I’m not really sure how to categorize this article. I typically focus on either political ideology, philosophical arguments for human behavior, or topics to help with self improvement on this blog. It could fit within that self improvement column, but in reality this is just pointing out something that our society is moving away from that may not be very good at all, so I suppose this falls under philosophy. At any rate, it sometimes feels like we’re moving away from the written word in favor of watching everything in video format, and that really isn’t a good thing.
The convenience of being able to combine both audio and visual information in a single format is a powerful way to convey an idea. It is a common fact that different people absorb information in different ways. Some are better at learning things by seeing it, while others tend to do much better by listening. Our modern landscape of social media sites and video streaming services has ushered in a new era of learning based on combining both of these into an effective method of communication.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this modern way of communicating information. One of the psychological effects that we fall victim to is called the argument from authority fallacy. Well, it’s not technically a fallacy on its own, but it becomes one when the person claiming to know something as a fact doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to reasonably make whatever claim it is they are trying to convey. It is also known as the “expert fallacy”, which was featured in an episode of a show called “Brain Games“, in which actors pretended to be reporters and convinced people that ridiculous things were happening. They were believed because the people believed they were talking to someone who was legitimate.
The same holds true on a subconscious level with many of the videos that can be found on streaming services like YouTube. Regardless of the credentials of the person being watched, because they are presenting information in a professional, polished format, we are highly likely to accept what we are being shown because the presenter seems to be knowledgeable and an authority on the subject. The best YouTube influencers have mastered the art of looking like they know what they’re talking about, and people follow them without question because they trust what they are being told.
The great thing about written text is that the expert fallacy has much less of an influence on our interpretation of the information. Because we can’t hear the tone of the person and we are not affected by a polished presentation, we tend to be much more critical of the information being conveyed to us. Our natural skepticism is much less inhibited because text alone does not convey an air of authority. It is simply information that we are free to accept or reject as it makes sense to us.
Aside from the unbalanced influence that video content has on our psychology, video content has another downside that many people don’t realize. Written content can be consumed at a far faster rate than an equivalent video episode. Human beings have the ability to exclude unnecessary information and focus in on the important parts of what we are trying to absorb. By skipping over superfluous words and paying attention only to those that convey meaningful information, we are able to “skip over” much of the content to get to the point much more quickly.
When it comes to video, on the other hand, you have no choice but to sit and wait for the presenter to get to the point in their own time. Have you ever tried skipping through a video, hunting to find the part that actually matters to you? How many times have you had to go back and forth through a video looking for that one thing you wanted to get from it? Did you end up spending the same amount of time jumping around as you would have simply watching the video as intended? Because you aren’t able to visually see what part of the video contains the information you want, a significant amount of time is wasted wading through presenter fluff in their attempt to extend the length of the video.
Things have gotten better, especially on YouTube, as one of the more recent features is the ability for content creators to label sections of the video to identify what content is in that portion. However, this still depends on the creator being willing to go through that step, and even then the specific information you’re looking for is still buried within minutes of content that you have to wait for. In the end, the creator has more incentive to make you wait for the information because watch time counts toward their bottom line. There is little reason for them to get to the point.
The great thing about the written word in our modern era is twofold. First, we can skim through an article, ignoring the parts we’re not interested in and focus in on the information that matters to us. I personally save quite a bit of time by identifying entire paragraphs that simply expand on a point already made and skip over them. By mentally filtering out unnecessary additional information, huge amounts of time are saved that can be used for something else.
Second, we have the ability to use search features to find specific words or phrases. This is not possible in video format. Modern search engines are great for finding content, but no way has been developed yet that allows us to use that same idea to jump to a specific part of a video that contains the key word or phrase that we’re trying to find. This may be something that changes in the future, but given how difficult it is to simply find something on the internet that is actually relevant to the topic we search for, it will be quite some time before anything video related becomes searchable to that extent.
We have rapidly moved away from more traditional forms of information transference, and while there are many benefits in doing so, we must always be aware of the downsides that come along with the progress we are making. There are so many reasons that video content has made things better for us, but at the same time we need to understand that one form of distributing information is rarely superior to another. Video has its place, but we should never forget that the written word is still right there at the top as one of the best ways to get our points across. We should be sure to keep our reading and writing skills sharp so we always have an efficient way of learning new things.
What do you think of video content? Is it always better, or can the written word be more effective? Have you ever wished you could just read through an article rather than sit through a lengthy video? Sometimes the old way of doing things is far more efficient than the new, and if we can differentiate between what is cool and what works, we can have a much better mix of ways of learning about the world around us.
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