In 2015 for the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (chosen in cooperation with web stats company SwiftKey) is…a pictograph, officially called the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji.
The idea of choosing a word of the year came from Time magazine’s custom of choosing a Person of the Year. The winning word is not found by some special formula, but simply via judgment that this word was particularly significant and representative during the past year. ‘Face with tears of Joy’ has been the most used emoji in global scale. ‘Oh-oh’, I thought, ‘It has begun’. The official fall of written word.
This made me dig literature in search of word and image transformation history. I fell upon Mitchell Stephen’s excellent position “The rise of the image, The fall of the word”. In this book the author leads us through language history, from word’s first appearance to first illustrations, dated at about 75000 years ago, and finally the written alphabet 5000 years ago in Egypt. Stephens takes us on a chronological journey: thought->word->image->alphabet. In order for a word to appear, it must me born in the human mind. After thought came word. Only many, many years later, things started to be depicted on walls, rocks, trees. So, first alphabets were strictly linked to images and pictorial representations of the world, as it is the case in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The appearance of vowels in Greek allowed for the first time to write down every sound we thought of and pronounced. From that moment every thought could be written! And this was the first big revolution – ancient Greek brought education and culture spread, as man no longer had to memorize everything his parents told him. He could now read and write it and also create his culture. Without alphabets it is impossible to describe hypothetical and surreal situations, other than the world surrounding us and which we know from daily experience. This was proved by scientists examining preliterate societies in the 20th century. Of course, those cultures could invent marvelous things just like all other illiterate generations did thousands of years before – the wheel, tools or agriculture, but they couldn’t, for example, categorize similar items or imagine new types of items they have already seen or touched.
Video is another big language transformation. An enormous cultural revolt. It changed us all to such extend that 82% of consumers are likely to make a purchase only after watching an online video (Wharton Business School study). N◦16 out of ’17 bad habits that make millennials look really unprofessional’ according to Inc.com is ‘not reading things carefully’, this includes job offers. Apparently, the fall of reading capability and lack of concentration amongst young employees is due to fast video, digitalization and speed of images they had to cope with since early childhood. We are the Youtube generation. No wonder Youtube is the official king of video advertisement. It enables product global reach with minimum cost and thus changed the world. Thanks to the internet we transformed our communication into image-centered. Human relations are just like the images we view: accessible and fast but, unfortunately, also empty and exempt of value. People consume others just as they consume fast pictures with minimum text.
Nowadays video and fast image culture incorporated services like Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram. Snapchat enables sending pictures and 15 second-long videos, which disappear just after they have been viewed. It has been called a ‘self-destructing message app’. The service gets 6 million daily views, 30 % of. U.S. millennials access it regularly. Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat, prepared a 4 minute long talk on Youtube dedicated to parents of teens. He states in it: ‘Now we use photographs to talk, we communicate through image’. Spiegel also outlines key factors of his service: unlike other social media, Snapchat lets you go through someone’s pictures chronologically – from the beginning to the end, because that’s the way you tell a story of somebody’s life. Also, users can automatically delete videos and snaps. And this changes everything, as your photo galleries no longer say who you are as a person. Now you are a sum of all your experiences, which were viewed, deleted and forgotten, they are no longer a fix, palpable referral.
All this conducted me to the conclusion – video and internet gave us huge opportunities – easy communication, thought exchange, fast education. But we really have to keep in mind all possible dangers: modern media respond to Heraklitos’ philosophy Panta Rhei, nothing is still, everything flows and changes. If our experiences are volatile, so will be our emotions and relations – weak, fast and deprived of real value and work. Snapchat and emojis are all based on impressions, just like 19th century paintings – moments that leave an emotion and then vanish after a couple of seconds.
But then, on the other hand, all this gives us the possibility to forget about things we do not find meaningful and positive. We can stay focused only on what we find really interesting. And 15 seconds of Snapchat film is quite a long time for expression – if the content is boring or worthless, this quarter minute lasts forever. But if the video captures your eye with great content, you will want more and you’ll need it right now! This works also in business. Good promo films, sent on mobile and viewed in a second, will be enjoyed by future consumers just like private videos and boost product sales.