re: pictures, words, info, glyphs, symbols, thoughts

Subject: re: pictures, words, info, glyphs, symbols, thoughts
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 11:50:17 -0700 (PDT)

The thing is that all of these methods of conveying information are acted upon in differing degrees by different areas of the brain, sometimes a single area but most often a combination of several areas. Due to issues of both nature and nurture, people will be better at retaining, putting into practice and theorizing about information when that information is presented to them in a format that they are most comfortable with (in the intellectual sense, not the squishy feel-good sense). One person will find audio presentation the best way of learning, another may find reading, and a third may need visual and audiotory stimulation, such as graphics accompanying a speech. It's silly to argue which one is best when the issue comes down to individual talents and needs of the target audience. After all, a blind person would find a graphic totally useless.

The thing to keep in mind about any discussion on symbols of any kind is that their meaning and interpretation will _always_ be culturally conditioned. This includes language, writing, icons, etc etc etc. Even with the instructions that accompany a scale model, probably the best example of graphics used to convey technical information, there are still conventions used that rely on cultural understanding, including something as simple as an arrow indicating direction.

I think I agree with Steve Jong when he says that we, as writers, tend to "shortchange graphics." I'll wager graphic designers shortchange words the same. (I'm guessing here, so I could be way wrong) I also agree with him in comparing this discussion to a debate about food and water. The point is to convey information. I think this is one instance where the ends do justify the means. ;-)

Wow, that whole Westendorp thing is pretty interesting. I suppose it demonstrates the difference between processing information for long term and short term memory. But that whole business about our brain transforming images into text seems way off base. I wonder if he's deriving his ideas from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that says something like "if you don't have a word for it, you can't think about it." He also seems to be forgetting that humans have been around a lot longer than writing has...... I'm interested though, and I'll have to take a closer look at some of his stuff.

Bruce: Interesting about the whole reading aloud thing. I'd never heard that before. But I suppose it mostly makes sense......mostly.

Sean Hower - tech writer

"Whatever you do, do NOT let your editorial decisions be made by the squiggly spell-checking lines in Word!" ~Keith Cronin, Techwr-l irritant ;-)

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