A win for the shmos

monopoly (noun)
mo·​nop·​o·​ly | \ mə-ˈnä-p(ə-)lē
1 : exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action
2 : exclusive possession or control

By the way, this is the beauty of the free market. The Egyptian scribes weren’t about to change hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics was job security. Hieroglyphics could be read or written by the scribes only—scribes were an elite class because hieroglyphics is so difficult. The scribes controlled who got to read or write. The scribes had a monopoly. But the Phoenician traders had a big-time need for an efficient writing system. A new technology—the alphabet—was invented, the traders enthusiastically adopted it, and so the scribes’ monopoly was busted up.

Here’s homework (yay!): can you think of a communications technology today that’s owned and closely guarded by a small handful of people? What would happen if someone—maybe you—invented a simple, accessible different technology to replace it?


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

3 responses to “A win for the shmos

  1. True. Until Gutenberg came along, literacy was the proprietary domain of the church and university elites. You’re right in that job security was a big part of that rationale, though knowledge has always equated with power, so keeping the unwashed masses in the dark was a time-honored political too for those with gluttonous ambition.
    In retrospect, I would imagine that such ambition combined with mass frustration triggered major wars through history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Another monopoly on communications | John Manders' Blog

  3. Pingback: Arrivederci, Rome | John Manders' Blog

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