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Alphabet Soup--False Image

"Alphabet Soup" features musings about communications and other related topics from a guy who writes for his supper.

I have never been a big fan of generalizations, because they fail to reflect the true complexities of everyday life.  Most of us defy stereotypes.  So while I watched a lot of Saturday morning cartoons on TV as a kid, I was also an avid reader.  And while I studiously did my homework every night, I also rarely missed an opportunity to play hours of street hockey with my friends in the neighborhood.

A recent column in Fast Company by social media strategist Ekaterina Walter called “The Rise of Visual Social Media”  highlights the growing popularity of visual social media sites, like Pinterest, at the mutual exclusion of text-based media.  In her column she offers this comment by a professor who studies social media:

"Blogs were one of the earliest forms of social networking where people were writing 1,000 words," says Dr. William J. Ward, Social Media professor at Syracuse University. "When we moved to status updates on Facebook, our posts became shorter. Then micro-blogs like Twitter came along and shortened our updates to 140 characters. Now we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication with social-sharing sites like Pinterest."

Of course, Dr. Ward’s argument ignores the main reason why we write in the first place.  Human communications began with visualization.  It’s the most fundamental way to share information, especially in primitive societies that relied upon aural communications.  That’s why we have pictures of hunters killing wooly mammoths on cave walls.

We have a natural affinity for visual images, because our brains were designed to quickly process visual information.  Writing evolved as a way to allow us to explain and share ideas that are not so easy to communicate through pictures.  Plato's famous cave allegory can be seen as a repudiation of what we see visually versus the real Truth (with a capital T), which defies easy explanation.

As a broadcast journalist, it was always so much easier for me to tell a story on the radio or write an article in a newspaper than to produce a television broadcast.  Why?  Because as a visual medium, television always challenged you to find visual ways to explain complex information that resisted visualization, such as public policy.  Ironically, the solution often involved using graphics that incorporated text to highlight key points.

Word and pictures convey information, but they should not be treated as mutually exclusive. In fact, they enhance each other’s power to communicate.   The rise of visual social media is inevitable, but words will always be somewhere in the picture.

Mike Sockol has been a writer and communications strategist for over 30 years, developing and implementing editorial, PR and marketing communications initiatives for companies and organizations of all sizes.  No editorial project is too small or inconsequential, because everyone deserves to be heard.  Visit www.msockol.com for more information.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nicole Magnotti September 04, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Nice article Mike. Also, keep up the great work you do on the BOE.
Mike Sockol September 04, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Thanks, Nicole. I'll have more in the pipeline soon.
Joe R September 04, 2012 at 09:05 PM
There are plenty of talented, educated Americans looking for jobs in the tech industry, they are beggiing for jobs. There's no lack of educated, talented Americans. "The only reason this country continues to lead in innovation in science and technology is because of the H1-B visa.." That's just total garbage. Excuse me, do you think that the Curiosity rover was put on Mars by H1-B visa people. The overwhelming majority of the Curiosity scientists, technicians and thousands of support staff are Americans who have been educated in traditional public schools, before they went to university. The only reason H1-B visa people are brought here is to save money and further stab US citizens in the back. In fact, it is Americans who train these cheaper H1-B employees who will replace them. Did the H1-B people put the Hubble telescope into orbit? "We rank 31 in the world according to Business Week.. " Well funded US suburban schools actually outperform Finland, Singapore or Japan. Of course, the US has a child poverty rate of about 24%, far more than the other wealthy advanced democracies. The richest country on earth has a 24% child poverty rate, that's a disgrace. Sorry, I'm not buying this garbage that our schools are failing or that we lack highly educated talented people. That's just propaganda from corporate America so they can insource more cheap labor to undercut hard working Americans.
Rebecca Savastio September 04, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I really enjoyed your article, Mike. I personally view things like Pinterest, "infographics" and Twitter as moving us backward from an evolved state (writing) to a mental state that requires the intellect of a Kindergardener. It's impossible to express oneself in 140 characters and it's not "a good exercise in economy" as most people claim. It's gotten to the point where younger people cannot write at all. Furthermore, as an adult, I resent it when information is presented to me in pictures instead of words. There is a reason why I graduated from picture books nearly 40 years ago, and that reason was to mature into books with words. Eventually we will reach a societal disaster of epic proportions as we continue to dumb down our youth with technologies that distract them, shorten their attention spans, weaken their memory and destroy their intellect.
Dee Howell September 05, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Really well-thought, Mike. Plus, very true! I see it with my generation.

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