Writing: one of the original lofty ideas

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Wachtell proposes that long-form texts are responsible for the dissemination of ideas. "Life on earth would be severely diminished without the well-thought-out, well-researched, written works that communicate expertise, insight, and creative ideas from one human being to another." Books, especially after the invention of the printing press, documented and spread these ideas. This allowed for others to build off an idea and then enhance and further develop the idea. And, long-form texts convey these ideas.

Of the examples of long-form texts (in book form) that Wachtell mentions, I was quite struck that she included Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Granted, it's the only one I've read in her list of research-intensive long-form texts. So after finishing this article, I pulled Guns, Germs, and Steel off my bookshelf and paged through the index to try to find where Diamond mentions ideas and how they've been spread. (Oh, if only I had a digital copy and could have used a search function to find this information.) The index did come through in helping me locate the example I was looking for, an example that supports the importance of long-form texts/ideas.

With the possible exceptions of the Egyptian, Chinese, and Easter Island writing..., all other writing systems devised anywhere in the world, at any time, appear to have been descendants of systems modified from or at least inspired by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing. One reason why there were so few independent origins of writing is the great difficulty of inventing it.... The other reason is that other opportunities for the independent invention of writing were preempted by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing and their derivatives (Diamond 224).

Diamond goes on to explain how "the development of Sumerian writing took at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of years" (224). This sounds like "slow-media" to me. So, here's an example of one lofty idea that took at least several hundred years to develop. Publishers can probably identify with the amount of time taken to cultivate this lofty idea. After all, it was the forebear of multiple writing systems. The idea that communication could be written down allowed other societies to develop their own system, either from just the idea itself (idea diffusion) or from adapting the system created by the Sumerians (blueprint copying) (224). Not only is Diamond's long-form text a lofty, it also documents how many lofties came to be. Quite the rhetorical move.

The cost that publishers face with lofties today is exactly that, a cost. They are not cheap. As publishers struggle to turn a profit, we truly have to answer Wachtell's question: "Who will pay for the lofties?" They take talent, cultivation, and time, all of which create cost. So if readers are to continue having access to lofties, the role of the editor who "[assesses] gaps in the national discourse, and [commissions] works to fill these hole" is still needed (Wachtell).

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