Monday, December 03, 2007

Quoted: Mitchell Stephens' The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word

More great reading from my final course, From Text To Hypertext: A Survey of Publishing. This week, I've been reading Mitchell Stephens' Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), which tracks the rise of television and other screen-oriented mass media, including the Web. His thesis: We are still at the early stages of the video revolution. Television largely copies what came before, such as drama, serials, discussions, music, and news, and real innovation has yet to come: "I will argue that once we move beyond simply aiming cameras at stage plays, conversations, or sporting events and perfect original uses of moving images, video can help us gain new slants on the world, new ways of seeing," Stephens says on page 18. "It can capture more of the tumult and confusions of contemporary life than tend to fit in lines of type."

A few other choice quotes, starting with a comment on the decline of reading, from page 9:
"In a society where professional success now rewquires acquaintance with masses of esoteric information, books now are often purchased to be consulted, not read."
From page 11:
"The video revolution is, by my reckoning, humankind's third major revolution, and the disruptions occasioned by the first two -- writing and print -- are surprisingly similar to what we are experiencing now. The stages in which the new technologies were adopted seem comparable, as does the profundity of the transformations they cause. Even the anxieties and anger sound familiar."
From page 22, after examining the transition from orality to literacy in ancient times:
"Now we are in the early stages of another great communications revolution, surrendering what Emerson called 'these traditional splendors of letters' in favor of the moving image, in favor of video. This seems at first glance quite a powerful new tool, especially when compared to the little scrawlings Thoth was promoting, Indeed, were visitors from Plato's time (or Emerson's) to find their way into one of homes, they might marvel at the machines we have invented for cooking, cleaning, calculating, and sending mail electronically; but would not their gaze be transfixed by that box in front of the couch, with its constantly changing array of images, its miniaturized people, intense dramas, and brilliantly colored scenes?"
From page 27, after noting repeated attacks on TV programming:
"Most educated people, eminent or not, find themselves asking why video can't more closely resemble more respected forms of communication, such as books, theater, concerts or conversation."


My final paper for the class, discussing the future of imagery on the Web (cites Stephens' book):A short essay I wrote for The Industry Standard, based on the above paper:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.