Here’s a fascinating post by James Fallows on a current debate in China about how to form the ideographic characters of the Chinese language. During Mao’s reign simplified forms of the traditional characters were introduced, but many people believe that the the simplified versions are not only less informative, but are also more easily confused with one another. Fallows argues that, because more Chinese are typing these characters on keyboards rather than writing them by hand, the justification for the simplified versions is disappearing:

Increasingly, Chinese people don't actually have to write (rite? right?) out these characters by hand. More and more, they key them in with mobile phones or at computers. And when they do that, it's just as easy to "write" a traditional-style, complex, information-dense character as a streamlined new one. (Reason: you key in clues about the character, either its pronunciation or its root form, and then click to choose the one you want.) So — according to current arguments — the technology of computers and mobile phones could actually revive an important, quasi-antique style of writing.

Fallows links to further information about the debate here.


  1. Marshall McLuhan might have said that the new technology "retrieves" something that had been lost. This is one often unperceived side of technological change. Something that had been made obsolete by one medium or technology is brought back by another.

    Though it rarely comes back in exactly the form it once did.

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