Logocentrism, Videocentrism and consciousness

“The human gaze has the power of conferring value on things; but it makes them cost more too.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Culture and social context have an incredible effect on the manner in which people create and mediate meaning for themselves and their surroundings. Naturally, when there are any significant shifts in the way in which a culture mediates that meaning for itself, it will have an equally significant effect upon the people who make up that cultural grouping.

I have been using the internet since early in 1994. In those early days we had a few 286 and 386 Wintel boxes (2 MB or ram with Windows 3.1). Netscape had just released version 1 of their browser. How many folks remember GOPHER? In those early days Newsnet and GOPHER were almost as popular (and I use that word popular with reserve) as the internet itself was. In fact the best way to browse the internet was to use a text based browser, on a UNIX box with Xwindows, called Mozilla. It would load the text in one Window and the graphics in a separate window.

Anyway, that is not the point, the point is that over the last 10 years internet usage has moved out of the realms of the academy and into the homes (and even pockets) of the average person on the street. As I write this piece I am sitting in a MacDonalds (another new addition to South Africa since 1994) connected to a Wireless Network. Granted, there are not that many people who do this. However, how many people have GPRS enabled Cellular phones (ANOTHER addition to South African life since 1994)? Most middle class South Africans have daily access to the Internet (either through a device that they own, be it portable or in their home, or at their offices).

There is no doubt that access to all of the information that one can get on the internet has had some effect on the lives of ordinary people. We can communicate in a quick, reliable and affordable, manner with people from all over the world. No longer is the access to information a privilege of the few. Things that were reserved for the few are now open to the many. Just this weekend I watched a video of the killing of three Iraqi's as filmed from the onboard camera on an America Apache Helicopter. If this were 10 years ago such information would have been suppressed, now however, we can see the atrocities of the powerful playing out before us. Surely, this must have some effect on the powerful, and the powerless? Surely, being able to have access to such information makes those who perpetrate such acts of horror much more weary, afraid of being exposed and brought to justice?

Personally, it certainly makes me feel a whole lot better about the fact that I can know not only the good (or propaganda that is given to us as good) but also the bad!

Now, what does this all have to do with logocentrism and videocentrism? Well, 10 years ago our culture had the written word, peer reviewed, edited, manipulated and controlled by the powerful, as the primary means of information. Sure television news and other such forms of information were prevalent, but nowhere near as ingrained in the lives of the everyday person as the internet is today! In those days, the logocentric days, we relied upon print media to inform us. The word, the logos, shaped our perceptions of reality, helped us to make meaning of different situations, and ultimately controlled, to a large extent, the way in which we related to the world around us.

Sure, the written word is still powerful today, but there is another far more powerful force at work, shaping and moulding the minds and lives of many people. That force is multimedia. My daughter who is 5 loves books, she loves to 'read'. In fact what she loves is the shapes and colours of the pictures in the books that she 'reads'. They are vibrant and engaging. They hold her attention, enliven her imagination, they entertain and inform her.

We are becoming a videocentric society. Our attention is shifting from the written word to enacted scenes. We are engaged by the 45 second sound and video bites that we see on CNN. We no longer tell jokes to our friends, we forward Video clips! The word 'video', which in latin means "I see", sums up how we gather the information that informs our consciousness.

It is through sight that the neurons are excited to fire, to create meaning and association. We have objectified the imagination. Pixar, Disney, CNN, and a host of other 'content providers' shape what we see and thus, to a large extent, what we think!

Think for a moment, what shapes your identity? Is it something, or someone, you have seen recently? Perhaps a television or film star? Perhaps a popular advert? These are not necessary bad things, they are just different! I know that my 'desires', my wants and lusts, are large effected by what I see, not so much by what I read. I used to be inspired by reading a book, allowing the words to penetrate my psyche, letting my own consciousness shape the 'picture' that the text sought to portray, and then making meaning from that. Now, however, I respond to what I see. A nicer car, a faster computer, a better life! I suppose it is a lot like SPAM, you know the kind of unsolicited email that arrives in your inbox. Most of what you get is not worthwhile. But, every now and then something comes along that looks great (in my case a new gadget!)

As a minister of religion it my job to seek to be a step ahead of these cultural and social shifts. I have to seek to understand, and then respond to, what is happening in the world around me. At the Church where I am involved, Bryanston Methodist Church, I am becoming more and more aware that Preaching, which is really just a form of logocentrism, is an outdated method of effective communication. It can't compete for time and space with a generation that is used to being 'force fed' the flash and glamour of the world.

I guess I'm not too sure where this is going. I hope to do some REAL research on this in the weeks and months to come. If you have any ideas please mail them to me (my contact details are on the front page http://www.spirituality.org.za ). I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

It's all been said above!

Posted: Wed - May 5, 2004 at 11:25 AM