No words

On the NY Times, Nick Bilton talks about photographs becoming a ubiquitous, disposable form of communication:

Photos, once slices of a moment in the past — sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation — are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image, be it a picture of what’s for dinner or a street sign that slyly indicates to a friend, “Hey, I’m waiting for you,” is easier than bothering with words, even in a world of hyper-abbreviated Twitter posts and texts.

Apparently text messaging is in (slight) decline, while SnapChat (y’know, self-destructing junk shots for the kids) is reputedly worth $800+ million. This is the part where Old Man Nack officially feels he has no idea what’s going on.
There’s got to be some great Orwell quote about losing the language to make sense of experiences, but, eh, who wants to read all that?
Elsewhere Dave Pell muses about how imaging can separate us from experiences:

We’ve ceded many of our remembering duties (birthdays, schedules, phone numbers, directions) to a hard drive in the cloud. And to a large extent, we’ve now handed over our memories of experiences to digital cameras. […]
We no longer take any time to create an internal memory of an event or an experience before seeing, filtering, and sharing a digital version of it. We remember the photo, not the moment.

In a world of social media, we can all exist in a droll, above-it-all sugary crust (like Seinfeld talking about how in a cab, everything on the other side of the plexiglass, no matter how dangerous, is amusing & unreal). It’s a good time to remember that Facebook likes, like design, won’t save the world

9 thoughts on “No words

  1. As a guy who started out shooting red insensitive (black lips on women wearing red lipstick) orthocromatic B&W film, and who graduated to ASA 10 Kodachrome (Hold it!) when I could afford it, I know exactly what you mean…
    At least part of the problem is due to widespread functional illiteracy due to a unionized bureaucrat-centered primary school system where parents have essentially no control.
    Another part of the problem is the way that watching TV, playing computer games, and Tweeting has replaced face to face games and discourse. When I first heard that a messaging system with a 140 character limit had become worth billions, I became a very unhappy camper.
    Oh well, at least there are a few geezers like us who still spend many minutes (or a lot more) planning a shot and then post processing it into a thing of beauty. At least Adobe is continuing to sell perpetual licenses for Photoshop CS6 – at least for now. (grumblegrumble)

  2. I guess it depends if the glass is half empty or half full.
    Even assuming, as Dave Pell posits, that we do not create an internal memory of an event before sharing an image of it, we will likely create an internal memory of the images we receive. We will have to muse a moment or two on the varied meanings carried in the image, giving us not only time to create the memory but time to grow it a bit too.
    But I think the mind is a pretty quick thing. I’ll bet that in the time it takes to capture the image, filter it, and share it, the mind will have taken in what surrounds it.
    More interesting, I find, is the idea that language and thought are one. Visual communication is symbolic communication, operating at a deeper level. Perhaps all our technology has finally brought us back to Lascaux.

  3. Language is the symbolization of effort.
    If people are “efforting” in the area of making (digital) images, then a certain “language” will evolve which may or may not replace other languages.
    I think it’s more a matter of the EMERGENCE of this image-based language AUGMENTING rather than displacing text-based languages.
    Though I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter in cursive to anyone (or mailed it snail mail), there still remains the need to “effort” one’s communications to others with various amounts of care (art). So even with images, if one needs to deliver a desired message well, so that it is “duplicated” by the recipient, then the artistic demands of image creation remain, similarly to their centuries-long existence for the written word.

    1. Both your view and that of Nat Brown’s provide hope for a communications future rich in well selected images. Thanks for your hopeful words!
      The market success of Instagram and similar portable image modifying tools does suggest that there is a demand for personalizing the crudely literal images that that cell phone cameras produce. Moreover, as the technical capabilities of these cell phone / tablet cameras rapidly improve, more people are likely to become interested in fine art photography. It won’t all be created as being disposable.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. However, the type of camera used is neither an excuse for a poor image, nor a guarantee of a good one. Like any other language, and image-based language must be learned fluently.

    2. I agree. If an image is worth 1,000 words then it is not surprising that sending a picture is easier than the simplest text or tweet. I think we are taking part of an evolution of language, not the replacement or displacement of one language over another. If only I had a picture that sums this all up…

  4. I view speech as our first great invention, as it is our first compression format. The speaker encodes bundles of symbols that light up in the mind into a key value pair, and utters the key, in hopes that the receiver has the same value for that key which is often simply not the case. Speech is fighting with all sorts of ambient noise, whereas the fovea is keen on a region of high frequency details it can soak up in realtime.
    Pictures whether physical or digital are simply chapter markers to rich imagery/emotions stored in the cranium. Their worth often extends way beyond what can be weighed by random viewers, or art critics, but rather are viewer dependent. I guess the real question is can one have too many chapter markers? Guessing not as our brain is very selective in what it commits to memory (and most first hand experiences are stored in a very lossy manner).

    1. Speech was indeed an invention, and it has been both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it gave us the benefit of “second-hand knowledge” in that we could learn from others by reading what they had to say, instead of relying on first-hand experience. But it was a curse in that, to use your apt “key-value” analogy, it can “key in” irrational associations which are quite stupid. One category of which is, for example, the ridiculous coinage of the psychologists, “political correctness.”
      Too many “chapter markers”? Very often, “Yes!”
      The cure for these is the realization of the individual of the necessity to OBSERVE and EVALUATE data. Knowledge is CERTAINTY, not data. Such certainty is base on live observation, not lazy assumptions, associations, or “key-ins”.

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