives in the competition for pleasing if not our taste, at least our propensity to buy.

The efficiency reached in the pragmatic framework of illiteracy allows people to maintain, within the plurality of languages, a plurality of dietary experiences, some probably as exotic as the literacy of ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Aramaic, or cuneiform writing. Even the recipes of the Roman Empire can be enjoyed in exclusive settings (as in Saint-Bernard-de-Comminges in the Pyrénées) or as haute, ready-made cuisine (the Comptesse du Barry food company offers wild boar in spicy sauce, stuffed duck in ginger, and sea trout with wild leeks). The Japanese have their sushi prepared from resuscitated fish flown, in a state of anabiosis (organic rhythm slowed through refrigeration), from wherever the beloved delicacies are still available.

The multiplicity of food-related experiences in our time is representative of segmentation and heterogeneity in the civilization of illiteracy. It is also an expression of the subtle interdependencies of the many aspects of human self-constitution. The democracy of nourishment and the mediocrity of food are not necessarily a curse. Neither are the extravagant performances of artist-cooks that fetch a price equivalent to the average annual salary of a generic citizen of this integrated world. Difference makes a difference. Feminism, multiculturalism, political activism (from right to left)-all use arguments related to how and what we eat, as part of the broader how and why we live, to advance their causes. If nothing else, the civilization of illiteracy makes possible choices, including those pertinent to nourishment, for which we are ill prepared. The real challenge is still ahead of us. And no one knows how it tastes.

The Professional Winner

The connections between sports and literacy are far from obvious. Watching sports events, as a spectator in the stadium, or in front of the television, does not require the literacy we associate with libraries, reading and writing, and school education. One does not need to read in order to see who is fastest, strongest, or jumps the farthest or highest, or throws or catches the best. And one does not really need to be literate in order to become a champion or to make it into a first-league team. Running, jumping, pushing, throwing, catching, and kicking are part of our physical repertory, related to our day-to-day existence, easy to associate with ways through which survival took place when scavenging, hunting, fishing, and foraging were the fundamental ways for primitive beings to feed themselves and to avoid being killed. Even the association of sports and with mytho-magical ceremonies implying physical performance is easy to explain without reference to language, oral or written. Exceptional physical characteristics were, and still are in some parts of the world, celebrated as expressions of forces beyond immediate control and understanding. Gods were worshipped through exceptional physical feats performed by people worshipping them. In archaic cultures, athletes could even be sacrificed on the altar of gratitude, where the best were destined to please the gods.

The initial phases of what was eventually called sport correspond to establishing those sign systems (gestures, sounds, shapes) which, in anticipation of language, made language possible and necessary. This was a phase of syncretism, during which the physical projection of the human being dominated the intellect. Running after an animal or from one, and running for play are different forms of human experience corresponding to different pragmatic contexts. They have different motivations and different outcomes. Probably 20,000 years separate these two experiences in time. In order to reach the level of generality and abstraction that a competition embodies, the human being had to undergo experiences of self-constitution within which the domination of physical over intellectual characteristics changed drastically. The qualifier sport-a word which seems to have ascended within the English language of the 19th century-probably came about in the framework of the division between secular and non-secular forms of human praxis. Both maintenance and improvement of the human biological endowment and mytho-magical practice were based on awareness of the role the body plays and the recognition of the practical need to disseminate this awareness. Efficiency was the governing aspect, not recognized as such, not conceptualized, but acknowledged in the cult of the body and the attempt to make it part of the shared culture. The contest (for which the Greeks used the words athlos) and the prize (athlon, which eventually led to the word athlete) embody generalizations of those practical situations through which survival and well-being came about.

As a complex experience, sports involves rational and irrational components. This is why approaching the relation between literacy and sports, one has to account for both dimensions. Sports is approached here from the perspective of the changes through which it became what it is today: a well defined form of relaxation, but probably more a competitive type of work acknowledged in the market like any other product of human practice.

The immediate connection between physical fitness and the outcome of practical experiences dominated by physical aspects was established within very limited, but strongly patterned, activity. It soon became the measure of survival success, and thus the rationality shared by the community experiencing the survival of the fittest is reflected in competition. Athletes competed in order to please gods; to conjure fertility, rain, or the extension of life; or to expel demons. The process is documented in a variety of petroglyphs (cave paintings, engravings on stone) and in carvings or etchings on animal horn and metal, as well as in the first written testimony, in which the role of the stronger, the faster, the more agile was evinced. Documents from all known cultures, regardless of their geographic coordinates, have in common the emphasis on the physical as it acquired a symbolic status.

