In the first chapter of his book, Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress addresses the crossroads that we as a society find ourselves at. What will it mean for us as we move from the precedence of the written word to the precedence of the image? Will such a deviation be positive or negative? And, finally, what will it mean for literacy – will its definition remain the same?
Kress weighs the pros and cons of each medium. For example, the written word possesses a path-like structure, which is difficult to interpret. The image has no structure, making misinterpretation easy. However, the image possesses an interactivity that the written word lacks. For the most part, Kress seems to argue against the emergence of image as the main medium of text. I understand where he is coming from, but I largely disagree with his arguments.
One of Kress’ major points is that the written word is more imaginative – “It is that ‘filling with meaning’ which constitutes the work of imagination that we do with language” (Kress). The image, on the other hand, simply hands it to you, leaving no room for unique interpretation. In short, the divergence away from the written word and towards the image will lead to a less creative society. I disagree. Yes, there is something truly special about reading a book for the first time and developing in your mind’s eye what each character and setting looks like. Movies do that for you. However, I believe that the newfound precedence of the image has provided even more outlets for creativity. Writing only encompasses one sphere of creativity: coming up with a plot and character, and putting pen to paper. With perhaps the most common form of image, the modern film, the creative prospects are endless: screenwriting, costume design, set design, music composition are just a few of many examples. The emergence of the image as the dominant mode of text has not hindered creativity, but expanded it immensely.
Kress also fears that, as the image takes over, the written words that have long defined us as a society will slowly begin to disappear into this new ocean of mass communication. I understand this fear. How often do teenagers pick up a classic novel like The Catcher in the Rye without the instruction of a teacher? While I believe that the written works which have stood the test of time will always be shining illustrations of human nature at its best and worst, society has reached the point where it is moving too quickly to be defined by just a handful of books. We have reached the point where there is no one medium to confine us. A three-minute YouTube video can hold just as much power as a novel. Films have replaced the poetry of old. Some may feel the urge to mourn such a “disintegration” of society and culture, but I believe it is cause for celebration. Today’s society with its numerous outlets for expression is a shining example of the ingenuity and imagination of mankind.