The camera has given rise to ‘visual culture’ in politics, entertainment, communication and education. The perspective of reality created by cameras captivates our eyes, triggers intense emotion and allows for less rationality. While applications for ‘visual culture’ will keep rising, there are already signs of numbness of our eyes. This will increase our desire to stimulate other senses, like our ears.
- The camera has created visual politics in democracies. Politics are increasingly focused on the scene (events and individuals) instead of on speech (words and policy).
- The camera has created visual communication, entertainment, education and surveillance.
- Communication: Social media developed from text-based messages to pictures, videos, livestreams and momentary visual communication on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. Telling or writing a joke is now a visual ‘meme’.
- Entertainment: From the rise of TV and movies to platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, distant celebrities have now become relatable livestreamers.
- Education: Massive online open courses and educational entertainment-like videos have created virtual classrooms.
- Surveillance: While street corner cameras are a common sight, self-driving cars and other IoT applications will completely visualize our surroundings.
- All the footage created by cameras has given rise to machine learning applied to images. Companies such as Google, Baidu and Facebook focus on ‘machine vision software.’
The camera presents a visual perspective on reality. A visual perspective is nonetheless a distortion of reality, with an intense focus on our eyes. This perspective can trigger more emotion, but allows for less depth, rationality and information.
The emotional effect has been significant in politics and entertainment. In politics, populist rhetoric that appeals to emotion has become more successful. In entertainment, ubiquitous cameras have given rise to a new type of ‘livestreaming celebrities’, which are more personally emotional. But the lack of depth has also been significant.
The fragility of the appeal of visual culture lies in the intense focus on our eyes
In visual politics, there is less room for rational debate. In communication, social media now use ephemeral images that allow for less information transfer than written messages. In visual education, online courses have substantial appeal, but they lack the depth of a written text.
As the course of the camera is far from run, adverse effects will gain awareness. The largest enabling factors are more broadband and computing power, which are merely a matter of time. Surveillance will move from simple cameras to complete digital mapping of the environment through satellites, drones and self-driving cars. This is likely to increase concerns about privacy.
Visual communication has already given rise to apps such as Houseparty, in which we seamlessly hop in and out of video conversations. And visual entertainment will livestream anything we desire to see (such as sports events recorded from the stands, virtual reality and 360-degree vlogs). Indeed, our world will become much more visual. However, increased visual stimulus will most likely also increase ‘digital fatigue’.
The fragility of the appeal of visual culture lies in the intense focus on our eyes. Marshall McLuhan argued that an electric medium leads to numbness by an intense focus on a specific sense. This is why radio led to audio-visual television.
Now, cameras and screens have numbed our eyes. Excessive screen time damages the brain and increases risk of depression and insomnia. We are already seeing the rise of audio-assistants in our homes, essentially screen-less, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. The popularity of these devices can be attributed to digital fatigue. Generation Z already experiences significant digital fatigue and spends an increasing amount of time with earbuds in