William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Facebook All Video: The Disappearance Of Words

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I was, like, I can’t even. I mean, it’s like something isn’t right. I feel, like, it isn’t right? Like, removing, like, words? It’s so, like, strange. I was all, “Facebook, like, turning to an all, like, all-video format is, like, going to, like, further make people, like, not read and everything?”

It’s only a coincidence, I suppose, that Facebook’s method of signaling is the ‘Like’ button.

In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

No, it doesn’t. Mendelsohn (and Zuckerberg), if they really believe such a thing and aren’t bloviating, are wrong—and they’re wrong if they’re bloviating, too. And not only wrong, and not only preposterously wrong, but stupefyingly preposterously wrong. With some exceptions, such as conveying information in a painting or showing the positions of the mangled cars in a crash, video does not convey “much more information in a much quicker period” than reading.

You can read these words faster than you can listen to them. Too, you can re-read them much faster than re-watching them, which involves making a device go backwards and then forwards again; whereas your eyes can do the same trick in an instant.

Imagine watching a video of somebody reading Spengler’s The Decline of the West. Not only would the audience spend many more hours assimilating the material than readers, who again can not only read, but re-read (a necessity with this book) faster than watch, they would also fail to see the irony in their act of listening to what was meant to be read confirms the thesis of what they should have been reading.

If you don’t like that example, feeling man’s journey is essentially one of progress and any book which dares to disagree isn’t worth reading, then feast your eyes upon any math of physics text, or a book of history written by any author prior to the Twentieth Century. Videos of the same won’t cut it.

The comparisons aren’t entirely fair, I admit. Facebook is a “platform” for flummery, foolishness, families, and felines, subjects which are not content rich. Videos suffice. This may be why Facebook censors content which leads to written discussions.

Anyway, the non-reading trend is only being embraced by that dismal company; it did not create the trend. For instance, a librarian at a major university confirmed that students who amble down to the “learning center” do not do so to read books, but to engage with their “devices” in a pleasant setting. Of course, textbooks, with their colorful sensationalism and textual pablum, discourage any but the most ardent seeker of knowledge. Educational theory has been discouraging real books for some time, which accounts for much including the hideousness of textbooks.

Casual reading has been decreasing for some time, and this has led to what was written to be simplified, and that led to speech which is less descriptive and more demonstrative, and that leads to people unwilling to read better books, which leads to what’s being written to be simplified, and so on.

Like, am I right?

26 Comments

  1. Yes, indeed. For instance, books turned into movies are mostly poorly done versions that leave you feeling disappointed. It’s no wonder. The written version can convey more of the internal thought processes of the characters than can be implied by some sort of visual. And voice over narration can be awkward to say the least (think of Dune).

    This inclination toward watching video has infected my family. I understand a teenagers addiction but have trouble understanding how the adults that grew up on the written word can even tolerate the mind numbingly slow pace of a video.

  2. The best way to destroy or rewrite history is video and spoken words. Is that a coincidence?

    All the more reason to stay away from Facebook and the vast, unwashed masses with dismal existences.

    Do podcasts count? Without a written translation, I simply skip them.

    Without a video, how can I can tell if you’re batting your eyelashes when you say “Like, am I right?” 🙂

    It is good to be a Delta, it is good to be a Delta, it is good to be a Delta. Repeat as necessary.

  3. I use Facebook to stay in touch with my relatives and friends, and to participate in alumini associations. My friends rarely write status updates of more than 50 words. I so appreciate the photos and short videos uploaded by them to inform me of how and what they are doing and thinking. Some people, not I, think Facebook is a boasting ground. I love to see photos and short videos of their grandchildren, children, grandparents, pets, places visited, activities, lost family members, achievements, and so on.

    And I agree with Zuckerberg that that video will be more and more important for the (Facebook) platform.

    Funny, one of my daughters, who works part time in our local library during Summer, thinks older adults don’t read much.

  4. Sheri,

    The best way to destroy or rewrite history is video and spoken words.

    The best way. Are there other ways?

  5. What are the icon for “Moogs!” and “Would you buy it for a quarter?”

  6. If they leave words alone for the sense aficionados will we get back our spelling and grammar? Please.

  7. If I am doing a search for something and am presented with a video, I will click back. I never choose the video option on Google search if I am searching for information. If I am searching for instruction, I have a little more patience with a video, but not much more.

  8. Fr. John Rickert

    June 18, 2016 at 11:40 am

    There is a great episode of “The Twilight Zone” with Burgess Meredith as a librarian who is to be exterminated because he still possessed and read books. It’s called “The Obsolete Man.”