To understand how some biological characteristics improved chances of survival means to understand the rationality of the body. Its embodiment in the culture of physical awareness facilitated practical experiences of human self-constitution that would result in sports professions. The irrational element has to do with the fact that although all males and all females are structurally the same, some individuals seem better endowed physically. As with many other aspects of the practical experience through which each person acknowledges his or her identity, what could not be clarified was placed in a domain of explanations where the rationality is lost. This is why expectations of rain, of longer life, of chasing away evil forces are associated with sports. The cult of the body, in particular of body parts, resulted from experiences leading to awareness of oneself. When the body, or parts of it, became a goal in itself, the rationality of physical fitness for survival is contradicted by the irrationality of fitness for reasons other than individual and communal well-being. Rituals, myths, religion, and politics appropriated the irrational component of physical activities. In ancient communities, in the context of a limited understanding of physical phenomena, attempts were made to infer from the immediate well-being of the body of competing athletes to the future well-being of the entire community.

When it comes to physical fitness in the context of survival of the fittest, can we suppose that a lone human being stands out, something like the lonely animals on their own until the time for pairing comes, competing with others, killing and being killed? Probably not. Scale defines the species as one that ascertains its self-constitution in cooperative efforts, no matter how primitive. Up to a certain scale, the only competition was for survival. It translated into food and offspring. Only after the agricultural phase, which corresponds to a level of efficiency of more food than immediately necessary, the element of competition shifts from survival to ascertainment. Competition and expectations of performance correspond to the period of incipient writing, and were progressively acknowledged as part of the dynamics of communal life. Every other change in the role of humankind brought with it expectations of physical fitness corresponding to expected levels of efficiency.

Sports and self-constitution

Gymnastics is an expression of the cult of the body parallel to that of art. In order to realize its dimensions, it needs to be seen from this broader perspective, not as a random set of exercises. It has a physical and a metaphysical dimension, the latter related to the obsession with ideal proportions that eventually were expressed in philosophic terms. There are plenty of explanations to be considered for both the origin of the practical experience of sports and the forms this experience took over centuries. Alluding to some explanations, though not in order to endorse them, will help to show how diversity of sports experiences resulted in diversity of interpretations.

The basic assumption of this entire book, human self-constitution in practical experiences, translates into the statement that sports is not a reflective but a constitutive experience. Indeed, through running, jumping, wrestling, or otherwise participating in some game, human beings project themselves according to physical characteristics and mental coordination that facilitate physical performance in the reality of their existence. This projection is a direct way of identifying oneself and thus of becoming part of an interacting group of people. The majority of researchers studying the origins of sports identify these in the experience of survival, thus placing them in the Darwinian evolutionist frame. When survival skills, maintenance, and reproduction skills become distinct and relatively autonomous, they follow recurrent patterns on whose basis social practice takes place and new ideas are formulated.

From the perspective of today's jogger, running might seem an individual experience, and to a great extent it is. But fundamentally, running as a practical experience takes place among people sharing the notion of physical exercise and attaching to it social, cultural, economic, and medical meaning. We create ourselves not only when we write poetry, tend land, or manufacture machines, but also when we are involved in athletic experiences. There is in sports, as there is in any other form of practical experience, a natural, a cultural (what we learn from others and create with others), and a social (what is known as communication) dimension. The sports experience appears to us as the result of the coordination of all these elements. For someone attending a sports event, this coordination can become an object of description: this much is due to training, this much to natural attributes, and this much to social implications (pride, patriotism). This is why sports events sometimes appear to the spectator as having a predetermined meaning, not one resulting from the dynamics of the interaction characteristic of this human experience. In the mytho-magical stage of human dynamics, in which the ability of the body was celebrated, the meaning seemed to drive the entire event more than it occurs today in a game of hockey or football. Due to the syncretic nature of such events, rituals addressed existence in its perceived totality. The specialized nature of games such as hockey or football leads these to address only one aspect of existence-the experience of the particular sport. A game can degenerate from being a competition structured by rules to a confrontation of nerves, violence, or national pride, or into sheer exhibitionism, disconnected from the drive for victory.

