No One Reads Anymore – The Need to Teach Tools

Posted on by Larry

Commentary2.jpgThis blog grew out of an interview where Keith Woolford, from the Institute of Videography, asked me: “The video-chat forums have voted you President of the United States for one day – what’s at the top of your ‘to-do’ list?

I answered: “It won’t be editing or media – we do a fine job blowing our own horns. I’m leaning toward improving funding for education and figuring out how to allow children to grow up in safe environment.”

It drives me completely nuts that politicians and their followers bleat that education costs too much, takes too long, isn’t really necessary. Besides, they say, we need these kids in the workforce. If your view of the future is a society where most jobs are service jobs at minimum wage, you may be correct. But my view of the future is one where education is critical, understanding and manipulation of technology is at the heart of every job, and visuals are the preferred method of communication. In the world of the future, education is not just a goal, but a necessity.

I teach at USC and see some of the finest students in the world as members of my classes. And I’m struck by how different the reading habits of today’s students are from student’s twenty years ago.

The phenomenon of “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games” notwithstanding, students don’t read long-form books anymore; with the exception of the required textbook. Instead, students today are awash in visual images and short, “come on” writing delivered via cell phones. (Definition: “Come-on” – Slang. Anything designed to attract or seduce; an enticement.) This means that anyone who wants to communicate today needs to know more than how to write.

I’m currently pitching USC to create a new course, targeted at Freshman, to showcase and teach the tools of visual communication. In years past, it was enough to know how to type. Today, students need to be skilled in these tools – not because we expect them to be artists, but because we expect them to communicate effectively, persuasively and powerfully with each other and society at large.

Gone are the days when anyone under the age of 30 will devote large amounts of time to reading. Yes, they do it because it is required at school. But in their free-time, communication is visual, online and mobile. Images, both moving and still, form the basis of social media, personal communications and how they record their lives.

The leaders of tomorrow need to understand the visual tools of today. The course that enabled me more than any other as I was growing up was one I took in high school: a touch typing course. It didn’t teach me how to write, it taught me how to type; how to use a technology tool that enabled me to write better, faster, and more accurately. I’ve used that knowledge every day of my life since.

Students today need a “tools course for visual literacy.” These courses are not to create artists or communicators or filmmakers. These courses, like my typing class of long-ago, needs to teach students how to use the tools of visual communication; to give them the skills they need to survive, compete and excel in college and in the much more competitive world of real-life.

To assume that students will somehow just absorb this is foolish. You don’t absorb how to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool – you just drown. You can’t learn lighting, or good design, or even acting by just watching television. You need someone to show you how these things work.

Students today graduate from High School with YouTube accounts and hundreds of followers using a single camera in their bedroom. Would anyone suggest this is the proper way to learn how to create “Game of Thrones?” Yet, given today’s trends of dismissing the arts, the tools of the artist are no longer taught. This means our in-coming students are self-taught in visual media, without understanding how it works, or how to effectively harness its incredible power.

An understanding of visual literacy also enables them to see the artifice, the “come-on,” in much of what passes for online communication today; to recognize the difference between a story and click-bait. These visual tools courses are designed to help every student better understand how the communication tools of today to affect the decisions of tomorrow, and better guard against abuse.

The world of communication is changing – print is dying; images are the new currency. Video is king. Our students need all the skills they can muster to succeed in school and life. Understanding how to use the tools of visual communication provides the essential foundation to future success. These tools can not be ignored or absorbed; they need to be taught.

The world is changing, our students need to be given every opportunity to change with it and grow. Otherwise, all of us will suffer the consequences.

4 Responses to No One Reads Anymore – The Need to Teach Tools

  1. Bentley says:

    I graduated from UCLA’s Film & Television program decades ago. At the time we weren’t allowed to direct anything we didn’t write ourselves. We all thought this was totally at odds with what we really wanted to do — direct. But time has proven the wisdom of that requirement. Writing has since become quite important in all my work as I have written many scripts, speeches, proposals, marketing plans, business plans, bids and press releases that have helped fulfill my initial desire to direct. Thinking about our visual culture, a few more captions accompanying the images might help filter the noise and improve the communications.

  2. Bernard says:

    Good article and points. I just have to chime in with you about touch typing – I learned that in college, by teaching myself with Typing Tutor IV on a Mac IIci, and that has been one the most useful things I learned in college that I use everyday no matter what I am doing or corresponding to.

  3. mike janowski says:

    I think a course such as this could also teach a more honest approach to “visual literacy”, helping students become aware of the manipulative power that a sequence of images and sounds have, and beginning to give them the ability to critique what those sequences are trying to do, what they’re really attempting to communicate.

    Hopefully, tomorrow’s students will become more fluent in understanding the power of visual media to propagandize.

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