The Memes 2018

The Rise of Visual Language

“Photos and visuals provides self-validation, there is no need to write big phrases any more. You can just simply capture your big moments and let the world know about it. Also, the Instagram feel is so special and valued, there is a kind of exclusivity to the entire experience of it. I am huge on Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, they are like a bibles for all the latest trends.”

- Ekta Vidya, 27 years, Designer, Chennai

During the first 200,000 years of our existence, homo-sapiens used theatrical gestures as their language. A language that predates voice and sound includesmoving gesticulating hands, bending bodies, enlarged eyes, scratching of heads, patting of backs or thighs and so on. From these theatrical gestures we moved to tonal languages – based universal noises such as the mimicking of primal sounds or instinctive reactions such aslaughter. Humans started using sound-based languages only 70,000 years ago. The script or the text of these languages was born through phoneticsand arrived much later.Language thus, coded multiple aspects of human life and became a carrier as well as a reservoir of human culture. From encoding to decoding, language has been a central meme shaping human civilization for centuries.

The 21st century is witnessing another seismic shift as new technology is leading us to adopt new means of communication. This time led by images – static as well as animated. Every second of every day, the Internet captures and transfers millions of images in the form of Giga Bytes through a variety of digital platforms.

Popular memes are transferred through these platforms allowing them to go viral and create disruptive change. The participation of all humans connected to the Net is possible on any of these once a smart phone is acquired – as result the power of images being transmitted digitally as new form of language is rising exponentially.

Languages are extremely important because they are the holders of culture, of collective memory. Having more languages allows us to communicate more, convey emotions,needs, ideas, and other complexities of life. Language both a meme in itself, and a carrier of memes.

In India, we have been busy looking at literacy data as a marker of human development. Knowing the script (language)has been seen as critical. Yet today technology is enabling even those without literacy or education to leapfrog this deficiency, if empowered with a voice and video activated smart phone. The angootha-chhaap today has new meaning. The visual language of emoticons, GIFs (graphic interchange formats), and hashtags is helping overcome literacy deficiencies, and has become and intuitive part of our life.Embedded in emojis and GIFs are a plethora of emotions, feelings and thoughts – making them a rich and extremely popular form of communication.2017 saw GIF files (that support both animated and static images)become the calling card of modern digital culture. GIFs have become the most popular way, at present, to liven up messages sent from smartphones or posted online, one that transcends barriers of spoken language and culture.

Meanwhilewritten language is evolving in this visually led context to become more casual andspeech-liketoday. It is both informal and quotidian in tone. Filled with abbreviations and newly coined words that have acquired newer meanings (LOL, wrt, K,wru and so on) – text has come to behave more like speech.In no time, a written word, or a new coinage goes out of usage, and a new term becomes the fad.

As a result images are increasingly a form of vocabulary. There is a nuanced, natural as well as curated form of visual text that is becoming highly acceptable as a powerful means ofcommunication. The universal language of an image – either static or animated - conveys everything that language is supposed to.Like language, it is emerging as a tool for social interaction, representing real life happenings and conveying complex thoughts.Pre-wedding photo shoots have become a new meme conveying stories of couples about to be married. When living in a digitized tribal village, images and emojis are the new body language representations to convey much more than words can.Witness the explosion of ‘food porn’that is all the rage on Instagram.Hashtags build an immediate connect bringing a community of people together, instantly, based on a shared interest. Symbols and images are coding behaviors in a way that is democratic and impacting human minds. If printing press was the last revolution in text and language world, then image language may well turn out to be an exponential, disruptive change agent of the near future. An image created by people themselves narrating the story of their own lives, reaching everyone in real time has tremendous memetic power.

To quote Ganesh Devy, chief editor of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India – “Humans have passed through these communication phases: theatre, music, voice. Now we are very, very rapidly moving into a new means of communication, which is image-based communication. The semantic payload of the words will be reduced. We’ll use visual languages more. That is because we have 85 billion neurons in the brain which does analysis of the sounds we hear and draws meaning, saves the memory of the meaning, retrieves them. (So comprehending the written word) takes a little longer because the sounds go to the neurons through the ears; (whereas) images go through the pre-frontal cortex and take much less time. That means less energy is required.So now, instead of the left side of the brain, which does the language analysis, it is the pre-frontal side of the brain which is becoming more active. That’s why oral languages are dying. And new image-based ways of communication are emerging.”

This meme is big! Watch this space for more as image-based communication starts to dominate human life.

People are using our GIFs to express their emotions, feelings and thoughts in text messages, chat profiles and social media all around the world. We like to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a GIF can tell a story. People are using these visuals to communicate with friends, family, coworkers and social audiences in more nuanced, enhanced and flavorful ways than ever before possible—better than text or emoji.
- Jason Krebs, Tenor