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Visual Literacy: The Generation Gap


by Alan Melson 6 Jun 2008

What are the consequences of a world where so many personal and collective mindsets are shaped by the interpretation and decoding of imagery? A generational disconnect has come to exist between people who have grown up using imagery as a means to send and receive essential messages and those who have not. This is glaringly […]

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What are the consequences of a world where so many personal and collective mindsets are shaped by the interpretation and decoding of imagery?

A generational disconnect has come to exist between people who have grown up using imagery as a means to send and receive essential messages and those who have not.

This is glaringly evident not only here in the US but in emerging economies such as China, where children high school age and younger are becoming at very adept at using technology to communicate and navigate their worlds, but are also under enormous pressure to compete for academic and social standing. Being visually literate has become a new and extremely cogent metric that young people now apply as a means to measure their self-worth against not just the middle- and high school-aged children in their own schools, but around the world.

The perception of what constitutes a public and a private life in many societies around the world has been drastically altered, as has the understanding of what constitutes reality and what constitutes the illusion of reality.

Using images to communicate has contributed greatly to the now common phenomenon of perception supplanting and becoming truth in the minds of many population groups around the world. The fact that it was so easy to depict Barack Obama as a lousy bowler and a pretty decent street basketball player on Web sites around the world has helped visually communicate a stereotype for him that makes it easier to manipulate and persuade particular blocks of voters who possess particular sets of core values and beliefs. The same can be said for the manner in which an image of Hillary Clinton in a neighborhood tavern in Indiana hoisting a mug full of beer has been used to cast her in a very particular and very shallowly defined political context.

An ever-widening cultural divide now exists between those who not only know how to use emerging digital technology as a means to help them organize and navigate their lives, but who are comfortable doing so and those who cannot do this.

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