Thursday, June 16, 2016

Video Now Dominates Text On The Net? Probably - But It's Nothing To Cheer About!

Barely more than 2 weeks ago the New Yorker's Nicholas Thompson - in a CBS Early Show segment,  'What's the Big Idea?'', proclaimed there is now a major shift to video as opposed to text on the net. According to the Internet Trend Report quoted by Nora O'Donnell, "Video is dominating and the text Internet is experiencing a downturn".

Blogs such as mine, in other words, are going the way of the dinosaur. Most people would much rather be entertained by Youtube videos of a monkey in a cowboy hat riding on a Pit bull  or a kitten punching a puppy, than read through 600-1000 words of informative text.  The text, the blog post, may be about an unfamiliar subject, for example. And heck, life is too short to strain one's brain on the unfamiliar where you actually have to confront the issues and get the billions of prefrontal gray cells actively engaged.

The problem's corollary was originally articulated by author Mark Bauerlein in his book,The Dumbest Generation. He wrote (p. 138):

"For education to happen, people must encounter worthwhile things outside their sphere of interest and brainpower. Knowledge grows, skills improve, tastes refine and conscience ripens only if the experiences bear a degree of unfamiliarity.”

What that means, as he further observes, is one must move through and beyond the initial knee-jerk reaction: “I don’t get it! That’s not for me, not my cup of tea!”

because the intellectual effort in making it your ‘cup of tea’ will then be intellectually rewarding. Bauerlein again (ibid.):

“Nobody savors the process, but mature adults realize the benefits. Adolescents don’t and digital connections save them the labor of self-improvement…..the screen and cell bombard adolescents with youth trifles and the sporadic brush with challenging subjects that recall their shortcomings are quickly offset by a few minutes back in virtual comfort zones”

Besides, the "opportunity costs are high".  For the visual -oriented net user more enthralled by Snapchat, kitty videos and selfies, there's much more investment worth in those images than having to read a post concerning space physics - say the aurora, or deep politics or the effects of climate change on the environment.

Nicholas Thompson in his CBS morning spot, said this basically means "the (text)  internet is not growing as fast as it was. What is happening is that there is a huge shift from text to video and that's happening for a number of reasons."

He cites the limits in bandwidth in the "early days" which more or less forced the concentration on text - given it sucked up less BW than video. (Uploads slow, storage limited).


 "Now that we have massive bandwidth and great connections, people love images. CEOs of all the major tech companies have notices people engage more with interactive images than they do with text. There is a massive, massive shift to the visual internet right now"

But could this be about something more significant than "a shift to greater bandwidth"? Might it be yet one more sign our culture is becoming alienated from reading, and hence infantilized?

Fortunately, the older generation has not yet been taken in by the video obsession to the same extant as Gen Y, as a graph shown on the TV spot  indicated that only 2 percent of over 55 net users are on Snapchat, as opposed to 23 percent of 13-17 year olds and 37 percent of 18-24 year olds. That is, more than half of net users (60 percent) have likely been infantilized in the age range 13- 24. To me, this is something to fear if this same demographic goes into the voting booths. But I somehow don't believe most will bother.

All of which reverts to Neal Postman's observations in 'The Disappearance of Childhood' on how Americans are increasingly being infantilized by preoccupation with visual images - and lose appreciation for text.

In his Chapter Seven (‘The Adult Child’), for example, Postman lays out a summary of his thesis on the disappearance of childhood in tandem with defining the modern conception of “adult” and what it has evolved (devolved?) into after the emergence of video culture. As he puts it, the modern idea of the adult “is largely a product of the printing press.” Further, almost all the attributes we associate with adulthood “are those either generated or amplified by a literary culture”. These include:

- A capacity for self-restraint

- A tolerance for delayed gratification

- A sophisticated ability to think sequentially and conceptually

- A preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future

- A high valuation of reason and hierarchical order

Postman then goes on to warn that as electronic (visual) media assume center stage “different attitudes and character traits come to be valued and a new, diminished definition of adulthood begins to emerge”. This new stunted version of the adult reaches its apotheosis (nadir?) in the adult child having arrived with the television-video age - which primary characteristic flattens out all differences between ages. A typical observation by Postman (p. 101) serves to clarify and lead to a fuller exposition:

"Television redefines what is meant by ‘sound judgment’ by making it into an aesthetic rather than a logical matter. A barely literate ten year old can interpret and at least respond to the information “given off” by a (political) candidate as easily and quickly as a well-informed 50 year old."

In other words, one required literary heft and markers - say in ability to read weighty, dense books (like James Joyce's Ulysses , or Milton's Paradise Lost, or Jean -Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness) to finally separate adults from children, adult minds from childish imitators.  Thus, literary culture and mature works provided the truest litmus test to distinguish an adult from a child.

Now, I am not saying or implying that those who don't read my blog posts as opposed to say,  spending time on Snapchat or Youtube,  are less informed about many issues or more childish. Rather, if they exclusively invest their time on those visual platforms they will (logically)  suffer in their knowledge base, irrespective of whether that means not reading my blog, or not reading books or newspapers. The point made is any kind of reading (especially outside one's comfort zone) is better than no reading at all. It is the latter condition which assures an infantilization because one will no longer be able to master complex thought, ideas.

Since most kids can't do that either, one mutates to the stage of an effective "kid".  One of the measures also used is the incidence of "difficult" words per page, of a book or post. Interestingly most people turn off their brains at 20 percent (e.g. 100 of say 500 words on a page is seen as the threshold.).  Thus, writers keeping the proportion to 5 percent or less (say 25 words) ensure the most reads.  But, as one psychologist (Dr. Pat Bannister) once put it, this basically" reduces the person to the level of a primary school student" (or 3rd grader in the U.S. context).

Remove reading and text entirely from one's life and what would you have? Well, I leave that question for readers to ponder on their own!

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