I’ve just invented a new communication app. It can be used by almost everyone; It works anywhere and anytime, night or day; It doesn’t need batteries, doesn’t need to be plugged in, doesn’t even need the internet; Once people start using it, it is so easy that it is almost impossible to stop using it; it becomes indispensable, and you are hooked, you cannot be without it; It can be tailored to suit any occasion; Its use facilitates an expanding network of people; It’s use opens up incredible possibilities for creativity and cooperation.
There are only two things that may be problematic with it: my new app takes about four years to download. Yes, you heard correctly, not four minutes but four years. And usually, only ridiculously young kids know how to download it, but, like I said it takes about four years. During that time, the system needs constant maintenance and TLC. The other snag is that once someone starts using it, it becomes common property, available to everyone free, and so I personally, can’t get rich off of it.
Are you ready to try my new free app? It’s called language. OK, I lied. It’s not a new app and I didn’t invent it. But everything else I said about it is true, and it was invented by the first humans sometime within the last five hundred thousand years.
What is language? A method of communication that is available to virtually all humans to use. A common way for us to share information and create enduring knowledge. One of the first, but not the first commons created by human collective agreement.
Take a proto-language “Me Tarzan, you Jane”. Start with naming, then add verbs to describe action and emotions. Once you begin to share information you are creating a common space of understanding amongst you and your fellow speakers. This common space can be called a commons.
What is a commons? A commons is a level-playing field. Everybody gets to breathe air, and we have that in common with most other species. Here in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, fresh water is a common resource.
We parcel up land into properties, but much land is held in common in the form of parks, trackless wilderness, public rights of way and public spaces. The sunlight that falls to earth is common to all, plants and animals on land , fish and the whales in the sea.
Before the human development of agriculture and domestication humans lived for millions of years in hunter-gatherer bands of approximately thirty to a hundred people. If the band survived and prospered, eventually, as population grew over generations, a new band would split off. As this process continued, a larger and larger area of land would need to be occupied.
Eventually groups that originally were connected, would become separated permanently by mountains or water barriers. Originally we had everything in common. Then because of our success in outgrowing our original environment we ceased to have a common place and identity.
This is probably the basis for the evolution of different languages (see “Tower of Babel”) If we go back far enough in time, all of us living today have a common history, but over thousands of years different peoples occupying different places have come to conflict and cooperation with each other.
Each of us has our humanity and human origins in common with everyone else alive today. Since then, we may have got here in different ways, but we all share the present time in common. We, in fact, share this age in common with the Earth’s biosphere and all its manifest diversity.