"One of the greatest joys of Democracy, is to be fooled, and to know that you are being fooled".
It used to be a joy. Fiction enabled us to speed up or slow down real life, to better analyse it and understand it. Now fiction has become a curse...
Apart from copyright protection, the greatest problem we face in the spread of the Internet as a communication tool is authenticity. On the web, almost everything can be 'doctored'. The web has the potential to be an enormous work of fiction...
We have long regarded the interface between business and consumer as being 'authentic' because of its cost. Who in their right mind would produce a fake TV commercial? Who would design, print and distribute brochures of machines that didn't work? Even though it's hard to tell if it does work from the photograph, surely no-one would go to the trouble...?
There has always been enough circumstantial evidence for consumers to accept the authenticity of the products. And enough checks and balances to warn off the fakers - laws on return of goods, physical addresses to visit, physical multiplicity of access.
But the Web? Can we still believe everything we read and see, when information is so distanced from its source? Unsigned? Unverified? Is the very nature of virtuality that it is all fiction?
Information Technology shields us from the physical pain of reality. Wars are now fought on CRTs - there is no real sense of killing. Though, of course, people still die.
Most electronic media now function anaesthetically, in that they bypass physical pain, with their elevation of sight and hearing to dominate the sense field. Tactility is lost. No pain, no gain. Is it any wonder that the growth of the very tactile 'extreme sports' mirrors the exponential spread of the Web? There are a lot of sensorily deprived people out there.
But while physical pain may have been reduced, another problem has been created. Mental pain, brought about by information overload. Hand out the Prozac, chum.
Classical occidental linear learning, as opposed to oriental/primitive gestalt learning, involves the naming of everything. Labelling. But names are not the thing itself, as Magritte pointed out. When we say 'this is a pen', and the North American Indian says 'This is what we call a pen', there is a world of difference.
Names are word icons into which we project our own individual meaning, believing that meaning to be universal. They usually better define what they are not, rather than what they are. If we say 'Architecture', it's a useful label in shorthand communication. But we have to accept a very fuzzy concept. Few of us could agree on what architecture is - but we would be in greater agreement on what architecture is not.
The Western Classical path to an understanding of the world is 'the exploded view' - where each part is named, and the whole can be put together by assembly instructions - 'Join Tab A to Tab B' etc etc.
But these 'labels' leave as much space between accepted individual meanings as the space between particles in an atom.
And yet labels are the stuff of everyday communication. Not just on the back pocket of your jeans. They say so much about you - and yet so little.
Icons are labels too. But visual icons have one advantage. It is more widely accepted that icons have a fuzziness of meaning. Words appear to have a concrete meaning. You can look them up in a dictionary. Words shout reality, fact. But you cannot look up icons in a dictionary, except in the database inside your head. And everyone has a different lexicon.
This makes it easier to 'feel' and 'experience' icons. Fact or fiction become less important, and the visceral comes into play. Pictures can simply be enjoyed.
What we need in this Information Age is to forget notions of seeking authenticity in text or pictures. Because this is really the Disinformation Age.
There is an information 'landscape' which, like a real landscape has no formal message. It just is. Having no sense does not make it nonsense. So this 'information landscape' is best addressed as 'music' - sensuality masquerading as content.
We always seek to find meaning - even where there is none. The search for meaning is an automatic, minute-by-minute mind process. And incongruities are always explained by the mind. The conscious mind is the best fictioneer there is!
How do children learn to speak Swedish? Or Chinese. They swim in it. They know no rules and yet they acquire all rules.
A language is a communication structure. But you don't need to know the rules to use it. But you do have to swim in it to become proficient.
Vision communication is also a proto-language. There is capability for an iconographic vocabulary, a grammar. And like all languages, vision language is being learned. Some of us are visually illiterate. But we are being forced to become literate very fast. Because a visual language is emerging out of the new media, driven by the cross-cultural efficiency of pictures in a matrix of diverse cultures still using languages and alphabets devised for entirely different circumstances. However it is still almost exclusively North American history that has been raked for icons. Just as the language of IT is English, so the images are essentially WASP.
The Japanese artist Hokusai, was brilliant, but he switched visual languages in later life. His view of the world was governed by a very strong autopilot called Mr Axonometric. Hokusai knew nothing about the rules of perspective used since the mid 15th century in Europe. Late in his career he learned it from the Portuguese. There is a sequence of prints that he made, in which he played, falteringly, with his new discovery. His view was changed forever.
An African tribe saw their first film, of their village, in the 1930's, projected at night on a sheet. In it there was a basic cinematic visual device called a 'pan'. The camera swept slowly across the forest. The Africans were amazed. 'How can the trees walk!' they asked. They were cinematically illiterate.
In the evolution of proto-languages, the first colour named is usually 'dark', then red, followed by blue. Does it mean that because a colour is not named - it is not seen? Probably.
In today's multimedia world, we are also not seeing. We are still learning the eliding devices of visual communication. We are dealing with an emerging language. Most of the new communication phenomena are not yet named. We can't see the wood for the trees.
But we must not be confused by the amount of data.
There is a common oft-quoted misconception that a seven-year old today knows more of the world than his or her grandfather. But the brain hasn't changed its handling capacity. In terms of pure data, seven year olds, down through the ages, have handled the same amounts.
The difference is that data 'appears' to be more structured today. There 'appears' to be more meaning. There is not more meaning - there is a different meaning. And it is far less structured than we believe.
200 years ago, a seven year old looked at the shimmering leaves in the trees, the rippling water of the brook, the amorphous shapes of the clouds above and... wondered.
Today's seven year olds are surrounded by shimmering, rippling and amorphous shapes of a different electronic kind. And they are still wondering........
We are immersed in a new language, knowing nothing of it's structures, but like three year olds - we are picking it up as we go along.
But there is a structure there to be discovered. And THEN we will be able to use it to convey meaning.
The chart 'Truth in Advertising' is totally bogus.