I wonder if as a society we are getting obsessed by images. A drawing or a painting used to be the way we represented something in an image. Even the smallest sketch took skill and a painting might be the work of months or even years. Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa took him nearly fifteen years to complete. Then came photography but even when photography had been going for a hundred years or more and we had left behind the period when the sitter had to remain entirely still for minutes in front of the camera it was still the case until digital photography that a photograph required waiting: the film had to be completed, sent away in a sealed envelope and the prints returned a few days later. Only then could you see that the whole film contained only half a dozen pictures that you wanted to keep with most of the prints being slightly out of focus, containing a pink finger over a bit of the lens, or so dark and atmospheric that it was hard to tell why they had been taken at all. Perhaps that last bit was just me. Then digital photography allowed for instant gratification and instant deletion of the failures but that, great leap forward that it was, fades into insignificance alongside the casual production of high quality images we now have from our smart phones. Selfies, instagram, flickr and the constant easy sharing of pictures make images the currency of our daily lives. In some ways this is wonderful. I love instagram and the immediacy of sharing a visually satisfying moment. I love it when our children send pictures of their children smiling, laughing, being thrown in the air, gurgling in the bath or mastering riding a bike without stabilisers. It is fabulous to see so much even if one is far away.
And yet what does all this easy access to the telling image do to words? It makes me uneasy. Will we become unwilling to give time and attention to anything which is not accompanied by fabulous pictures? Will a slab of text, however beautifully and evocatively written, start to strike us in the same way as a Victorian novel does in the twenty first century: the print too small, the paragraphs too long, the sentences too dense and impenetrable without a conscious slowing down and a level of concentration that we no longer have the time or inclination to give to it?
I do hope not. Words can do things pictures cannot. They can analyse and explore and draw fine distinctions. They can open up other worlds with a depth of understanding that is quite different from the impact of an image, however complex and evocative. They help us to understand each other and ourselves. I would always rather have a letter than a postcard, a novel rather than a comic strip. Maybe I would choose a biting political cartoon over a well argued piece of polemic but mostly words are for me one of the best things in life. I love stories and poems and tales of people's lives. I love images too; my father spent his life as a photographer and he has images which mean as much to me as a favourite novel, but I don't want words to be displaced by the seduction of the easy image. I don't want the blogs I read to be predominantly pictures. I don't want intelligent journalism to be displaced by web based images with a snappy byline. I think I will go to my grave as the little girl saying "Tell me a story."
What do you think? Does it matter - this immediate gratification of the instant image? Does it matter that even with images we so often don't have a physical copy to hold in the hand? Does it matter if the emoticon displaces the letter? Do they matter, words?