Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tales of typographic oceans

One of my favorite concepts in the book the Barking Spider mentioned before is the utter opacity of knowledge once it is unmoored from its context - through much of the book, there are few clues to the meaning of any of the formulae, prescriptions, circuit diagrams, or half the languages. Something as simple to us as a2 + b2 = c2 is indecipherable. Everything is rediscovery.

I had a similar moment the other night driving home. I'm doubtful they even had advertising in the ancient world; what sort of fevered dreamers churn out such imagery in the service of commerce? With no cultural connection, much of it is gibberish even to someone of our own time coming across from a different country. I saw a sign that said "Wi-Fi Here"; above it were the familiar golden twin-arches, circled to resemble the familiar "@" we use nearly every day for business or home affairs.

In a thousand years, it's possible that every single current country on the Earth will be gone, and almost certainly, every one of the businesses will be long forgotten. Even barring a major cataclysm, how will they even know what wi-fi was? Kids today barely know what an 8-track was, much less a 45 or a Victrola. Will the coffeehouse web-surfing paradigm last? Will something utterly supercede the web, make the very idea seem quaint? If records endure, will the culture remain recognizable?

Bonn - Greetings, cousin!
Gimm - What have you there, cousin?
Bonn - It says, "Wi-fi here."
Gimm - Yes, but what is wi-fi? I've heard of hi-fi and sci-fi.
Bonn - Hm. I suppose it could be a kind of entertainment, then.
Gimm - So if hi-fi is musical, and sci-fi is visual...
Bonn - I think that it must have been aromatic. This was found in a building with a large quantity of food, too much for any one family - and a large board which Cousin Fritt thinks must have named each item.
Gimm - Hm.
Bonn - My guess, as strange as it seems, is that the ancients vied for the right to smell things.
Gimm - What happened to the food, then?
Bonn - We're not sure. Its low nutritional value would suggest that it couldn't be eaten regularly, or in such amounts. Perhaps a ritual sacrifice of some kind, cousin.

Gimm - And this? The (m)?
Bonn - It's very similar to the "at" sign.
Gimm - You mean, "amount."
Bonn - Now, cousin, let's be friends on this.
Gimm - What else could it mean, cousin?
Bonn - Well... it could mean "AT."
Gimm - But what of a scrap of paper like this? "Bananas @ 39¢/lb." Shouldn't it mean that a particular item has a value of 39 units per loub?
Bonn - We don't even know what the loub was, nor what it measured.
Gimm - True, cousin - but "Bananas AT"? Why would "39¢/lb" be a location?
Bonn - Why would "39¢/lb" be an amount?
Gimm - Hm... Perhaps it's neither. "Bananas" may not be a product, but a clan name; therefore, 39 of something identified by the "¢" is available for one loub (whatever that was) - but only for them.
Bonn - The ancients were big into clan grievances. Maybe Clan Bananas was held under sway unfairly.
Gimm - It would explain why "Apples" could get 99 of the same item for the same loub.
Bonn - Cousin Fritt is the expert in Differential Currency. We should ask him.
Gimm - True, cousin. Why don't we email him?

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