©01 The Media Desk
Or maybe something offbeat? Velcro or plastic soft drink bottles?
Nope. None of the above.
The Desk has been thinking about this for some time. And trying to talk itself out of sticking with its first answer to that question. Which it couldn't do...
The cave is dark, dank, a gentle breeze blows chillingly from further back and down in the even darker bowels of the Earth. A man clad in a rough-hewn animal skin dips his finger into a slimy mixture of plant sap and red clay. His associate holds the flickering torch made of leaves and animal fat closer to the wall. The first man draws a line figure on the wall, then he makes the outline of a large deer. His grandmother nods at the figures, they will do. She invokes the secret powers to help her clan in the hunt tomorrow morning. The man draws an outline of his spear throwing hand on the wall as she mutters to the powers.
Those hand marks and stickmen are still with us. Many millennia later. Their power long gone, and indeed, their special meaning long forgotten. They are still there for us. Similar lines drawn in sand or on the ground have long since vanished. Indeed, they may not have lasted out the day they were drawn. The marks don't have to survive for a thousand years, but must last longer than the next high tide.
The words spoken by the Grandmother in the cave floated away on the breeze. Just as words said by Solomon, Napoleon, Lincoln, and Howard Cosell vanished into the ether unless... Unless. Somebody nearby wrote them down.
The image of a hunted deer, or a proverb, or an order for battle, or the Gettysburg Address, or in interview with the Boxing Champion. They all had meaning to those that wrote them down, and to those that read them. They were an idea, an order, the Wisdom of the Ages, or a series of empty boasts. No matter what they were, the words written down communicated something from one person to another.
Permanent Written Communication.
The conveyance of a meaningful statement through time over distance.
The handprints on the cave wall haven't moved, unless you count Continental Drift. But the vast count of years renders that argument worthless.
The statements by Solomon rendered out as The Proverbs have journeyed around the world and into Space and are now on the Internet. Nobody that questions Lincoln's ability to get his ideas across are really taken seriously. Howard Cosell is still with us in his books and articles, whatever you may think of him or his ideas. Napoleon's letters to Josephine are still a source of amusement if nothing else, "Don't wash, I'm coming home."
If it had not been for this invention, none of the others listed above could have ever been. Man would never have moved out of that cave with the handprints on the wall.
The written communications being considered do not have to be letters and numbers. Hieroglyphs or geometric shapes. As long and the writer and the reader understand what is meant. It could be everything from a sophisticated chemical formula to a weather forecast based on the analysis of a goat's liver.
Ages ago, written communication was integral to advanced civilizations. In Ur and Egypt, they wrote out packing lists of trade goods. Religious orders for the priests. Records of the census and taxes owed and paid. And they survive to this day. It gave them an advantage over less literate neighbors.
And so it continues today. Except today instead of clay tablets, or even parchment or paper, we can use electronic words flashed as bits of light on a screen. But we can print them out. Or even engrave an image... say, a couple of hundred feet high on the side of Stone Mountain in Atlanta. But the words, numbers, figures, IDEAS, can be there for more than a couple of hours. They can travel through time, over distance. Indeed. Into space as a message to the future or other worlds.
The Public Schools are deemed a failure because of the student's scores in the basic skill of reading and writing. One of the standard tests is to have the student write a paragraph that effectively conveys a central idea. And a disturbing number of them can't do it.
Jurg is a hunter. Jurg is hunting deer. Jurg has a mighty spear throwing arm. Jurg will kill a deer so his grandmother can eat tonight.
The man crouching in the cave could get his point across. Solomon certainly could, same with Napoleon. Some would wonder about Howard Cosell. And Lincoln?
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." Abraham Lincoln
Second Inaugural Address. March 4, 1865
So there it is.
The greatest invention...The pinball machine.
The Desk is willing to entertain other ideas, and you may submit them via the guestbook. Which means you will have to write them down. Or rather, type them in, and send them to the Desk.