The class discussion on Tuesday was another reminder of how important the written word can be in the overall intelligence of a culture. That is not to say that the people of Lascaux caves did not have the same capacity for intelligence that we have today, but without a written language the spread of ideas can only travel on a person to person basis whereas the same idea written on a piece of parchment can travel with thousands of other ideas across country borders; much faster than an idea will reach outside the town borders by word of mouth alone. The written word can not only travel faster than word of mouth but the creation of a written language can help pool intelligence on a large scale. The convenience of stockpiling knowledge begins to allow a culture to protect its knowledge from disappearing. Without a written language, knowledge is safeguarded only by the people who had learned it, but these people can easily be lost; especially in the dark ages when disease and wars could easily thin the population of a village. The Timaeus makes this idea clear in its story of Atlantis. The written language not only spreads ideas and protects them through the test of time, but a written language provides a higher degree of accuracy that word of mouth can never duplicate on a large scale.
These benefits of the written language see a large boom with the invention of the printing press. The importance of the written language is highlighted by this invention of the printing press as it can nearly be accredited with the advent of the Scientific Revolution during the Enlightenment. The spread of secular knowledge was not the only benefit of the written word enhanced by the efficiency of the printing press but it also allowed the spread of ideas of famous church dissenters such as Wycliffe whose writings may have only been in small circulation at the time.
The spread of dissenting ideas from the church was an important contribution of the printing press, especially to the arrival of the Reformation. The written word had given a large amount of power to those who could direct what was written and what was censored from common knowledge. The arrival of the printing press allowed for the inundation of dissenting ideas in an amount that the church could no longer control what was being set in writing.
The written word was a revolutionary change but for me the most important was its contribution was the spread of ideas that allowed more and more commoners to become knowledgeable; which was a luxury usually afforded to those who would chose a profession dedicated to this pursuit of knowledge.