Although the physical basis for the practical experience of sports is the same- human beings as they evolved in time-in different cultures, different recurrent patterns and different meanings attached to them can be noticed. This statement does not align itself with explanations of sports given in Freudian tradition, Marxist theory, or in Huizinga's model of the human being as playful man (Homo Ludens). It takes into consideration the contextual nature of any form of human practice and looks at sports, as it does at any human experience, from the perspective of a constitutional, not representational, act; in short, from the pragmatic perspective. When Japanese players kick a ball in the game called kemari, the recurrent pattern of interaction is not the familiar football or soccer game, although each player constitutes his identity in the performance. When the Zen archer tenses his bow, the pattern, associated with the search for unity with the universe, is quite different from the pattern of archery in Africa or of the archery competition at the Olympic games of the past. The ball games of the Mayans relied on a mythology which was itself a projection of the human being in quest of explaining and finding an answer to what distinguishes the sun from the moon and how their influence affects patterns of human practice. It is probably easier to look at the recurrent patterns of interaction of more recent sports experiences not rooted in the symbolism of the ancient, such as baseball, aquatic dancing, or ice skating, to understand what aspect of the human being is projected and what kind of experience results for the participants (athletes, sports fans, public, media). The surprising reality is the diversity. People never exhaust their imagination in devising new and newer forms of competition involving their physical aptitude. No less surprising is the pursuit of a standard experience, modeled in rules for the competition. Some are intrinsic to the effort (the rules of the game), others to the appearance (expected clothing, for instance). Parallel to the standard experience, there is also a deviant practice of sports (nonstandard), in forms of individual rules, ad hoc conventions, private competition. The social level of sports and the private level are loosely connected. To become a professional means, among other things, to accept the rules as they apply in the standard experience, within organizations or acknowledged competition. The language professional is pretty much in a similar situation. Literacy serves as the medium for encoding the rules.

Language and physical performance

But the subject here is not the similarity between sports and language, but rather their interrelation. The obvious entry point is to notice that we use language to describe the practical experience of sport and to assign meaning to it. As obvious as this is, it is also misleading in the sense that it suggests that sports would not be possible without language-an idea implicit in the ideal of literacy. In ages when written language emerged, sporting events become part of social life. Visual representation (such as petroglyphs and the later hieroglyphics), while not exactly a statement about the awareness of exercise, contain enough elements to confirm that not only immediate, purposeful physical activity (running after a wild animal, for instance) and the exercise and maintenance of the physical were, at least indirectly, acknowledged. Testimony to the effect that at a certain moment in time the community started providing for the physically talented-in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaoh Beni Hasan the whole gamut of wrestling is documented in detail-helps us understand that labor division and increased efficiency are in a relation that goes far beyond cause and effect. The specialization, which probably started at that time, resulted not just from the availability of resources, but also from the willingness to allocate them in ways that make the sports experience possible because a certain necessity was acknowledged.

The pattern of kicking a ball in kemari and the pattern of language use in the same culture are not directly connected. Nevertheless, the game has a configurational nature: the aim is to maintain the ball in the air for as long as possible. Soccer, even football, are sequential: the aim is to score higher than the opposing team. In the first case, the field is marked by four different trees: willow, cherry, pine, and maple. In the second, it is marked by artificial boundaries outside of which the game rules become meaningless. The languages of the cultures in which such games appeared are characterized by different structures that correspond to very different practical experiences. The logic embodied in each language system affects, in turn, the logic of the sports experience. Kemari is not only non-predicative and configurational, but also infused by the principle of amé, in which things are seen as deeply interdependent. Soccer and football are analytical, games of planning, texts whose final point is the goal or the touchdown. No surprise then, that mentality, as a form of expressing the influence of practical experience in some patterned expectation, plays a role, too.

There are many extremely individualistic forms of competition, and others of collective effort. While in today's global market mentality plays a different role than in the past, it still affects sports in its non-standard form. These and other differences are relevant to understanding how different practical experiences constitute different instances of human objectification, sports being one of these. Even when the sports instance is disconnected from the experience that made it necessary, it is still affected by all the structural elements that define the pragmatic context. Indeed, while there is a permanency to sports-involvement of the human body-there is also a large degree of variation corresponding to successive pragmatic circumstances.

