I recently attended an annual speaker series, the Walrus Talks, held by Canada's Walrus Magazine in Calgary. The evening's topic was "the future" and one of the speakers talked about mobile technology and social media. He made the connection between the current fire hose of social media content that many of us find overwhelming ... to the chanting of monks reading texts aloud in the Middle Ages, because "the spaces between words" hadn't been invented yet and people couldn't understand the written content unless it was read aloud.
Drawing from the book, Space Between Words, by Paul Saenger, the invention of writing with spaces between distinct words (attributed to Irish scribes in the seventh and eigth centries) was a revolution that overcame the legacy of oral tradition and societal class distinctions to eventually bring reading to the masses.
"Why was word separation so long in coming? The author finds the answer in ancient reading habits with their oral basis, and in the social context where reading and writing took place. The ancient world had no desire to make reading easier and swifter. For various reasons, what modern readers view as advantages—retrieval of reference information, increased ability to read “difficult” texts, greater diffusion of literacy—were not seen as advantages in the ancient world. The notion that a larger portion of the population should be autonomous and self-motivated readers was entirely foreign to the ancient world’s elitist mentality." (Stanford University Press)
The Walrus Talks speaker's questions: What will the invention of "spaces" for social media look like? What will calm the growing stream of social media chatter and make the content more useful for the masses? Is Twitter just a new form of monks' chatter?