“the rise of the image, the fall of the word”


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“Rise of the image the fall of the word”

In “the rise of the image the fall of the word”, Stephens describes how pictures, symbols and photos are replacing words as our primary communication medium. Stephens pointed out that the opposite transformation happened over several millennia as our oral culture (based on long tales and poems detailing people’s history)was displaced by writing and then the printing press and mass literacy. This process was not completed till the 1930s in some parts of the world e.g. central Russia.

The move toward a more visual culture began with the invention of photography and films; but really took off with the invention of Television which took just eight years to enter half of American homes.[1] He uses statistics to show the plummeting number of Americans who read regularly and while conceding that he himself is a book lover, he thinks it pointless to resist the process. He details how all new media provokes outrage initially: opera, printing, writing, photography, phones,. Even paper was banned in 1231 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II! [2] For Mitchell Stephens, pictures best attributes are that they can give you far more information and faster than words. It was written just as the number of TV channels was exploding but for Mitchell, even 500 channels is not enough to compete with the complexity of a bookstore, we need more! Mitchell is excited about the potential of what he calls ‘new video’. For a long time, writing was only used for market records, it was a long time before we saw poems and novels. Stephens posited that films and TV started off resembling plays but are now evolving in brand new ways (photomontage in Eisenstein’s films was the first sign of this) just as words did.

Mitchell made a startingly accurate prediction in the intro: “Perhaps we will soon locate our video at sites on the World Wide Web”.[3] Seven years later, YouTube was created.

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