It’s a fascinating question. Over at Charles Stross’ blog, he responds to a reader question: What would a technological society look like without written language? And could such a thing even happen?
Stross’ answer: probably not. After a certain point, a lot of things that we think of as necessary for an advanced technological civilization would require writing. Including laws, economic systems, and just the storage of large amounts of technical knowledge. (Although imagine if there was a species whose memory and lifespan were good enough that you could explain a machine to a member of that species, and they’d keep the knowledge alive, single-handed, for thousands of years.) Assuming the constraints of human minds, Stross says, we’d be lucky to reach a renaissance level of tech and mathematics without writing.
There is one possible out, however: If this hypothetical illiterate society was able to develop sound-recording technology (like wax cylinders) it might be able to store a lot of information without the written word.
The whole discussion is well worth checking out. [Charlie’s Diary]
Top image: Batman Adventures #5, art by Ty Templeton.