Nov 25, 2014

The Great Video Uprising of 2014

One of the great cultural shifts of the 2010s, one that has gone fairly unremarked upon, is the ascendence of video as our media of choice.

Not for entertainment— that’s old hat— but for everything else, things that were usually written: directions on how to tie a bow tie. News stories. How-to guides. Even opinion pieces. You can see it in the search results when you have a technical question or want to learn something more about a current topic: there’s just a lot more video being produced.

The reason I’m calling it a cultural shift is that we consume video in a very different way than we consume text and that makes big difference in how we process information. You can’t quickly scan a video for the data you want. You can’t really multitask either, at least not if you’re planning on full comprehension.

Now it’s entirely possible that the above is just an old school way of thinking, written by someone who still has an easier time editing a 10 page document if it’s printed out and that a generation raised on video will have no trouble processing and shortcutting videos, that multitasking while watching will be as easy for them as multitasking while typing is for me.


Video requires two of the five senses while text only requires one. From a practical matter, that means I can’t be watching a video and having a conversation at the same time. It also means that I’ve got to either be in a room by myself or have headphones on so that I can hear the video. So stealth is not an option the way it is with text, I can’t sneak peaks at a video while I’m in a meeting the way I can with an online newspaper article.

Video is also a visual medium with a whole language of close-ups and cuts and pull-backs that doesn't exist in print. Learning that language, becoming fluent in how to create, understand and interpret in it, will eventually change the way our brains process information. When information is transmitted by video rather than text, when children grow up watching rather than reading— that’s going to be a very different world from our own, just in the way people think and imagine and perceive.

On a long-term basis, it’s hard to predict what effects those changes will have. Rather than visualizing words (think of one of those ubiquitous tag clouds) we’ll be visualizing moving images. So will we become less detail oriented? More focused on the big picture? It’s hard to predict what the ultimate change will be, but in a world that’s awash in too much information, video may be prove the ideal medium precisely because it forces us to stop and focus on what we’re seeing, what we’re learning, what we’re feeling. 

Something that’s sorely missing from today’s always distracted, smartphone-centric culture.

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