Spreading the Word

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  • In this program, Stephen Fry delves into the history of the written word, starting with the earliest writing - cuneiform - and ending with blogging and twittering. Along the way he looks at how printing shaped our relationship with writing, eventually resulting in libraries, encyclopedias, and computer code. Topics include Egyptian hieroglyphics, Homer, and the Phoenicians; the spread of Arabic; pinyin and Chinese literacy (with Zhou Youguang, called the Father of Pinyin); typography, the development of the book, and the standardization of English; the rise of reading, and Diderot's Encyclopédie; the Bodleian Library; Wikipedia; social media and the Arab Spring; and the MIT Media Lab.


  • Encoded with permission for digital streaming by Films Media Group on February 03, 2013.
  • Films on Demand is distributed by Films Media Group for Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Cambridge Educational, Meridian Education, and Shopware.
  • Mode of access: Internet.
  • System requirements: FOD playback platform.
  • Closed-captioned.


  • Tradition without Writing (3:51) -- Cuneiform Writing (3:32) -- Advances in Cuneiform (1:45) -- Alphabet (3:46) -- Dome of the Rock (2:30) -- Shrine of the Book (3:52) -- Printing: Spreading the Word (4:23) -- Pinyin: Phonetic Mandarin (3:27) -- Movable Type (6:21) -- Diderot's Encyclopédie (4:46) -- Bodleian Library (2:27) -- Library Relevance (4:35) -- Founder of Wikipedia (2:06) -- Unlikely Authors (3:25) -- New Technology/New Types of Books (0:54) -- Interactive Text (5:50) -- Credits: Spreading the Word: Fry's Planet Word (0:35)
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