  9. As a child, one of the pleasures of summertime was a trip to the library. It was cool, quiet, and Mom let me spend as long as I wanted browsing and picking just the right books to take home. Thanks to her investment in me, I developed a love of reading, and still read every night before turning in. I’ve tried to instill the same love of reading in my daughters but they, being brought up in the digital age, seem to view book-reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. If I can get them to read a book long enough to get interested in it, then they will read it through. In my trips to the library now, it doesn’t seem to be as popular as I remember it being back then. Most of the people who are there will be found sitting at one of the many computers, not browsing the shelves.

  10. Sander van der Wal

    June 18, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    In defence of American students, their text books are quite expensive. Faculty aren’t the only people extorting them.

    If you take a look at the international versions of American text books, there’s always the provision that they cannot be sold back into the USA. People might get the Communist notion about undercutting the publishers.

  11. Right on cue, the podcast jibe.

    If the audio and written word contain the same information there’s no point discussing which is better. If the audio is autobiographical or read by the author then the writing contains more information about what was intended by the author. If the audio is read by a third party it contains exactly the same content as the written version. So in order to decide, the content itself must be compared.

    The case of a book versus the movie is a better example of how literature captures the imagination and depicts characters in a far more individual way and of course the time taken to read a book is still greater than the time in a film so character development, atmosphere, and dynamics can be developed more effectively. Pace is controlled by the reader and on and on.

    Many, I’d say most, who are used to reading only are incapable of hearing and following a verbal instruction. There are some people who can’t understand what you are saying if you don’t look at them. They literally think you’re speaking French. This is from someone who’s spent a good deal of my life giving instructions. Repeat yourself as many times as you dare. Apparently ‘studies show’ seven times is the required number.

    Consider when somebody reads out the instructions for a new game. How many people need interpretation or second and third reading to understand. Some resort to grabbing the instructions to read themselves as if the incompetent reader has something wrong with their diction, reading speed or intonation. It’s never the cloth eared listener’s fault!

    Teachers, as opposed to lecturers will encounter this. At least with an online video it doesn’t matter if someone’s listening, they can rewind.

    Try listening to a TV weather broadcast without looking at the map.
    They are the most difficult and pseudo-complex bundles of information to take in. (Probably not in the US, it does the same thing every day for weeks.)
    It’s deliberate. As Jeremy Paxman said when he was asked to fill in and read the weather:
    “If you want to know what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow look out of the window.”

    On googling for information: this used to be a rich supply of information, free, well written and more than one page to chose from. So now it’s Wickipedia, a bad forum, or someone selling you the material required. Google is too commercial. Since screen reader supplied from Apple makes even the simplest thing sound complex and can’t make a sentence clear it is easier for me to use video clips. The internet isn’t what it used to be!

    Facebook? it’s an address book for me for old colleagues. I think Facebook is divisive. A friend of mine says he’s switched to Insta’ gram because of the easy way to keep in touch without any of the unpleasantness or false messages.

  12. JH: I’ll have to think on that one. Good question.

    Gary in Erko: I certainly hope so, too.

    Joy: So people who can’t understand what you’re saying if you don’t look at them are what? Defective? Guess so, based on your “It’s never the cloth eared listener’s fault!”. Hospitals are a bit more compassionate—they at least ask how a patient learns, by reading or hearing or seeing.

  13. “The comparisons aren’t entirely fair, I admit. Facebook is a “platform” for flummery, foolishness, families, and felines, subjects which are not content rich. Videos suffice. This may be why Facebook censors content which leads to written discussions.”

    Uh, no. Facebook wants to censor content which leads to written discussion because leftists usually lose these discussions based on their lack of verifiable facts…

  14. Being a technologist I followed the trend lines and read most of my books as eBooks. I never got the sense of ownership from dead-tree books, but I got more books.

    However, the problem was that I found that I could only read 4-5 pages at a time, or maybe a maximum of 10 pages in one sitting. The last eBook I read was Mind and Cosmos. It was an engaging read, but I had difficulty with it.

    The next book I read was “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains.” But I bought in dead-tree format. This time I was reading 50-ish pages in one sitting and grasping complex subjects with ease.

    Oh, and the topic of The Shallows? How our brains respond via neuroplasticity to screen-based reading compared to book-based reading. There are documented neurological differences between reading a screen and reading a book. If this sounds interesting, or odd, checkout the book. Preferably the hard copy.

    But I also find it interesting: Socrates (I believe) did not believe you could truly understand a subject through reading. It needed to be taught from a person whom you could question until you understood. The further you get from that ideal, the more cat videos there are. Though, truthfully, I am glad we do read since, while we may not get the depth, we get a breadth of knowledge un-imagined back them. Reading gives you access to copies of the best minds out there.

