We have landfills for garbage, and they are astonishing in their magnitude. Mountains of waste. Never ending seas of debris. The manifestation of all that is unwanted. It sits. It rots. It takes up space and does nothing. Garbage is a scourge because it is volume with no purpose. We like to pretend that it does not exist. We push it piles in far away places. We hide it in holes deep beneath the earth.
What if words had that kind of substance? What if thoughts in the form of letters and symbols had the same kind of bulk? Where would we put it all? What would the environmentalists say if local wildlife were pushed away for the sake of words?
In some sense, this has already happened. We have books. Most people will never read every book in their local libraries. Just imagine all the world’s libraries put together and those millions of copies that are printed every day. Then consider the different translations of a text. Add the newspapers, the pamphlets, the travel brochures, and junk mail. Now, think about all the school assignments you’ve written in your lifetime and multiply that amount by the number of schoolchildren in the world. Sprinkle in the handwritten birthday cards, the receipts to McDonald’s stuffed in jean pockets, shopping lists – the detritus of everyday life.
People write all the time Every moment, more words are spilling out of our pens and computer keyboards. This blog entry alone will send a few hundred words into the universe. Even if they are not read, they will sit in the plane of cyberspace. If words had their own tangibility, we’d be drowning in them. They would swallow continents.
Sometimes, it seems so wasteful that the world is bursting with words, thoughts made coherent and given form There is too much. There is too much to read, to comprehend, to process. The amount that the human brain can produce can overwhelm and smother. You can swim in an ocean of syllables, but you’ll never really be able to see it all. Audiences are too small. Eventually, they too will disappear and all those unsold paperbacks will sit in a recycling bin, or a landfill, if they’re unlucky.
It strikes me as strange that the books I read and the shows on TV will lose their relevance. Think back fifty years ago. There were plenty of New York Times Bestsellers, I’m sure, but I am also sure that I’ve never heard most of them. Yet while there is no way to guarantee an audience for the phrases we string together, all the text that surrounds us still waits in patient anticipation to be comprehended. And with the advent of computers, cyberspace is the ultimate waiting room. Words, it seems, do not have to go anywhere.