From Writing to Computers

From Writing to Computers

From Writing to Computers

From Writing to Computers


From Writing to Computers takes as its central theme the issue of a unifying intellectual principle to connect books and computers. Julian Warner uses an approach based on semiotics, but also draws on linguistics, information science, cognitive science, philosophy and automata studies. Covering a range of topics--from the relations between speech and writing, to transitions from orality to literacy and claims for a transition to an information society--the author aims throughout to render complex ideas intelligible without loss of rigor. This text addresses ordinary readers who, as social beings and members of political communities, are affected by significant developments in methods for storing, manipulating and communicating information. It is also intended for students of the disciplines on which the draws: semiotics, information studies, linguistics, computer science, philosophy and psychology.


Various collocations of symbols become familiar as representing important collocations of ideas; and in turn the possible relations—according to the rules of the symbolism—between these collocations of symbols become familiar, and these further collocations represent still more complicated relations between the abstract ideas. and thus the mind is finally led to construct trains of reasoning in regions of thought in which the imagination would be entirely unable to sustain itself without symbolic help.

(Whitehead and Russell 1913:2)

Signs of divided consciousness with regard to documents and computers are apparent. For instance, the United Kingdom Data Protection Act 1984 gave British subjects some rights of access to computer-held information on themselves but not to paper records (Data Protection Act 1984). Some commentators expressed disquiet at this division in rights of access to significant information. a full and persuasive expression of concern was made by D.F. McKenzie in the 1985 Panizzi lectures: ‘one might feel that some central, unifying concept of “the text” had broken down’. Panizzi, the nineteenth-century librarian who transformed the British Museum Library into an institution of national, and international, significance partly by his insistence on the full collection of documents published within the political regions governed by the United Kingdom, would have been disturbed at this loss of unity and would not

Have simply accepted computing as just another technological aid, one more efficient than others for doing certain jobs… [but] would have asked: on what unifying, intellectual principle, does it relate to books?

(McKenzie 1986:42-3)

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