For Vilém Flusser, numbers correspond to visual thinking and are optically perceived (for example, the number “2” evokes the image of a pair). In contrast to letters, which express linear discourses, numbers express both linear and nonlinear states of affairs, and in more complex contexts (formulas, equations) they are not read linearly but rather orbited by the eye: only through multidimensional movement do the relationships between the individual numbers become comprehensible (Does Writing Have a Future?, 2011, pp. 24–25).
Conventional writing devices such as typewriters force numbers into rows. This arrangement makes sense for letters but not for numbers since it means that complex states of affairs can be represented only with great effort. Flusser calls this “a violation of numerical by literal thought” (ibid., p. 23).
With the computer – that is, the mechanization and primitivization of counting – numbers have freed themselves from letters (ibid., p. 26). Only in this way can the immense potential of numbers – from which computers can produce images and sounds (“alternative worlds”) of every description – be exhausted. By means of mechanization, humans also attain a position – working through the computer – in which numbers are under their control and at their command (Medienkultur, 1997, pp. 52–53).
Flusser assumes that after their emancipation from letters, numbers will increasingly dictate the structure of thought, causing the thinking of the new elites to move away from the discursive, logical, and historically causal toward the mathematical, statistical, ahistorical, and calculatory (ibid., p. 53).
Original article by Jolene Fraider