Visual Communication and Where I plan to go With This Blog

It is no secret that this blog was recently started due to a spurred requirement of a class I am taking during my Study Abroad trip to New Zealand.  The class is essentially a class on the appreciation and impact of visual communication in our world.  I personally am not looking to specialize in visual communication and already have an associate in art, but given I am looking to specialize in online community management which is almost entirely a visual area of expertise, I plan on modifying the intent of this class a bit.

A few weeks ago my school required that I read “How to See the World” by Nicholas Mirzoeff which is all about visual communication and the impact of art on various levels of the socio-ecological scale.  For design students, the book is wonderful and by and large I have enjoyed reading it, (I’m on chapter 6), but something has been bothering me about it and the class.  The book reads like a basic history report of much higher-brow sociological textbooks.  It is simultaneously very accessible to lay-readers and annoyingly paced to me. Chapter 4, “The World on Screen” is a discussion of how visual technologies have reduced the perceived size of the world and created a “global village”.  Its intent is to illustrate how technologies have changed the way we as a public see the world, but I feel the subject was glossed over in the 30-page chapter.  Mirzoeff talks about the importance of trains in movies for about 50% of the chapter, TVs and reporting for 22%, and then technology – not even recent technology – comprises another 20% (Mirzoeff,2015).  Proofs of these concepts and what I consider filler make up the rest.

Now I have nothing against trains, but all he is saying about them is that they became an important “place-marker” for visual media for several decades.  He uses seven examples throughout the chapter, and several of them focus on the filming techniques used.  Trains are an allegory for travel and connection in many ways and can be used to symbolize a smaller world because of technology.  People have used this symbolism a lot – but is it really supporting a “world on screen” argument?  I feel that it is more of a red-herring then direct evidence.  From a visual design perspective though it teaches an important lesson about artistic choice (we’ll get to this in a bit).

Comparing this argument (if it is one) to the powerful impact of “The Rise of the Networked Society” by Manuel Castells,  in which he has entire chapters in his 3 volume thesis on the rise of the internet, discusses visual communication architecture for an entire section of his second volume, and focuses on an intense connection across multiple academic spheres throughout to make his point clear, I would be far more satisfied reading Castells’ then with Mirzoeff’s chapter (Castells, 2011).
While the book feels ill-paced to me and does not focus on the subjects as much as I would prefer it is still a highly valuable book.  Mirzoeff’s argument throughout the fifth chapter is geared for a visual audience and intended to make one think of the technology as a powerful force in artistic mediums.  As I said previously it is a very accessible book to the public and I feel this is the intent of the class I am reading the book for as well.

Moving on to the class, Massey University’s Wellington campus is a business/design school and the course is a freshman level course.  Many of the students have not heard of a socio-ecological scale, semiotics theory, rich media context theory, or most theories at all. They’ve likely been taught their elements and principles of design, the golden rule, and how to write a proper journal.  The class seems to appropriately gloss over the deep theory when considering the impact of digital media on communities, but they do focus on the benefits and power of symbolism in art work.  The class itself provided 17 sources from the public sphere to answer the question on technologies impact to the visual world.  It’s obvious that the class is geared toward the level of discussion Mirzoeff Provides.  Mirzoeff’s book is more likely than Castells to stoke their fires and help them learn.

For me though, it is not enough, so I would like to use this blog to analyze these questions a tad more in depth.  I’d like to go above-and-beyond so to speak.  Over the next few weeks I will be considering how the integration of visual technology will or has impacted the internet and physical spaces.  I will use important theories in communication, evidence from qualitative and quantitative analysis, and I will pull from important prior research in several disciplines.

Throughout the next month I plan to look at the topic of “communication technology” using the following thesis:

  • How our notions of 2-Dimensional hardware devices have swayed our perspectives of our online communities.
  • How motivations, Rich Media Context Theory, online environment, and Semiotics interact with the quality of online conversation.
  • The impact of online forum architecture – comparing BBS (bulletin board style) forums and Social Media formats of different sorts.
  • Why the term “Online Community Manager” is problematic considering these topics.

Of course, as these are not yet written they are subject to change, but I certainly hope that this will give you a good overall view of where I plan to go with the blog over the next month.  Weekly installments will publish every Friday and some extras may be present!

EDIT: I set 2 of these articles to publish over my Easter holiday break but apparently they are set in June >///>  This is entirely my fault and  I have scheduled them to publish 2 at a time every Wednesday instead to keep up with the school assignment.


Work Cited:

Castells, M. (2013). Rise of the Networked Society (3rd ed., Vol. 1). Wiley-Blackwell.

Mirzoeff, N. (2016). How to see the world: an introduction to images, from self-portraits to selfies, maps to movies, and more. New York: Basic Books.

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