Sport is also a means of expression. During the action, it externalizes physical capabilities, but also intellectual qualities: self-control, coordination, planning. Initially, physical performance complemented rudimentary language. Afterwards the two took different paths, without actually ever separating entirely (as the Greek Olympics fully document). When language reached some of its relative limits, expression through sports substituted for it: not even the highest literate expression could capture the drama of competition, the tragedy of failure, or the sublimity of victory. But more interesting is what language extracted from the experience of sports. Language captured characteristics of the sports experience and generalized them. Through language, they were submitted, in a new form, to experiences very different from sports: sports for warfare, athletics for instilling a sense of order, competitions as circus for the masses. But primarily, people derived from sports the notion of competitiveness, accepted as a national characteristic, as well as a characteristic of education, of art, of the market.

Rationalized in language, the notion of competition introduces the experience of comparing, later of measuring, and thus opens the door to the bureaucracy of sports and the institutionalized aspects we today take for granted. Greeks cared for the winner. Time-keeping devices were applied to sports later, more precisely at the time when keeping records became relevant within the broader pragmatics of documentary ownership and inheritance. While playing does not require language, writing helped in establishing uniform rules that eventually defined games. The institution of playing, represented by organized competitions, is the result of the institution of literacy, and reflects pragmatic expectations pertinent to literacy.

In every sports experience, there is a romantic notion of nature and freedom, reminiscent of the experience of hunting, fishing, and foraging. But at the same time, sports experiences testify to changes in the condition of human beings as they relate to the natural environment, their natural condition, social environment, and the artificial world resulting from human practice. Target shooting, or, more recently, Nintendo-type aiming with laser beams, is at the other end of the gamut. The circumstances of human experience that made literacy necessary affected the status of the sports experience as well. The contest became a product with a particular status; the prize reflects the sign process through which competition is evaluated.

Allen Guttman distinguished several characteristics of modern sports: secularism, equality of opportunity, specialization of roles, rationalization, bureaucratic organization, quantification, and quest for records. What he failed to acknowledge is that such characteristics are not relevant unless considered in connection to the recurrent patterns of sports seen against the background of the general pragmatic framework. Once we make such connections, we notice that efficiency is more important than the so-called equality of opportunity, quantification, and bureaucratic organization. The quest for efficiency appropriate to the new scale of humankind is exactly what today affects literacy's degree of necessity.

The quest for efficiency in sports becomes evident when we compare the changes from the very sophisticated, indeed obscure, rules governing sports performances in ritualistic cultures (Indian, Chinese, Mayan, Apache) with the tendency to simplify these rules and make the sports experience as transparent as possible. When certain African tribes adopted the modern game of soccer, they placed it in the context of their rituals. The entire set of premises on which the game is based, and which pertain to a culture so different from that of the African tribes, was actually dismissed, and premises of a different nature were attached as a frame for the adopted game. Consequently, the Inyanga (witch-doctor) became responsible for the outcome; the team and supporters had to spend the night before the game together around a campfire; goats were sacrificed. In such instances, the ceremony, not the game, is the recurrent pattern; winning or losing is of secondary importance. Once such tribes entered literate civilization, the utilitarian aspect became dominant. If we take European soccer and extend it to the American game of football, we can understand how new patterns are established according to conditions of human practice of a different structural nature. This discussion cannot be limited to the symbolism of the two games, or of any other sport. The attached meaning corresponds to the interpreted practical experience and does not properly substitute for the recurrent patterns which actually constitute the experience as a projection of the humans involved.

What is of interest here is that literacy was a powerful instrument for structuring practical experiences, such as sports (among others), in the framework of a dynamics of interaction specific to industrial society. As the cradle of the industrial age, England is also the place where many sports and experiences associated with physical exercise started. But once the dynamics changed, some of the developments that the Industrial Revolution made necessary became obsolete. An example is national isolation. Literacy is an instrument of national distinction. By their nature, sports experiences are, or should be, above and beyond artificial national boundaries. Still, as past experiences show (the 1936 Olympics in Berlin was only the climax) and current experiences confirm (national obsession with medals in more recent Olympics), sports in the civilization of literacy, like many other practical experiences, is tainted by nationalism. Competition often degenerates into an adversarial relation and conflict. In the physical exercises of ancient Greece, China, or India, performance was not measured. The patterns were those of physical harmony, not of comparison; of aesthetics, not of functionality. In England, sports became an institution, and performance entered into the record books. Indeed, in England, the history of competitions was written to justify why sports were for the upper, educated classes, and should be kept for amateurs willing to enjoy victory as a reward.

