Words or movies for telling stories

It’s never easy to know whether senior executives of multi-national corporations tell you what they really think, or whether they tell you what they want you to think. But whichever it is, it seems that Facebook executives are intent on ignoring over five millenia of human experience.

Last week, Facebook’s Vice President of Operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Lady Nicola Mendelsohn, boldly predicted that Facebook would be video-only – no text – in five years. According to Joseph Lichterman of NiemanLab at Harvard University, she went on to say:
“The best way to tell stories in this world where so much information is coming at us, actually is video. It commands so much more information in a quicker period.”

Given her first degree in English and Theatre Studies of the University of Leeds, I would hope that her understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of narrative in different media tells her a very different story, and that these pronouncements are the product of her subsequent career in advertising. They may also relate to her CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s reported ‘obsession’ with live video streaming.

Perhaps I am an exceptional dinosaur, but I find it far quicker to scan words and still images in postings on Facebook and other social media. When I am most pressed for time, I simply cannot wait for a video to start trying to tell even a brief story. I scroll past, and its message passes me unshown. The major disadvantage to a serial medium like video for telling a story is that the viewer has to be prepared to watch it for several seconds before they can make any sort of decision whether to watch it to completion, or to abandon it and move on.

Photographs and other images, and words, can be scanned for interest much quicker, and I suspect more accurately, allowing the viewer/reader to decide whether to spend more time looking at that posting.

It was also unfortunate that, just a few days later, Antonio Perkins was shot in the head and neck while live-streaming on Facebook, as reported by the BBC. Neither Facebook Live nor Twitter’s Periscope have worked out how to address such issues effectively. If those services were to become as popular as their parents, and replace text content entirely, the number of suicides and crimes being streamed live is likely to reach the point at which society will demand action from governments.

Let’s hope that they have a Plan B for when their commercial customers realise that video is not invariably the “best way to tell stories”, and when we all understand that live-streaming is too vulnerable to abuse.