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“The rise of the image, the fall of the word”

I’ve been trying to read as many books as I can these Christmas holidays since I have plenty of free time and the weather outside is particularly cold,1 so another book that I’ve read is Mitchell Stephens classic: “The rise of the image, the fall of the word.” It’s obligatory reading for anyone studying journalism and new media these days, as it tries to argue for cultural significance of television, or specifically something that Stephens calls the new video. A very interesting book indeed, and although I don’t quite agree with some opinions about montage and fast cutting, Stephens’ book is well worth reading if only for the very insightful analysis of history and significance of the written word, and then later development of film and video.

But there’s one other interesting thing about this book. The second edition was published in 1998, before the age of ubiquitous high-speed internet, YouTube, Netflix, the iPhone, the iPad, Snapchat, Vine and Instagram, and in the era when television was at its highest—in everyone’s home and at the center of home entertainment. It is surprising to see how much things have changed within the last 16 years,2 and it is astonishing how accurate are the predictions about the future of video the author makes. Stephens basically predicted YouTube, Netflix, and the iPhone/iPad. He also somewhat predicted the rise in quality of original programming on television, which is what many now refer to as the “ renaissance of TV.” The only new, revolutionary technologies he didn’t foresee were high-speed internet in our smartphones, and the Kindle-driven e-book revolution3 that delays the death of the word,4 but I guess nobody saw it coming. Stephens also mentioned that video games will become more mature and will evolve into something more than teenager entertainment, which is also happening, although at a pace slower than expected. It would be interesting to see if he’d want to change anything in his book if it were to be written now, but I doubt that.

Again, a recommendation. Read this book especially if you love books and hate TV.

  1. Also, I’ve been trying to win a bet with Karolina (no luck so far I’m afraid). ↩︎

  2. I’m not an expert here, but I suppose it’s even less than that. I’d say things started happening really quickly once high-speed internet connectivity became a standard, once internet streaming services appeared (YouTube was created in 2005, Netflix and Hulu started offering video-on-demand streaming in 2007), and once the iPhone came out, so around 2005–2007. So then it’s basically the last 7–9 years. ↩︎

  3. I wonder if there’s any research behind the increased readership and e-book reader sales. Do Kindles increase it, or are they bought solely because they’re an attractive gadget? ↩︎

  4. One could also point out that the internet itself fuels a lot of text creation, with its blogs (who knew there’s gonna be so many bloggers in societies in which apparently nobody reads?), tweets, reddits, etc. ↩︎