We live in The Age Of Screens. In restaurants, bars and every room of our homes, they’re there. The smartphone has caused a paradigm shift: On these convenient devices we hold the power to watch, produce and distribute video content faster than the time it will take you to read this letter.
Baltimore Sun writer David Zurawick describes modern society as a “visual culture,” arguing that the public has grown to distrust the written and spoken word of the media. We rely instead on what we see because “we KNOW what we SAW,” which has resulted in camcorders and recorded video popping up everywhere.
Through video, the public now has access to information that once was reserved for powerful entities. Surveillance video is seen regularly on TMZ and shared on social media, as in the infamous Ray Rice elevator video or the dash camera video of a former S.C. state trooper. Then there is the rise in community-recorded video such as in in Ferguson, Mo. Even our own Columbia Police Department is testing body-worn cameras.
Access to these types of video has given the public enormous power and is arguably playing a role in changing corporate and government policy, leading to the firing of police officers and even the banning of NFL players. Putting that kind of power in the hands of people who don’t understand the power they hold can be very dangerous. Just as video can be shared, it can be edited, altered or deleted. A different camera angle can change an entire story.
So how do we begin to understand this new power that we hold? Realizing how video is used to communicate is a significant first step in preparing for a future where screens are part of nearly every move we make. At the Nick and through our Helen Hill Media Education Center, we’re calling for greater comprehension of a language that has existed for years.
Here we are teaching students how to understand and read the screen, while also teaching them to create content out of that understanding. Media literacy is about engaging with video, critically thinking and analyzing what we watch, then using the same tools to produce and edit our own video. The widespread teaching of media literacy is what can move our visual culture from power to empowerment.
Director of media education