By any measure, the creation and development of writing was a cybernetic advance with far-reaching consequences. It allowed writers to communicate with readers who were distant in time and space, extended the storage capacity of human knowledge, including information that ranged from mundane accounting to sacred narrative, bridged visual and auditory worlds by linking icons with meaningful sound, and offered an enduring means of displaying and manipulating assertions about a wide variety of matters.Broader definitions of writing that embrace purely semantic devices (semasiography, Sampson 1985:29) relate to ancient systems of communication, especially “Mexican pictography” (Boone 2000:29), but depart from the linguistic underpinnings that characterize the writing systems reviewed here. Semasiographic definitions are not very helpful in understanding heavily phonic systems. Their limited applicability to writing systems of the world identifies a typological weakness; even the Mexican examples are inconclusive, since these texts bundle genuine lexical items with supporting graphic devices. An alternative view is that the mixed Mexican pictography contains writing, yet supplements it with effective pictorial clues. From this comes a narrative that is translatable, with some controlled liberties, into language. Equating this distinctive package of features with the preponderantly phonic nature of Egyptian, cuneiform, or Mayan glyphs blurs distinctions. A broad definition of writing does not elucidate these scripts, although it is useful for understanding the relation of texts and accompanying images (Baines 1989; Taube 2000). In part, the first writing attracts attention because it contributes to a teleological narrative of progress (Trigger 1998: 42). The invention of writing is thought, with good justification, to undergird and enable present-day society. In its more developed forms, it is indispensable to bureaucracy, propaganda, and administration.