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Susannah Meyer

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The Power of the Written Word

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 8:09 am

For centuries, back to a time which probably cannot be traced, the power of the written word has proved to be something incontrovertibly sublime. The written word has saved lives, circulated powerful ideas, preserved traditions and memories, and so much more.

Great moments in history have evoked and set a basis for some of the most important values by which we live today. In 1215, the barons of King John created the Magna Carta, a document which history teachers seem to love mentioning. This written document, in my opinion, was arguably the most significant early influence on the historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today. Before that moment, of course, the written word was still showing prominent potential to influence; however, I believe the Magna Carta was one of the earliest examples of the written word that is extremely relevant to the present day.

For hundreds of years, law codes and systems of law have guided citizens through life, and without the written word, laws would not be enforced efficiently and would get lost in translation.

In around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg, a German craftsman, developed movable type. This method served as a means of speeding up the written word. Soon, movable type became more and more widespread and allowed people all throughout Europe to have access to knowledge more easily. This prompted an increase in the desire for knowledge and an increase in literacy throughout Europe.

With this, Gutenberg presented a cost-effective way of having one's ideas heard. This created a platform for thought innovators and leaders. For example, Martin Luther spread his ideas criticizing the sale of indulgences with the 95 Theses in 1517 using movable type. This led to an array of mixed opinions and his thoughts for reform began the Protestant Reformation.

Galileo Galilei, an Italian scientist, used the power of the written word to spread controversial observations about space that shattered previous religious theories. This was not taken lightly, consequently leading to Galileo being put under house arrest until his death. In spite of his bad fate, his ideas spread all over, and in 1992 the Vatican finally apologized to Galileo and admitted that he was right.

In 1848, the first widespread use of the telegraph, along with printing presses, led to the reading of public newspapers and broadsheets that could be updated multiple times daily. Eventually, starting in January with uprisings in Sicily, revolution covered nearly every state in Europe.

Now, in the 21st century, the written word is extremely more accessible through the Internet, typing, and other platforms like social media.

The recent Egyptian revolution, beginning in January 2011, spread words through means of social media to galvanize their revolution. As is evident, the power of the written word has given many nations the methods, motivations, and accessibility to fight for the freedom they desire.

In September 2011, the power of the written word was taken to new heights when it was used for survival -- via Twitter. Just outside of Veracruz, Mexico, gunmen dumped 35 bodies in an underpass during rush hour. Before any reporters were even notified of this event, Twitter was buzzing with fear from surrounding areas. People tweeted to others to give warnings to be on the lookout for these gunmen.

This being said, I believe that people now generally take this inevitable power of the written word for granted. Yes, you can use the written word to write an essay or send a text. Maybe the need for utilizing this tool isn't as great in my life, but I still think people should be aware of its significance. One important thing anyone anywhere can do with the power of the written word, regardless of his or her situation, is spread awareness. We can spread awareness of anything happening in the world, large or small. With that, we may be able to prevent a negative outcome that could have arisen from help coming too late. And that can make all the difference.