    Incidentally, Dr. Briggs, I will be getting the dead tree version of your book because I intend to understand it, not just tweet funny posts overlaid on images of cats.

  15. Even the, y’know, generation or whatever that, like, really enjoys vids — and stuff — more than old boring uncool text first engages the content by PAUSING THE PLAYBACK.

    They get screen shots and still imagery from the purportedly “dense” information flowing past and freeze it, looking for Easter Eggs and mistakes — literally, “takes” of a performance that should have “missed” the final cut and hints about what it all means. Where a literary critic would be engaging for allusions and fore-shadowing and homage, the video hounds are passing back and forth JPGS with captions showing Kirk vs Picard vs Dr Who — having again frozen a moment of video to create, instead, a background image where the meat of the message is the caption, presented as text.

  16. We’ve gone from “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” to “She’s hot”.

    This example is courtesy of Provost David Whalen of Hillsdale College.

  17. Thank you. I absolutely hate the fact that video keeps popping up all over the web. At least with audio I can listen to it in the car.

    No, I don’t want to watch your 20 minute video on how to.. lets say, descale my water heater – just give me the 8-step written guide instead.

  18. Sometimes though …. try describing this is words –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGmQjKKuh10

  19. Gary in Erko said
    Sometimes though …. try describing this is words –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGmQjKKuh10

    Gaaagh! Isn’t that what the blathering motor mouth in the video was doing?

  20. Gaaagh! Isn’t that what the blathering motor mouth in the video was doing?

    If you had read those words without the video (or even listened to them) would you have had any idea what he was talking about? The words were almost superfluous. Even illustrations wouldn’t have conveyed the idea as well.

  21. I think instructional videos can be valuable in learning. An expert can succinctly summarize and point out key concepts. Good students, who have to miss a class, would ask if that the professor could videotape the lecture, which can be done easily nowadays. Try the following.

    It might be helpful to know just a little about the analysis (interpretation) of logical probability before reading Keynes’ dissertation finished under Bertrand Russell’s guidance. Probability: logical interpretation- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t3gsBmwFn6E

    The short video (< 8 minutes) explains why it's call logical probability and must be conditional, and points out its fatal, yes, fatal, problem of how to operationalize it and how to actually assign a value accordingly.

    Another example, Richard Feynman on Quantum Mechanics Part 1 – Photons Corpuscles of Ligtht – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xdZMXWmlp9g. Can a book render the same value?

  22. JH: I agree, instructional videos can add a lot of value even if they’re for something as simple as putting together IKEA furniture. Seeing how something is done adds a level above and beyond what you can get from a printed diagram. The Feynman video does indeed add value above and beyond what you might get from a book. The first “video” however wasn’t really a video. It was a scripted narration over a power point of word slides. IMHO, reading the narration in printed form would have provided the same value.

  23. “So people who can’t understand what you’re saying if you don’t look at them are what? Defective? ” Feel free to read again.

    If a person with the full compliment of senses can’t hear without seeing then I say,
    “parle vous Francais?” (well I don’t but if I did I would expect to raise a smile.)

    Several years ago, before discovering I had bilateral perforated eardrums, I noticed (before being unceremoniously sent home by one of our lovely GP’s) that I was missing audible cues in using equipment that I had not realised I was even sensing.

    My patients mostly all know because I tell them that I don’t see but I didn’t have he heart to tell them I couldn’t hear either. This Christmas and New Year was the same but not caused by violence this time.

  24. I prefer a map to written driving instructions because I think spacially. Maps contain so much more information in the same physical space than narratives do.

    My point?

    Different delivery methods are better for different purposes. Blanket condemnation of video is short-sighted. That said, video often contains too much information to absorb and it may not focus attention on a significant issue as text must do. Use the right tool for the job.

  25. Joy: Je parle un peu français.
    One does not have to have poor hearing to need to see a speaker to understand them. There are comprehension and other such limitations some people have. It doesn’t mean they are defective, just not like everyone else. Unless you are saying anyone with less than 20/20 vision and perfect hearing is defective.

    Gary: Agreed.

  26. Sheri,
    Sheri,
    Shall I draw a diagram?
    The word defect is operative on a subject. The word defective is descriptive of and object or subject.

    People with full eyesight have no eyesight defect. Their eyesight is not defective.
    People with full compliment of ‘X’ have by definition no defect in ‘X’.
    People without the full ‘X’ are defective in ‘x’ by virtue of the missing component of ‘X’.
    It stands to reason doesn’t it?

    Incidentally, if a person has the full “XY and Z” where XY and Z = all abilities and still are incapable I say they are a lost cause.
    Rub them out and start again!

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