If there were a futures market in literacy, it would be dropping. It is a sad fact that the value of written words, in relation to spoken words and still and moving pictures, is sinking like a stone. Changes like this happen for structural reasons.
Since the invention of moveable type and the printing press, printed words have been advantaged for creation and mass distribution. Printing pictures first required “engraving” and then shooting half-tones (showing the picture as smaller and larger black dots to add “shades of gray” to black and white) while type just got set, locked up, and printed.
And the primacy of words continued into the early years of digital information as well. Keystrokes choosing from among letters and punctuation marks instructed computers. Rendering words was easy for them.
Between the era of ubiquitous personal computers (starting in the mid-1980s), through the era that brought us ubiquitous laptops (from the 1990s forward), words could be delivered on smaller and ever-more-widely-distributed devices: personal digital assistants like Palm Pilots and cell phones. Still images didn’t really render well on either of them and moving images were a non-starter.
But all of that has changed in the past ten years. Most people now have smart phones and tablets that show images beautifully through broadband connections. On top of that, the same devices will record the images or videos, so everybody has “creation” capability in their hands as well. And the process 20 years ago had to begin on film and then somehow or other get to a digital form. Now all the images are born digital, cutting out a whole lot of complication and cost. And nobody has to learn a keyboard — or how to spell — to use the capability effectively.
This has resulted in a sea-change in communication. The fact that you are seeing more video pop up in your cyber-life isn’t because of “demand”; it is because of a combination of increased supply and much greater ease-of-distribution.
Being among the lucky group that has word-centric skills, this is, as a recent article making this same point in the New York Times just said, the “writing on the wall” that clearly states that the advantages they have delivered me for a lifetime are expiring. I had the massive good fortune of having parents who responded to my childhood curiosity by getting me taught to touch-type when I was 8. With that capability and typewriters — by the time I was about 10 or 11 even electric typewriters — at my disposal, I had Malcolm Gladwell’s “ten thousand hours” of writing far younger than the average kid. When I was ten years old I was delivering fresh copy on Little League games to my local newspaper on deadline.
Being able to craft good prose quickly has been my personal competitive advantage for my whole life. Meanwhile, I’m not so facile with images. Writing a better sentence is something I’ve been practicing for more than 60 years. Framing a better image is something most people can do much better than I can.
The Shatzkin Files has been, for better or worse, a “just about all words” endeavor. At some point, I really should take up podcasting as well (I’m hopeless with visual images but I do have a voice that works well for audio delivery), but writing is so much easier for me…
Even if pictures and sound are so much easier for most people these days.
And on a completely different topic…I just published a story on Medium about gun control efforts of mine 50 years ago that are topical right now because of the heroic kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School who are picking up a battle that has been futile for half a century.