Video Literacy

What else is on?

For the past 500 years, we have been a print-driven culture.

Reading and writing were essential tools to participating in daily life. And just because one learned how to write in school, it did not mean one was planning on being a writer as a profession. It was just a necessary skill for survival and participation.

Now, it seems, we are on the cusp of becoming a video-driven culture.

That is, the vast majority of our access to information, indeed, our very way of talking to one another, is about to become primarily in video.

In a piece in todays’ Advertising Age, brought to my attention by the ever vigilant Chuck Fadely of the Miami Herald, consumers are predicted to increase their video viewing habits to an almost mind boggling 5 hours a day.

This means, in rough numbers, that each of us will spend approximately 1/5th of our lives doing nothing but watching videos.

We will effectively watch videos more than we eat, work, read, play sports… in fact, everything but sleep.

This is an astonishing benchmark for a civilization which from its inception to a mere 70 years ago did not even have television. Now, virtually overnight, this piece of technology has come to dominate our lives. I think it is fair to say that if we spent 5 hours a day reading – every day, every one of us, George Bush would not be the President of the United States.

But we don’t,

We spend it watching videos.


If that is the case, (and it seems to be) then it is critical that all of us – yes, all of us, become literate not only in watching the content that someone else made, but in the creation of content ourselves.

That does not mean that if you learn the craft of video shooting and editing you are aspiring to be a cameraman at the local TV station. But it does mean that literacy – video literacy, is a critical skill to participating in the public discourse and public dialogue that is the lifeblood of any society.

If we, all of us, do not embrace video literacy, then we abandon the content of those 5 hours a day, every day, to ‘someone else’.

And that is not right.

Surely, in the world of print we would never advocate teaching our children to read, but denying them the skill of writing, because writing was only for the ‘writing professionals’. We all know how to write so that we can all express our opinions, no matter what their stripe.

Well, we don’t write so much anymore – or read, for that matter. But boy we sure watch.

And as a result, we are at a critical moment where we are going to collectively decide who gets to put ‘stuff’ into the 5 hours a day that we are all watching (and you will be interested to learn that more and more of this watching is going on on mobile devices).

So learning to ‘make video’ is no longer for the few who might want a career as a TV Producer or cameramen (if that job even exists in 5 years); but rather it is an essential tool for survival in the 21st Century.


4 responses to “Video Literacy

  1. That does not mean that if you learn the craft of video shooting and editing you are aspiring to be a cameraman at the local TV station. But it does mean that literacy – video literacy, is a critical skill to participating in the public discourse and public dialogue that is the lifeblood of any society.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Michael.

    The detractors seem to act as though those who aspire to shoot video with higher levels of quality as coming after their jobs. Some maybe – but most are not. There are too many opportunities yet to be discovered to produce and distribute video content and I’m sure there are those like myself who have no desire to shoot for broadcast. As I see it, the democratization of content via the web is where the future is. And whether the detractors understand that or not, it doesn’t change that fact. Niche web casting will have plenty of upstarts – and many will fall by the wayside. But there will be those who do find the right business model and combined with those who made the effort to understand what it takes to be video literate – will make it.

  2. Just a thought.

    You seem to leap to the conclusion that watching video only began with television.

    Films have a much longer history.

    Not as long as the printed word of course, but longer than television.

    Video does not mean just from a computer.

    The information you use in your post does not say all of that video watching is coming from a computer. It also includes television and movie theaters.

    Not to mention DVD rentals.

    Looking at the complete picture, one would be foolish to start spouting numbers and award all that viewership to youtube video viewing alone.

  3. I forgot to add, the phrase “video on demand” also covers rental of movies seen on home players. Not just computers.

  4. Here I am commenting a year later. In response to the point that “we’ve been watching films for 100 years – why are we just now talking about video literacy?”, what has changed is our ability to be video authors. If one wanted to make a video and present it to a wide audience 100 (or even 10) years ago, one had to own a movie studio. Now one only needs a $300 video camera, a Mac (or PC) with iMovie and a link to youtube. It would have been meaningless to require students (I teach high school) to become literate video producers 20 years ago, but now such skills are very relevant.

    The bigger question for me, now that text plays a relatively small role in our lives is “how much time should we spend teaching text literacy, versus video literacy?”. We teachers are wrestling with this now. We’re stuck between the 20th century view that literacy is confined to text, as defined by standardized tests, and the 21st century reality of ever greater role that video plays in the media we consume and produce. JR

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