Some games were invented in the environment of the civilization of literacy and meant to accomplish functions similar to those fulfilled by literacy. They changed as the conditions of the practice of literacy changed, and became more and more an expression of the new civilization of more languages of a limited domain. In the information age, where much of language is substituted by other means of expression, sports are an experience that results primarily in generating data. For someone attracted by the beauty of a tennis game, the speed of a serve is of secondary relevance. But after a while, one realizes that tennis has changed from its literate condition to a condition in which victory means obliteration of the game. A very strong and fast serve transforms the game into a ledger of hits and misses. Quite similar is the dynamics of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, all generators of statistics in which the experts find more enjoyment than from the actual event. The dynamics of changes in the nature and purpose of sports is related to what makes the sports experience today another instance in the process of diversification of languages and the demotion of the necessity of literacy.

The illiterate champion

The dynamics of the change from the sports experience embodying the ideal of a harmoniously developed human being to that of high performance is basically the same as the dynamics of change behind any other form of human projection. Structurally, it consists of the transition from direct forms of interaction with the outside world to more and more mediated interrelations. Chasing an animal that will eventually be caught and eaten is a performance directly related to survival. In addition to the physical aspect, there are other elements that intervene in the relation hunter-hunted: how to mask the presence of one's odor from the prey; how to attract game (through noise or lure); how to minimize energy expended to succeed (where to hit the prey, and when). Ritual, magic, and superstition were added, but did not always enhance the outcome.

Running for the maintenance and improvement of physical qualities is immediate, but still less direct in relation to the outcome than in hunting. The activity displays an understanding of connections: What do muscle tone, heartbeat, resilience, and volition have to do with our life and work, with our health? It also testifies to our efforts to preserve a certain sense of time and space (lost in the artificial environments of our homes or workplaces) and projects sheer physical existence. Running for pleasure, as we suppose animals do when young and enjoying security (think about puppies!) is different from running with a purpose such as hunting an animal, catching someone (friend or foe), running after a ball, or against a record. Running for survival is not a specialized experience; running in a war game implies some specialization; becoming the world champion in field and track is a specialized effort for whose outcome many people work. In the first case, the reason is immediate; in the second, less direct; in the third, mediated in several ways: the notion of running to compete, the distance accepted by all involved (athletes, spectators, organizations), the value attached, the meaning assigned, the means used in training and diet, the running costume. Before specialization, which is exclusive commitment to a particular practical experience, socially acknowledged selection took place. Not everybody had the physical and mental qualities appropriate to high sports performance. In the background, the market continuously evaluates what becomes, to variable degrees, a marketable product: the champion. In the process, the human being undergoes alienation, sometimes evinced through pain, other times ignored-books never read don't hurt. People tend to remember the festive moments in a champion's life, forgetting what leads to victory: hard work, difficult choices, numerous sacrifices, and the hardship inflicted on the bodies and minds engaged in the effort of extracting the maximum from the athlete.

How literate should an athlete be? The question is not different from how literate a worker, farmer, engineer, ballerina, or scientist should be. Sports and literacy used to be tightly associated in a given context. The entire collegiate sports world (whose origin in 19th century Britain was already alluded to) embodies this ideal. Mens sana in corpore sano-a healthy mind in a healthy body-was understood along the line of the practical experience involving literacy as a rule for achieving high efficiency in sports. Some forms of sport are a projection from language and literacy to the physical experience. Tennis is one example, and possibly the best known. Such forms of sport were designed by literates and disseminated through the channels of literacy. Collegiate sports is their collective name. But once the necessity of literacy itself became less stringent, such sports started emancipating themselves from the confinements of language and developed their own languages. When winning became the aim, efficiency in specific sports terms became paramount and started being measured and recorded.

