Since the dawn of time, humans have expressed ideas using signs and symbols. But when Homo sapiens evolved a way to control the breath and turn the sounds this made into words, speech became the most common means of communication. At least, that is, until now.
Such is the popularity of Facebook (launched in 2004), instant messaging (well established by 2008) and innumerable text-based chatting apps, that anyone about to enter their teenage years today has grown up using signs and symbols, rather than spoken language, as their dominant form of social connectivity.
Meanwhile, the explosion of connection via images and print that virtually ubiquitous smartphone ownership has enabled amongst people of all ages bears witness to the fact that communication is undergoing rapid and fundamental change.
But if we allow this to happen to the exclusion of the rich language that has given our communication a vitality and quality of inner release that no amount of effort driven by fingers and thumbs could ever equal, the consequences for the long-term health of our species are likely to be serious.
If we continue to let our fingers take over the job of communication, our vocal cords are going to be less and less motivated to produce sounding breath. This means that our tongues will become less used to manipulating powerful, buoyant breath-flows and enunciating them as words. Allow that slow-down to occur and our level of vitality is likely to slow to such a point that we become little more than picture-watching zombies.
Did you know that the tongue has more nerve endings on its surface than any other part of the human body? Recent evidence shows that electrical stimulation of its surface has been able to assist patients with muscular dystrophy to regain proper balance, to unlock voices long-silenced by strokes and even to stimulate patterns of electric pulses that trigger touch-receptors to simulate shapes and features in space so that the tongue becomes a surrogate eye.
Unless we want to void our bodies of the stimulating energy that such a manipulator can evoke, we need to start talking again and get ourselves - quite literally - to stand up for ourselves, walk-the-walk and stop spending so much time sitting on our backsides glued to a touch-screen.
A recent article I came across described a vibrating garment currently undergoing testing that can create new routes to the brain so that deaf people can hear as “a breakthrough in technology”. But if no one is going to be talking to anyone else anymore what value will that breakthrough really add to the lives of those who lack hearing? Come to think of it, if being glued to a screen becomes the main way of exchanging information, what will that mean for people who are blind?
You might well dismiss my warning as science fiction, but unless we begin again to speak up for ourselves - and do it soon - it is a fiction that may quickly turn into fact.