Visual Languages

David Musick (
Mon, 11 Nov 96 09:13:06 UT

Chris Hind brought up the intriguing idea of people communicating, using a
visual language. He then said,

"In a line I read from snow crash, languages seem to break apart into multiple
dialects rather than unify, so it's best to centralize the language but allow
for unlimited character combinations and voting on new character types so
allow evolution and flexibility of the language."

Chris, languages don't work like that. You can't plan it out and expect that
everyone's going to do that. People are going to communicate however they
want to, in their own styles. Ideas that people like will become more popular
and as people communicate more with visual images, certain customs will
develop spontaneously. It will seem most correct to people to use certain
images to convey certain ideas, because that's what's worked well in the past.
The people that come up with effective images will have their images used,
simply because people will like their images.

Advanced visual languages are a whole new field open to humanity. We need to
let it develop how it will, rather than trying to force it to be like spoken
and written language. A visual language opens up a tremendous amount of new
possibilities for expression and for organizing thoughts. I think it will be
more than visual, though. I think people will be doing a lot more with their
voices and with body language and being expressive with whatever they have
available to them.

Language isn't mainly about conveying meaning, which is what it seems like
you're assuming when you propose planning the language so that we are all
consistent about what symbol means what. Language is mainly about evoking a
response in someone. Some aspects of language involve symbols which have very
specific meanings (such as in science and in mathematics), but in general,
language is a way of stimulating the minds of others to think like you do. A
way of spreading memes. Symbols are only one kind of meme. A visual language
makes use of symbols, and it also makes use of many other memes. Different
images remind us of different memories, and people use certain images when
they wish to evoke certain memories in others. Images are combined with
others, or are displayed near each other to deliberately form a link between
the images in the viewer's mind.

Chris, the visual language is already being used, and it's been around in many
forms for thousands of years. It's not something that we have to invent and
standardize. Look at a magazine advertisement. Watch television. Go to the
movies. Go to an art gallery. These are forms of the visual language. If
you wish to communicate with a visual language, develop your skills in graphic
arts. Learn to create images.

So many tools are being developed now that make it much easier for people to
create very high quality images and communicate them with others, that
creating images is likely to eventually become as popular as making sounds.
People will then communicate much more through images than they do now. But
we will still use sound, I'm sure. We will use words still, I'm sure.
However, tools are also being developed that allow people to generate very
high quality sounds. New sorts of musical instruments are being created that
will be very powerful and versatile. People will be able to play these
instruments with data gloves, worn on their hands and connected to small,
powerful computers. Creating music is likely to become as popular as speaking
is today. People will grow competent at expressing their own emotions through
the music they will be generating pretty much all the time.

Conversations in the future will involve people generating images and sounds
(as well as other sensations) for each other and responding to each other.
Just like some musicians now are really good at playing together, making stuff
up as they go and each playing off what the other does. This will be done
with sounds and images in future conversations. They will resemble "jam
sessions", and things will be pretty intense, lots of organized information
getting passed back and forth.

I might create an image around us of an open meadow, and you might create
flowers and trees which blossom around us. Someone else could join in,
creating a soft and beautiful melody, slowly rising and filling the air as
someone makes the sun rise and adds clouds to glow with glorious color.
Someone else will contribute, with a clam deep voice, saying softly, "We wake
to a new day, a day of promise, a day where we will create the fulfullment of
all our deepest desires."

Our dialogue would be a shared art project, each of us playing with and adding
to the contributions of the others.

What we choose to create is what we communicate.

- David Musick

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