Sian’s comments on one of my visual artefacts has got me thinking about the arguments of Gunther Kress. In this post I want to summarise a couple of the key points Kress has been making for the last few years and in greatest detail in Literacy in the New Media Age.
But first, here’s what Sian wrote:
But isn’t Kress’s point not so much that the written text is dead, but that contemporary (digital) texts are designed according to the ‘logic of the image’. In other words, even if they are mainly textual, there are multiple ‘entry points’, user-defined reading paths and many ways in, in terms of where we start with making meaning. And this would apply to the YouTube screen, to the hypertext or to the new visually-informed print textbook design equally?
Firstly, I do think that Kress is arguing that the textual is being eclipsed by the visual as we move from printed pages to digital content viewed on screens (the ‘new Media Age’):
Two distinct yet related factors deserve to be particularly highlighted. These are, on the one hand, the broad move from the now centuries-long dominance of writing to the new dominance of the image and, on the other hand, the move from the dominance of the medium of the book to the dominance of the medium of the screen. [...] language-as-writing will increasingly be displaced by image in many domains of public communication [emphasis mine]. (Kress 2003: 1)
I think a problem with Literacy in the New Media Age is that, published in 2003 and therefore pre-dating the extraordinary developments in Web 2.0 and social media, it hasn’t the chance to absorb the array of new textual practices (tweets, status updates, tags etc.) associated with or enabled by those technologies. Kress views writing, as what he calls “lettered representation”, as on the way out for all bar political and cultural elites. However, from the vantage point of late 2009, text looks in rude good health (how many txt msgs, tweets, status updates per day from ordinary folks?). It’s way too soon to inter textuality.
Secondly, I have a problem with the distinction Kress makes between text and image and the two very different ‘logics’ that inform them:
The two modes of writing and of image are each governed by distinct logics, and have distinctly different affordances. The organisation of writing – still leaning on the logics of speech is governed by the logic of time, and by the logic of sequence of its elements in time, in temporally governed arrangements. The organisation of the image, by contrast, is governed by the logic of space, and by the logic of simultaneity of its visual/depicted elements in spatially organised arrangements. (Kress 2003: 1-2)
I think my problem with the distinction Kress makes is that I’m not sure I apprehend visual elements on a multimodal web page as simultaneously as he claims. Rather, my eye is drawn to one page element – for example, an embedded video on a YouTube page – and then on to another page element – for example, thumbnail images of video responses to that video.
What I’m saying is that I read a YouTube page as a ’sequence of elements in time’ (first the video, then other parts) just as I might read a web page allegedly informed by the textual logic of temporality, sequentiality and linearity. There aren’t multiple entry points – the embedded YouTube video is located centrally and at the top precisely to gain the viewer’s attention to what is the core part of the screen (its entry point) – although I’d acknowledge there are multiple reading paths on the periphery (I can scroll down to read comments, or click on related videos, to find out more about the user who created and/or uploaded the video). The same goes for Flickr which also enables users to create slideshows – i.e temporally arranged sequences of images.
In short, then, I’m not buying the distinction Kress makes about time-based (text) and space-based (image) logics either.