By now if you haven’t watched British journalist @carolecadwalla ’s TED Talk, then stop everything now. Cadwalla, in case you need reminding is The Guardian/ Observer journalist whom exposed the work of Cambridge Analytica and their malpractices. This week she’s also been shortlisted as a finalist, working with the NYT, for a Pulitzer.
Here’s part of her TED segment below. The platformers of the digital era have, to put it lightly, she says, become accomplices towards the destruction of democracy.
Now, to a theory. This texts below comes from a book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain. An extraordinary book that charts the demise of women as deities and how words and the alphabet were the cause.
Have a quick read through and then in the same text, I’ve altered a few words.
Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture few are as revered at literacy. Its benefits have been so incontestable that in five millennia, since the advent of the written word numerous poets and writers have extolled its virtues. Few paused to consider its cost. Sophocles once warmed “nothing vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse”. The invention of writing was vast; this book would investigate the curse.
There exist ample evidence that any society acquiring the written word experiences explosive changes. For the most part, these changes can be characterised as progress. But one pernicious effect of literacy has gone largely unnoticed; writing subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook. Writing of any kind, but especially its alphabetic form diminishes feminine values and with them, women's power in the culture.
Now substitute a few words to this.
Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture few are as revered l̶i̶t̶e̶r̶a̶c̶y̶ Tech. Its benefits have been so incontestable that in f̵i̵v̵e̵ ̵m̵i̵l̵l̵e̵n̵n̵i̵a̵ a decade since the a̶d̶v̶e̶n̶t̶ breakout of the w̵r̵i̵t̵t̵e̵n̵ ̵w̵o̵r̵d̵ code numerous poets and writers have extolled its virtues. Few paused to consider its cost. Sophocles once warmed “nothing vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse”. The invention of w̵r̵i̵t̵i̵n̵g̵ tech platforms was vast; this book would investigate the curse.
There exist ample evidence that any society acquiring t̵h̵e̵ ̵w̵r̵i̵t̵t̵e̵n̵ ̵w̵o̵r̵d̵ ̵ tech platform experiences explosive changes. For the most part, these changes can be characterised as progress. But one pernicious effect of l̵i̵t̵e̵r̵a̵c̵y̵ tech has gone largely unnoticed; w̵r̵i̵t̵i̵n̵g̵ tech platforms subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook. W̵r̵i̵t̵i̵n̵g̵ Tech platforms of any kind, but especially its a̵l̵p̵h̵a̵b̵e̵t̵i̵c̵ form diminishes feminine and humanities values and with them, women’s and democracies power in the culture.
Leonard Shlain, who sadly has passed away, would probably make the point, that what’s happening in tech, we’ve been here before. History then was not kind; he writes that the introduction of the written word and in particularly the alphabet resulted in the violent desecration and overturn of women as deities and peace-givers to a masculine society which promulgated wars, which at the height of the renaissance burnt women alive.
As humans we’ve been able to create a new equilibrium of intolerance which democracy has been able, until now, hold in check.
Shlain’s book, a best seller charts the demise of matriarchy through the conflict between images and word. It’s worth a read for igniting new ideas as history wags its tail. By the end of the 400 page book, there is some solace; how it refers to now is a different matter.
Shlain saw hope in the return of images as a dominant form of communication. We see that through Instagram, twitter, the onus on video etc, but the rise in tech platforms and the message coming from @carolecadwalla raises new questions. History again in another 10 years plus may have to provide us with concrete answers.