Text Only

Right about now some of you will stop reading my blog entry and switch to a more “visually attractive” glossy read as you see no photos. For those of you who stick around, you are brave, non-conforming and are venturing into the diaspora of actual words without visuals. I tip my hat off to you.

The power of the visual in modern society is undoubtedly compelling! We live in a visual world and are surrounded by visuals. We as readers, viewers and consumers are bombarded with visual information overload. Visuals are everywhere:

On the net
In magazines
Advertisements (In fact, I am right now staring at a 6-feet photo of a cup of Raspberry Mocha at Peet’s Coffee, and no, I will not post a picture of it as it defeats the purpose of this blog!)

We live in a society where visual stimulation in media has become a necessary part of attracting and maintaining the interest of the viewer. It is understandable as visuals are easier to grasp and retain. They paint a picture which is retained in the cerebral matter far easier and longer than words. As the saying aptly (or not) goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The concept of the “10 second rule” is all pervasive in marketing. If you cannot hold the interest of the viewer in the first 10 seconds of your presentation, you lose them. And what better or more powerful way can there be to hold the interest than putting up a glossy photo or video?

All this talk of visuals made me think, what if we lived in a world of no visuals? Okay, that may be a little draconian. How about we make a compromise and imagine a world with diminished visuals? Would we be less smart, less informed, less literary or less savvy? I don’t think so. After all, a mere 20 years back, when the World Wide Web had not taken off, the forms of information dissemination were

Fashion designers advertised via a few photos in print magazines
News was transmitted on television by news-readers using words only
Journalists wrote narrative pieces for newspapers with no or few photos
Books were written mostly without pictures

As a child I loved reading. I read umpteen books with little or no visuals. I recall reading several fairy tales written by the likes of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brother Grimm. My most favorite book was Hansel and Gretel, about a young brother and sister and the evil witch.

Now let’s conduct an experiment. Read the excerpt from the book, below. It is all text. Later we will infuse it with visuals.

“Suddenly the door opened, and a very, very old woman, who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and Gretel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had in their hands. The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said, “Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here? Do come in, and stay with me. No harm shall happen to you.” She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Gretel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven.”

Now time for visuals!!

Picture a door with a raggedy old disabled lady standing at the doorway. The fright of Hansel and Gretel will probably be depicted by raised eyebrows and drops of sweat flying (nothing innovative.) The feigned concern of the old lady will be hard to show in a picture. Next will be photos of the scrumptious eats, and even if taken with a very high definition camera, the gastrointestinal delight of the moment will be lost. “Heaven” only knows how the inner thoughts of the children will be depicted.

My experience of reading the “text only” version of the story is that the impact is greater without the visuals. In fact, it made my experience richer as I got to imagine! Absence of visuals gave an extra layer of depth to the piece. It let the horses of my imagination run wild with no boxed parameters such as in a visual image.

I am definitely not undermining the power of visuals as it is very important in modern society; but don’t be scared of reading “text only” at times. It stimulates the vertex of our brains as it does not give everything to us on a platter as a visual does. It makes us work, and as you will agree, the more you work for something, the sweeter the reward!