Social networks – the return to non-verbal language

Image: Prateek Katyal
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By FRANCISCO FERNANDES LADEIRA*

Never has human futility found such fertile ground for its propagation.

When the internet became popular, at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXst century, enthusiasts of this (revolutionary) medium said that one of the main positive points of the world wide web was to rescue the importance of writing for the everyday life of ordinary citizens, something that had been lost with the advent of television, when human relations became increasingly mediated by images and the meanings they carry, in what Guy Debord opportunely described as “the society of the spectacle”. In fact, at the time, the virtual space was characterized by the predominance of activities essentially linked to writing, such as discussion forums, chat rooms and blogs. Images and photos, on the other hand, due to certain connection limitations, were rarer.

However, this close relationship between the internet and the written language was strongly shaken with technological advances, with the creation of YouTube, with mobile devices with continuous connection and, above all, with the emergence of social networks.

Orkut, the first social network of great appeal, was one of the important milestones in this transition from the “internet that privileges the word” to “the internet that favors the image”. Its structure contemplated characteristics of written and visual languages. At the same time that there were testimonials from others on user profiles, chats and the famous communities where the most diverse types of subjects were discussed, the photo albums on Orkut were also quite successful among users (mainly the young public).

The process started with Orkut was intensified by Facebook. Of course, in this social network, we have the well-known and endless discussions of a political-ideological nature, but there is also the possibility of sharing more images and videos than in relation to Orkut. Another victory of the image over the word.

Paraphrasing the great contemporary thinker Bruno Henrique, with Instagram, the image was elevated to another level, with words being reduced to photo captions. Being “instagrammable” is being seen, not being read. It doesn't matter who you are or what you think, it matters who you appear to be.

Since nothing is so bad that it can't get worse, here comes Tik Tok, an app for creating and sharing short videos (usually with bland choreography, reminiscent of the worst moments of those axé music dances from the 90s). Never has human futility found such fertile ground for its propagation. On Tik Tok, words have become completely unnecessary. It is the death of writing.

Thus, for those who believed that the internet would represent the triumphant return of the word over the image, what we have observed, in fact, in social networks, is a kind of return to the beginnings of our species, with communication between individuals being done essentially by non-verbal means. An unprecedented cultural atavism. Guy Debord would certainly be astonished at such a banalization of reality.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (CRV).

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