Ali Eteraz, author of Children of Dust, wrote in Medium last Tuesday that words are losing their potency and power. He believes the mighty Instagram, with its frozen pixelated memories, is our future. Though perhaps unconsciously, he said, “Instagram and its cousins represent an undeclared war on writing. On words.”
Eteraz believes that in the beginning, the Internet encouraged words. Text statuses reigned supreme in the first days of Facebook. But then, a change slowly began to develop:
First, by progressively smaller bursts of text (websites became blogs, became status updates, became 144 character tweets), and then through the enthronement of the image. Whether it is moving pictures (Youtube, Vimeo, Liveleak), or photo-sharing sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, it goes without saying that we are well on our way to communicating with each other by way of pictures.
There is one important and distinctive difference, however, between the sorts of “words” projected on the Internet, and those words utilized by storytellers throughout time. In the print era, the newspapers and books told stories of the other: of the powerful in Washington or on Wall Street, of a neighbor’s child who won a spelling bee, of Bobby Jones the golf player or General Robert E. Lee. Besides the private introspection of the diary or public thoughtfulness of the memoir, stories of self were at least somewhat limited.
But in the world of Internet and social media, another narrative has begun to reign supreme: namely, the self-narration. Facebook and Twitter statuses create constant self-publication. This public diary has wooed us away from the storybooks; after all, between General Lee and myself, whom will my ego find more fascinating?
With the initiation of Instagram, self-describing words became self-describing pictures. Instead of striving to help the user know and understand “who I am and how I feel” via statuses, the Instagram image asks you to merely see who I am, and to know “me” on that front. Eteraz does not view this as an alarming trend – except perhaps selfishly, he surmises, as a writer who wants to save his income. For most of society, he supposes, such a trend is normal:
After all, we are descendants of cavemen that told their stories upon stone walls by way of images. And we are descended of societies where the primary language was the hieroglyph, which is nothing more than words represented in imagistic forms. From this perspective we shouldn’t show much concern if our societies transition away from words and move to communicating by way of the image.
But here again, Eteraz does not seem to notice that the very nature of what is communicated has changed. Hieroglyphics and caveman images did not contain self-musing diary entries. Many contained histories and chronicles of kingdoms and clans, as well as ceremonial and religious messages. The “hieroglyphics” of Instagram rarely contain any of these things. As the image grows omnipotent online, the stories we tell are changing. News has increasingly subsided from such typographic-focused sites as the New York Times to …read more
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