Chapter 1,Part 1

The word or the symbol? Which came first, the grunt or the scratching?

Doesn’t matter. The origin of language is lost in shrouds and mists of time … but we know it happened … and spread. In Asia, symbols joined the spoken words to create written forms … in the West, the symbols became alphabets. The twain sort of morphed together. Sort of. The Biblical conceit of Babel satirically portrayed the process of language development disguised as punishment from a God to prevent too much communication.

That’s something every government has learned … that is, communication not from and of the government confuses folks … nothing but another way of thinking about something.

And the answer to the opening question is: both.

As more people arrived on the planet, there was more need to organize them. First came the family … which promptly extended and became the tribe. Whether nomadic or squatters, someone had to organize the folks in order to maximize the chance of survival.

And, now, you’re asking yourself, “What’s that got to do with media?”

Well, that’s how media was created … it had to start somewhere.

At first, the original media was nothing more than language itself … and the interpersonal communications of the extended family. Orders. Instructions. Teaching. Surviving. Stories. Songs.

Bear with me … what do you think modern media represents? With the 4th “C”, constant connectivity is really just enhanced ubiquitous communications.

The family grew … and became a tribe. And then a big tribe. And then an even bigger tribe. Maybe even one extended tribe settled in more than one place. Still, in most but not all families/tribes, it was patriarchal. But one person more or less ruled. So, how to communicate with everyone that needed to know?

More than one thing happened here. Creation myths and other stories -- especially survival stories -- crucial to a certain people began to grow from verbally-transmitted stories into semi-permanent records as language moved from verbal to written … something that may have begun with making records signifying “how many” of one thing or another transferred from one person to another … the origination of commerce.

Those “how many” incidents grew from knots on ropes or twine (in Egypt, counting grain) to scratch marks on bark (in Russia, notes from fathers to sons) to today’s spreadsheets.

So some things were -- so to speak -- written. But very few people were literate. (Maybe that’s how priests were “created”?) And then there were religious leaders. Two sometimes copacetic power points -- shaman and ruler -- and sometimes they, and their courts, were competitors. Sometimes not.

OK, what’s that got to do with media today? Well, media (communications one-to-one or one-to-many or even many-to-one) develops to enhance societal mores. Let’s see how that’s developed throughout history.

Next up: Chapter 1; Part 2 … the rise of cities (walled and not) and the Town Crier.

In an almost 50-year career writing and reporting on media, Paul S. Maxwell started and/or ran some 45-plus publications ranging from CATV Newsweekly to Colorado Magazine to CableVision to Multichannel News to CableFAX and The BRIDGE Suite of daily newsletters and research publications. In between publishing stints, Maxwell served as an advisor and/or consultant to a number of major media companies and media start-ups including running a unit of MCI and managing a partnership of TCI and McGraw-Hill. Send any and all criticisms, suggestions, rants, threats, corrections, etc. to him at: cablemax@mac.com. New Web site coming soon!

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