Why Alphabet?

Laurence de Looze author of the forthcoming UTP title, The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet has Shaped the Western View of the World, gives his opinion on Google’s recent news. 

If the business world is delighted that Google will now morph into an umbrella company called “Alphabet,” more than one person has asked the question: “Why ‘Alphabet’?” Once again, Google has nailed it perfectly.

The new name for the Google parent company is confirmation of the thesis put forward in my forthcoming UTP book, The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet has Shaped the Western View of the World, namely that the alphabet is a lens which our culture has used to understand the world from the ancient Greeks to the present day. What Google is referencing in its new name is the fact that our ABCs are a conceptual order that not only helps us make sense of reality but also creates our reality in part. For example, we think of it as “natural” to put things in alphabetical order; we use the expression “A to Z” to suggest all-inclusiveness; we teach the alphabet to first-graders, sending the message that socialization and the twenty-six letters go hand in hand; and we regularly “find” alphabetical letters in the shapes of objects and buildings in our daily world.

Google has long had a greeting card program for which the letters were the tops of buildings as seen from above. This geographic alphabet implicitly saw us as stamping our letters all over the globe, whether or not it was not an architect’s intention to do so. Furthermore, since the program allowed users to add new letter-buildings it also encouraged people to “find” alphabetic shapes in their environs.

Now Google has adopted the alphabet as the overarching compendium for all of its various activities, from internet search engines to self-driving cars to You Tube. What Larry Page and his associates have understood is that the twenty-six letters of the alphabet are the perfect model for a company that aspires to be all-encompassing. Alphabets, which worldwide have never comprised more than about thirty-two letters at most, have nevertheless been capable of infinite invention and expression. They have adapted to language after language, idea after idea, message after message. The alphabet proves all-containing while at the same time it is supple and flexible, able to respond to any kind of circumstance or eventuality.

This is the message of both The Letter and the Cosmos and Google’s new name. The UTP book begins with the ancient Greeks and traces how in period after period of Western culture the alphabet has been used as a means for ordering and understanding the world. Larry Page’s new umbrella company looks to the future and sees the way in which the alphabet is really the perfect expression of what he hopes will become a Google Earth.

Egil, the Viking Poet: New Approaches to ‘Egil’s Saga’ edited by Laurence de Looze will be available in October – http://www.utppublishing.com/Egil-the-Viking-Poet-New-Approaches-to-Egil-s-Saga.html


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