Over-Visual Communications

In past blogs, I’ve commented, not necessarily in the most positive terms, about the explosive growth of anime and manga. Yet, to be fair, the art in the best of these and of the current graphic novels can be indeed inspiring and fascinating, not to mention eye-riveting, and certainly contributes to the genres’ popularity.

In large part, that growth, and the change in the creation of current “art” itself, is being driven and inspired by electronic technology. The entire process of creating visual images is changing. Once, all artists who created the artwork for book covers did actual physical paintings, usually in oils or acrylics, but whatever the medium, they created a static physical product. Today, more and more covers are created digitally. For example, I may have the only physical artwork that exists of the cover painting for my novel Ghost of the White Nights, and the only reason I have it was because my son persuaded the artist to print out a large copy on a design printer and sign it. Even artists who are skilled in the physical media, such as John Picacio, often create multiple physical paintings and merge them digitally

There are doubtless thousands of on-line galleries of electronically created artwork, but such artistic developments and their growth, however, are only one facet of an even larger change in American society… and possibly Western European and Asian cultures as well. With the development of visual communications media — primarily television, personal computers and image/texting cellphones — our means of communications have become more and more visual.

This encompasses all aspects of communication. Television news stories are illustrated with visio-bites. Computer-generated special effects enhance almost all cinema these days. Power-point displays/slide-shows apparently are mandatory for business presentations now. Going beyond art itself, even “texting” is evolving from written language founded on phonetically based aural communication to simplified visual text. Computer icons are replacing words in emails and instant messaging.

Unfortunately, there’s an aspect of this change that appears to be largely unnoticed. Visual communications are less than ideal for conveying complex ideas, ideals, and complicated transactions and situations, yet the comparative simplicity, speed, and appeal of more visual communications results in a continuing dumbing-down and over-simplification of matters, and pushes communicators toward communicating quickly rather than accurately.

If a political or economic concept can’t be expressed concisely and in less than thirty seconds, it doesn’t stand a chance. Nor does a business proposal, nor the idea for a new movie. This isn’t new. I had one of my novels turned down by a major producer some ten years ago, because, while it was a good story, it was “too complex.” But the trend is accelerating. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of the reason for the current economic melt-down was the oversimplification and dumbing down of the explanations of how financial derivatives actually work… because you can’t explain all the ramifications in 30 seconds, and it’s equally clear that those who were selling and those who were buying didn’t understand those implications.

I’m not saying that all types of visually-based or influenced communications are bad, but I am saying that, like anything, there are times when they’re appropriate and times when they’re not. At the moment, unhappily, most people, especially those who should know better, don’t seem to know the difference.