The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing



I’m not sure if this really satisfies the requirements.  It’s not a definition but it is about text, sort of…

I was at an art gallery recently to look at the preview of a show that was about to open.  The pieces were by Canadian artist David Blackwood.  The gallery was pretty well empty that day except for the artist who was there to see how the show looked.  We ended up having a long conversation, part of which involved this painting of flags.  You can’t see it in this image but the flags all have letters of the alphabet underneath them.  He told me how these flags would have been the main form of communication on the sailing ships.  The idea was that during a battle there would be so much smoke at deck level that they would use the flags so they could be seen above the smoke.  Apparently every captain would have someone standing next to him who would take messages and then run the message to the flag person, who would then hoist up the message.  He gave the image of the man on Nelson’s ship running up the message, ‘England…expects…that…every…man…’. etc.  This started me thinking along two lines.  The first was how they were using text but re-invented the look of the text.  Instead of letters being represented by lines and squiggles, now it was done with pictures, and a series of pictures could spell a word that someone else could easily understand.  Which I guess means that any group can invent their own text.  Which brings up my second thought.  It seems like it would be a long long process to send a message that spelled words out with flags, so I wondered if maybe there was a recognised  form of shorthand, and maybe the changes that are being made with text today, now that it’s become a verb, ‘texting’, in fact go back a long way.  It would delight me to think that the flag person on Nelson’s ship was putting up a message along the lines of, ‘CU L8TR’.


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