Literates are not necessarily the most efficient in sports where physical prowess or quick scoring are needed to win: football, basketball, or baseball, as compared to long-distance running, swimming, or even the exotic sport of archery. This statement might seem tainted by stereotype or prejudice to which one falls prey when generalizing from a distorted past practical experience (affected by all kinds of rules, including those of sex and race discrimination). What is discussed here is not the stereotypical illiterate athlete, or the no less stereotypical aristocrat handling Latin and his horse with the same elegance, but the environment of sports in general. People involved in the practical experience of sports are sometimes seen as exceptionally endowed physically, and less so intellectually. This does not have to be so; there is really nothing inherent in sports that would result in the intellect-physique dichotomy, one to the detriment of the other. Examples of athletes who also achieved a high level of intellectual development can be given: Dr. Roger Bannister, the runner who broke the four-minute mile barrier; William Bradley, the former basketball player who became a United States senator; Michael Reed, once defense lineman who is now a concert pianist; Jerry Lucas, now a writer; Michael Lenice, a wide receiver who became a Rhodes Scholar. They are, nevertheless, the exception, not because one kind of experience is counterproductive to the other, but because the expectations of efficiency make it very difficult for one and the same person to perform at comparable levels as athletes and as intellectuals. Specialization in sports, no less than in any human activity, requires a focus of energy and talent. Choices, too, come with a price tag.

While literacy does not result in higher performance in sports, a limited notion of sports literacy, i.e., control of the language of sports, allows for improved performance. It is relevant to analyze how today's sports experience requires the specialized language and the understanding of what makes higher performance, and thus higher efficiency, possible. Once sport is understood as a practical experience of human self- constitution, we can examine the type of knowledge and skill needed to reach the highest efficiency. Knowledge of the human body, nutrition, physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology is important. Information focused on reaching high performance has been accumulated for each form of physical exercise. As a result of the experience itself, as well as through import of pertinent knowledge from other domains of human activity, expertise becomes more and more focused. In some ways, the commonalty of the experience diminished while the specific aspect increased.

For instance, on the basketball court, as we see it in various neighborhoods, playing is the major goal. Rules are loosely respected; players exert themselves for the pleasure of the effort. One meets others, establishes friendships, finds a useful way of getting physical exercise. On the professional basketball team, various experts coordinated by a coach make possible an experience of efficiency predictable to a great extent, programmable within limits, original to some measure. The effort to coordinate is facilitated through natural language; but the expectation of efficiency in achieving a goal-winning the game-extends beyond the experience constituted in and communicated through language. Games are minutely diagrammed; the adversary's plays are analyzed from videotapes; new tactics are conceived, and new strategies followed. In the end, the language of the game itself becomes the medium for the new game objectives. In the last 30 seconds of a very tight game, each step is calculated, each pass evaluated, each fault (and the corresponding time) pre-programmed.

Technology mediates and supports sports performance in ways few would imagine when watching a volleyball team in action or a runner reaching the finish line. There are ways, not at all requiring the tools of literacy. To capture recurrent patterns characteristic of high efficiency performance and to emulate or improve them, adapt them to the type of sportsperson prepared for a certain contest, becomes part of the broader experience. Indeed, boundaries are often broken, rules are bent, and victories are achieved through means which do not exactly preserve the noble ideal of equal opportunity or of fairness.

Sports experiences were always at the borderline. A broken rule became the new rule. Extraneous elements (mystical, superstitious, medical, technological, psychological) were brought into the effort to maximize sports performance. The entire story of drugs and steroids used to enhance athletic prowess has to be seen from the same perspective of efficiency against the background of generalized illiteracy. The languages of stimuli, strategies, and technology are related, even if some appear less immoral or less dangerous. As drugs become more sophisticated, it is very difficult to assess which new record is the result of pure sports and which of biochemistry. And it is indeed sad to see sportsmen and sportswomen policed in their private functions in order to determine how much effort, how much talent, or how much steroid is embodied in a performance.

Stories of deception practiced within the former totalitarian states of Europe might scare through gruesome detail. People risked their lives for the illusion of victory and the privileges associated with it. But after the ideological level is removed, we face the illiterate attitude of means and methods intended to extract the maximum from the human being, even at the price of destroying the person. Whether a state encourages and supports these means, or a free market makes them available, is a question of responsibility in the final analysis. Facts remain facts, and as facts they testify to the commercial democracy in which one has access to means that bring victory and reward, just as they bring the desired cars, clothes, houses, alcohol, food, or art collections. Among