"I am getting old. I am irritated by Facebook picture posts of slogans, pithy sayings, homilies, truisms and inspirational bullshit that show up in ever inceasing volume. Does anyone have a frickin' thought of their own? Does anyone have a sense of humor or wit? I pulled a gun on myself and forced myself to write this."
A picture is worth a thousand words is a common saying, but has anyone ever tested the premise? Every picture tells a story is another popular truism that most people accept. Another saying is that in every good lie there is a shred of the truth and that saying applies when it comes to pictures. A single picture or even a series of images can only convey a finite amount of information. In many ways, they are like stories with no beginnings or ends.
I only bring it up because of a trend in American social communication that relies on abbreviated language or picture to convey ideas and information. Granted, most of the information is trivial in nature, but it is problematic when it spills into business, government and international communications. The importance of precise and correct communication is mandatory or chaos ensues.
Perhaps, that is overstating the case, but our bad habits and shortcuts often spill over into arenas where the least equipped to handle them reside. As an Internet inhabitant, I take part in the some of the social media and notice that posters (pictures with words) have become the new communication method. Today, picturesque homilies, truisms and slogans replace the short, condensed, partial sentences and often come in series of six or more at a time.
Unfortunately, even fully developed photographs, films or posters only convey part of the story, which, indeed, may require more than 1,000 words to explain. The trend toward abbreviated thought, while mostly harmless in social Internet settings, can set a pattern or tendency of under thinking items of more importance.
The standalone sentence or sound bite may provide an immediate thought, but bereft of context only provide empty calories. Without the 1,000 words, we access only a portion of the story. The following photograph is an example that took more than a thousand words to explain. Of course, it turned out to be a hoax, but why? Why was the picture ever circulated? Who did it? Why? Even this hoax has a story.
The second picture is horrific, but does it say anything to anyone unfamiliar with history? To those unfamiliar with history, it is a large explosion of no particular significance. Today, if it were color, it might be thought of as a scene from some new movie. In fact, it is a picture of an atomic bomb explosion that helped bring about the end to World War II. For those that know what happen it tells a small story of the bomb, but that is all. However, for those that lived to experience it, there are not enough words as the topic is takes up many writer’s time.
As a method brief communication, pictures, pithy sayings, inspirational thoughts and slogans are like vacation photographs, only good when taken in small amounts.
Unfortunately, as businessman I’ve seen the results of sloppy communications cross my desk far too many times from college graduates from accredited universities and schools. I’ve taught at three universities and the students that show up in composition classes often need pre-remedial training. This is not a shot any particular group because it crosses all age groups, ethnicities and income levels. As a university student, I made money writing papers for rich kids and foreign students. Some of them went on to become pillars in business and government and to this day cannot write a complete sentence if I spotted them a verb and subject.
Still, pictures often receive credit for telling the entire story, but, remember at best they represent frozen moments in time without beginnings or ends. As a journalist, I know this lesson only too well, but I also recognize that pictures can help improve communication, but without words, start and stop points or context, they are at best open to interpretation through experience, environment or politics.
It doesn’t need to be a thousand words, like Twitter, 140 letters will do, but make them count. Say it yourself.