The Three Codes that Transformed Humanity

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#1 – SPEECH CODE – In the Beginning Was the Word

Try to imagine being a human being that has never experienced a word.

You can’t. The kind of ‘you’ you are can’t exist in a mind without words.

For us as a species and for each of us individually, in the beginning was the word.

Yet, for most of the evolutionary timescape we think of as ‘becoming human’, there were no words. Can you imagine the differences between a tribe of word users and a tribe that couldn’t use words? Imagine the differences in their capacities for social communication, negotiation, coordination, organization, and in terms of the new learning challenges and opportunities such capacities make possible. Becoming word users was the evolutionary tipping point most singularly responsible for modern humans.

#2 – WRITING CODE  – The Word Made Flesh

Try to imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which writing doesn’t exist. 

Can you imagine who you’d be, what your life would be like, if you lived in a world where writing and all it makes possible never existed? Not just being illiterate in a literate world, having a mind and living in a world where writing has never even existed?

You can’t. The kind of ‘you’ you are is abstractly self-reflexive in ways that didn’t exist when words disappeared with breath, before writing atomized words into phonemes and encoded the phonemes with discrete visual elements. Writing conventionalized, encoded, preserved, categorized, organized, and virtualized our relationship with words. Undoubtedly the most powerful invention in the history of history, writing made possible ways of coordinating, collaborating, and learning (individually and together) across distances (actual and virtual) and times (historic and into the future) that were inconceivable in a spoken word only world. Becoming code users was the (collective learning) tipping point most singularly responsible for civilization as we know it.

We are all children of the code.

#3 – DIGITAL CODE  – Artificial Mentality and Virtual and Augmented Reality 

Becoming word-users enabled a radical expansion in our capacity for learning. Becoming code-users was the next big step. Today, we are entering a new era of change so off-scale immense that it’s only comparable to the the kinds of changes that followed becoming word and code users.

Humans with words coexisted with humans without words for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years (before only humans with words remained). The alphabet was used for almost 3000 years before mass literacy began to emerge. The digital age and the change it represents is only a few decades old. Can you imagine your great-grandchildren trying to imagine life before the internet, tablets, and smart phones and what they will have evolved into by their time?

“We can no longer assume that what we think children should learn
is more important than how well they can learn.”

If we change how we think about learning we change everything.

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2 Responses to The Three Codes that Transformed Humanity

  1. Delpha Powell October 12, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    ‘The Alphabet’s Big Bang’ video brought me to tears.

    Working as an instructional assistant in a public elementary school, I cannot begin to describe how heart wrenching it is to watch children spend so much of their early lives indoors in chaos, trying to determine a code for the work they are expected to perform. The school keeps them for six hours each day for about 180 days and yet, in that seemingly enormous amount of time, the system is unable to help these precious, eager, wonderful children learn the code.

    I feel helpless to change what I call THE EDUCATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, but I thank you for the work you are doing, may it be blessed always.


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