. . . this short list will identify some reasons for words’ preeminence throughout time as the highest form of communication:
#1. The ability to communicate through words makes us human.
Any monkey can take a picture with a smartphone. Point and click. But the ability to encapsulate a moment in nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs – only a human can do that. It is the height of linguistic and cognizant evolution to the evolutionist, the sacredness of humanity to the Christian (“In the beginning was the Word”).
#2. Words give expression to the abstract in a way that image cannot.
“To be or not to be – that is the question.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)
The moment you can take an Instagram photo that captures this sentence, with all its philosophy, anguish, and transcendence, perhaps you will convince me that an image can properly replace words.
#3. Word gives us the full story: its context, background, beginning and ending.
Humans love story. We always have. It enchants the two-year-old and 70-year-old, binds the angst-ridden teenager and wizened professor. While pictures can capture a beautiful moment in story, they cannot capture narrative in its entirety. Story at its best includes words.
#4. Words connect us to the other.
In story, we lose ourselves to the beauty of another’s story. We explore the memories and thoughts of people long dead. Words open our souls to human thought and feeling beyond our own, in a way that an image cannot. They connect us to human nature and to an entire history.
#5. Words awaken our imagination.
Taking a picture of a waterfall or a sunset is a good thing. Writing a Facebook status about your wonderful evening with friends is good. But read these words:
Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. (Jack Kerouac)
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun. (Shakespeare)
Precious are the dead that lie there, every stone over them speaks of such burning life in the past, of such passionate faith in their work, their truth, their struggle and their science, that I know I shall fall on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them; though I’m convinced in my heart that it’s long been nothing but a graveyard. And I shall not weep from despair, but simply because I shall be happy in my tears, I shall steep my soul in emotion. I love the sticky leaves in spring, the blue sky — that’s all it is. It’s not a matter of intellect or logic, it’s loving with one’s inside, with one’s stomach. (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart. (Albert Camus)
Reading such words, one cannot help feeling a connection beyond the sensory to timeless truths explored, forgotten, and explored again. Eteraz’s article references Stendhal, who once said writing holds a mirror to the world. Eteraz surmises this “is no longer appropriate (especially as smartphone screens reflect better).”
But perhaps we have merely been entranced looking in one mirror – a fun, but rather pixelated one. And with time, perhaps our imaginations will seek out those inky, mysterious, beautiful word mirrors once again.