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The PostSecret Valentine

Video made more or less like this is the future of human communication.

Sounds over the top, but I’m pretty serious. (Note especially 1:20 to 1:45 or so.)

Meet you back here in two hundred years and we’ll see if I’m right.

February 11, 2008 / Uncategorized


Definitely a lot more to be done with images + text + animation, and short-format video on a small screen is the place to do it.

There’s a great scene in Fritz Lang’s M (1931, Lang’s first talkie) that begins with a close shot of text, an announcement about a killer. The camera pulls back and back to show that the text is a poster, and there’s a crowd gathered around it, and they start shouting for someone in the front to read it, the text is too small… then there are shouts to talk louder, as the camera pans out and out, until finally it cuts to the same text being read by a different man from a newspaper. Whenever I teach the film, I try to point out that Lang’s making a little joke here about silent film, but that his audience would have been used to reading small text quickly when watching a movie.

It strikes me that we’ve entered a similar moment of omnivorous media. We’re used to digesting a lot of simultaneous content — stills plus moving pictures plus text plus music, etc., — through a single portal. Anything that speaks to those new dynamics of attention and distraction stands a fighting chance of showing us what’s new.

I’ll take that bet.

Although – I’m a big fan in visual communication (have you ever read The Art of Comics?)

There is still stuff that is easier done in text than in images.

I am wondering how much of this is already sinking into the youngsters. It baffles me, but my students often swear that the same kinds of information–the same damn word—that I’ve written on the board or handed out on a piece of paper or pointed out in the text–are most clear to them when animated before them on a craptackular power point presentation.

Ooh, YES! Good point! The effect of Powerpoint on human communications — on human brains — for good and for ill is totally underestimated.

I’m not sure. I mean, Powerpoint is pretty dominant, but there is a huge swath of Americans (and a huger swath of non-Americans) who rarely if ever see a Powerpoint presentation. Compared to, say, television commercials — which are also pretty deft at working text into video — the effect of Powerpoint is pretty limited.

That’s hardly a fair fight. Still — since the Powerpoint stuff assists my original thesis, I won’t fight at all. And I echo Saheli’s point — for the younger generation, this is perfectly natural, while to us early primates who have used a typewriter and had an early, powerful, noninteractive offline experiences with television and movies, it has a touch of the strange.

See also: video games (which at one point in my childhood were mostly text or mostly graphics, but rarely both), cable news, telephones.

I’ll accept that its effect is on a relatively small number of brains. But it’s definitely still profound.

And video games, yes! Man, you add all this up, and I hate to say it, but text doesn’t have a chance. I feel like we’re totally retreading previous conversational territory, which I hate, but it’s so interesting/profound it bears repeating: Text is never going to go away, but it will become ever more the domain of a really small (and really smart!) elite.

No, exactly the opposite! Text is a key part of video games, powerpoint, telephones, cable news, the internet, etc… Text endures.

It’s just that “text” as we know it is changing, becoming less of an autonomous medium and more a component of something quite different. But so is video, audio, still pictures, animation, etc. In short, the relatively homogeneous media are converging into a single heterogeneous medium. Which, in the move from material to the digital, is exactly what you might expect.

Right, right, good catch. In fact text is going to become an even more important part of video. It’s the 10,000-word magazine article with no pictures that’s going to be interesting to very, very few people. (Oh wait… That’s already true.)

Yes to the magazine article. Ditto the traditional newspaper. Or the novel. And remember, each of these forms, in their time, posed a challenge to the traditional sense of literacy.

Looking, too, at the broader world of printed material, you see the change. Even our passports and IDs aren’t “papers” any more, in the old sense — they have photos and holograms and info on magnetic strips and biometric data… Paper money, too, is on the wane.

It’s almost as though the less able you are to leverage this multiplicity of information, the more likely your form of communication will become a specialty, fringe, or nostalgiac product.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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