Visual Media and Debate

For some years now, here in the monastery we have relied on the BBC website for news updates. The articles have, by and large, been clearly written and easily read. The increasing use of video, however, has presented us with a double challenge. First, rural Broadband makes even the highly compressed video used by the BBC sometimes difficult to accces. Second, one cannot absorb video content as quickly or critically as the written word. It is more difficult to check something a second time, and depending on the kind of reporting or commentary in use, one is affected by accidentals such as the presenter’s clarity of voice or accent. Does that matter? I think it does. The BBC is merely following a growing trend to use visual media rather than the written word to convey both events and ideas. As a result, I think our ability to read a text closely is being affected, and there is a corresponding weakness in our ability to argue a case or debate a complicated subject. When language becomes an unfamilar tool or a blunt instrument in expressing thought, the quality of thinking itself declines. To put it another way, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but it takes words to make the point.

Many years ago, when we began using podcasts and video as part of our online engagement, we were ahead of others in our adoption of the latest technologies. As time went on, and the sophistication demanded by users grew, we scaled down our efforts on the grounds that we had neither the time nor the money and human resources at the disposal of the bigger Orders and Congregations. It wasn’t all loss, however. It made us rethink our approach and this blog is one of the fruits of that rethinking. We have, as it were, decided that we must concentrate on the Word and on the merely human words that attempt to lead others to him. I said yesterday I thought it imperative that there should be a renewal of the Church so that we live our Christian values more deliberately and convincingly, but is such a renewal possible if even our faith comes to us in the equivalent of sound bytes and video clips? Are we in danger of losing something precious as video becomes for many the communication norm?

I have probably overstated the case, but I think it is worth pondering. As we draw closer to the General Election, I notice that the number of video clips being posted on Social Media is increasing. They have an impact, of course they do, but whether they help us think through the many complicated questions we need to decide, I am not so sure. It may be I am simply an old fuddy-duddy. I admit to loving words and the beauty and clarity they bring to our appreciation of both the abstract and the concrete. Above all, I value them because they reflect, however imperfectly, the creative Word of God. May all our words today be such as build up rather than tear down.

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