In today’s world, visual storytelling of every conceivable variety booming worldwide. In scope and volume the visual images and movies surpasses written and static words. Can we give up on reading and writing? Can we be better of tuning into the mass media? Will the technological revolution take us back to the oral tradition? Is it a healthy trend?
Less writing has become trendy today. Examples include the diminishment of fiction in the common core curriculum, the ever-rising culture of computer games, and the blockbuster movies filled with special effects geared towards children and teenagers. Nor must we ignore the economic dangers that lie ahead for the written word. The narrative film industry is a moneymaker that dwarfs the publishing industry currently in the throes of financial revolution and disorder. As the distribution channels of the written word lose traction, the danger to its economic survival will become increasingly evident.
The other underlying question, is does it really matter if the written word bows to the world of film/TV? Novelist and writer Warren Adler holds that “any diminishment of fiction delivered by words is a loss for mankind and must be confronted.”
There is no greater human attribute than the imagination. It lies at the very soul of the human species. It is the brain’s most powerful engine. It is the essential muscle of life and like all muscles it must be exercised and perpetually strengthened. “Writing and reading are the principal tools that inspire, create and empower our imagination without which we are bereft, muted and lesser. Anything that diminishes that power is the enemy of mankind,” says Adler.
Adler is not categorically opposed to the myriad manifestations of new media and technological advances. We need to adapt to evolving technology and modes of distribution. The other forms of communication and art must be embraced. So Adler hopes that “the written word will only stand to be enhanced and complemented by its visual counterparts, not pushed to the brink of extinction.”
Writing in Huffington Post, Adler, author of Torture Man argues for a greater, not a lesser emphasis on the written word “as the paramount storytelling device ever invented for human communication beyond speech itself.”
Words conjure deeper, more creative possibilities of thought and interpretation than what is pre-packaged for our consideration. The heart of storytelling is the ultimate quest for “what happens next,” which motivates us to contemplate our mortality. Herein Adler sees “the mystery of all human life, a necessary component of our existence.” This leads us to the questions: Where are we going? What is ahead? Is there anything beyond disintegration and the end of life?
These are the primal questions behind the art and idea of storytelling. Adler acknowledges that there are those who will present passionate arguments for the superiority of the moving image over the written word. Audio and video messages are visually more appealing. As a society we are moving back to a deeper and refined oral tradition. Still Adler believes that writing has its place. So he argues for making “the preservation of the art of the written word a priority and finding the right balance between it and the moving image.” There is authenticity in the written word. There is depth and persistence there. There imagination, creativity and commitment are combined. Human beings need more of it today! The growth and progress of our civilization demands more of written words, together with oral and other visual forms of communication.
The writer is professor of science, religion & philosophy