Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Text, Image, Manuscript and Multimedia

Many years ago when the world was young, around 1995, I started attempting to produce multimedia presentations on various topics in medieval history. The received wisdom being spouted by the bright young things who had just graduated from multimedia school was that text was going to disappear from our learning process. All instructions, navigation and even content should be in the form of graphic imagery, because the upcoming generation was not going to ever need to read. It seemed we were going back to preliterate medieval style visual culture.
Strange as that seems, it never happened. The killer app of the internet is not digital video, animation or fancy graphics, but email. We are addicted to it. Advertisers bomb us with it. We can now check it and send it on our mobile phones. Web designers have gone back to advocating text links, as those little inscrutable icons are not actually intuitive after all.
The bizarre news item of the week is that a street in London is having its lamp posts and bollards wrapped in thick white padding so that people walking along the street text messaging don't injure themselves when they walk into them. The human race has become so obsessed with text that it no longer looks where it's going.
I wonder if there was panic among late medieval scribes that fancy manuscript picture books for the laity would put them out of work because book owners would all be illiterate. Then along came printing, more people learned to read, and text was king again. Nuthin' new in the world.