Syed Ali Mujtaba*
Jefferson Fellow and Senior Journalist,
Head, Visual Communication,
Guru Nanak College, Chennai
Scientists have agreed that around two million years ago, the first distinct and recognizably human cultures had emerged in the world. These early humans were known as ‘Homo Erectus’, or upright man. They made complex tools, formed societies, used fire, cooked food, migrated to long distances and they did all this without words. These early humans had 80 per cent of the brain capacity of modern man yet they were biologically incapable of speech. They communicated with each other visually, through gestures, observation, mimicry and pantomime. And this gave birth to Visual Communication.
It wasn’t until some 25,000 years ago that the first evidence of advanced drawing and painting skills appeared in cave paintings at Altamira in northern Spain. In the Indian subcontinent, similar discoveries were made at two of the greatest cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa that emerged around 2600 BCE. With this evidence of human communication, the journey of visual communication started.
It was some 6,000 years ago that some form of writing came into vogue. This was in the form of rock and stone carvings. It was about 4,000 years ago when paper and ink were invented that gave writing its formal shape. Writing in the combination of ink and paper made it possible to record details of observations, make maps and sketches and present complex information in a written format. As written material, papers could travel over long distances and so information could be read and shared which in turn helped in the discovery of the world. The invention of writing was a milestone in the field of visual communication.
It was in the year 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg of Germany invented the first printing press that brought a revolution in the field of visual communication. With the invention of the printing press, words were much easier to reproduce; roughly 100 alphanumeric characters can convey nearly any idea. The words were carefully set in lines and columns and had to be carefully positioned according to a grid. It was for the first time that written works could be mass-produced and made available to a large number of people. The printing press gave birth to a powerful publishing industry. The power of the press could now compete with the power of priests, kings and the governments. The invention of the printing press is seen as another landmark in the field of visual communication.
Since the invention of the printing press, there are many other developments that have taken place in the field of visual communication. The first and foremost was the invention of the telephone as a medium of communication, and then came the radio that transmitted voices over a large distance without wires. With these two inventions communication became possible across the countries and continents.
Then the invention of the camera, both still and movie, catapulted the field of visual communication. This development gave birth to the cinema and television industry. In turn, both these mediums developed the entertainment industry.
Today, the entertainment industry is growing by leaps and bounds and dominating the world space. We cannot live without watching TV or the movies. Such a mode of visual communication is having tremendous influence over our lifestyles, societies and culture.
In the series of inventions, the introduction of desktop computers brought another revolution in the field of visual communication. Desktop publishing galvanized the creation and delivery of information systems and printers and photocopy machines reduced the cost of printing and publication. People, who had never thought they could be creative, now had access to powerful creative tools and could become publishers, thanks to the desktop computers.
The more computer literate people are becoming, the more intense is their involvement in the field of visual communication. They can design their own business cards, brochures, logos, even magazines, books with the help of the new tools of visual communication. There is no denying the fact that computers have become part and parcel of our lifestyle.
The invention of the World Wide Web or the internet is another major milestone. With the help of the web browser, one can publish one’s ideas and reach a large audience without much effort. E-books, home videos, cartoons and animation are now easily available on the web.
Today, blogging, podcasting, photo sharing, animation, gaming, graphics and multimedia are the new hobbies of visual communicators. With every passing day, technology is getting cheaper and easier to access and with this, the progress in the field of visual communication is scaling new heights.
As visual literacy is growing every minute people around the world are playing with new toys of visual communication. The high definition cameras, the final cut pro computers, smoke, cloud and many such tools are enriching the playing field of visual communication.
New Horizons of Visual Communication
With people using new tools we are witnessing the new horizons of visual communication. This can best be described as the visual age.
This new visual age actually took shape when computers and the internet opened the gates of the communication highway and thee-mails and voice messages dominated cyberspace.
The use of flash, graphics and animation and other such multimedia tools made communication visually attractive and dynamic. The World Wide Web has ushered in a new era that is called the visual age.
In the new visual age, communication is taking place through webcams and its application is found in an array of activities. Whether it’s in the newsroom or board room, courtroom or chat room, such mode of communication is gaining prominence each day.
Further, the introduction of android smartphones with 4G connections has added greater excitement to this new visual age. The mobile phones based on the 4G connectivity has enhanced the speed of visual communication many folds and now everything remains on the touch screens of the mobile phone.
However, the question remains whether the new visual age is better or worse. Let’s debate this a little.
Positive Developments in New Visual Age
In the new visual age, visual communication is helping to simulate the experience of images that a phone conversation or an e-mail exchange could not generate. In such a mode of communication, one need not travel a distance but can make visual interaction an enriching experience.
In the new visual age, the distances between nations and continents are getting bridged as people of different cultures and backgrounds are visually interacting with each other.
The new visual age is not only amplifying connectives but also making communication effective. This is bringing the world closer and establishing the dominance of globalization over a narrow nationalism.
This is not to suggest that the new tools of visual communication are catapulting a global society but only to underline the point that it is making efforts to accept the fact that those whose backgrounds are different too have so many things in common.
Such attitudinal change is definitely a sign towards mitigating prejudices between different races and cultures and a sign of progress towards making a harmonious world. This is indeed a laudable development that is made possible due to the progress made in the field of visual communication.
Negative Developments in New Visual Age
However, there are negative symptoms emerging in the new visual age as well. As we have started to live under the shadows of webcams, personal privacy is being compromised. Whether it’s a mall or a superstore, bus station, railway platform, airport or even traffic signals, we are under the vigil of the cameras. Living under such surveillance is something that is seen as an intrusion into our personal lives.
Even though the new visual age has thrown open a window of opportunities it’s filled with challenges. One has to be over conscious all the time in terms of diet and dress to match the expectations of being an effective communicator. Since every individual cannot be visually appealing the new visual age is creating a new divide based on looks, sacrificing meritocracy at the cost of visual appeal.
Further, such developments are not good for the growth of a healthy society. Today’s children are exposed to un-meaningful activities and their development of a sound body and mind is being undermined in such a newly created environment. Instead of solving the problems, this new visual age is creating many more. This debate is a work in progress.
Notwithstanding the constraints, the new visual age has come to stay simply because the invention of new tools of visual communication is part of the journey of the changing world. There is little doubt that as we progress ahead this journey is made more exciting with the help of the new tools of visual communication.