Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

What the New Yorker teaches us about visual literacy

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Richard Adams on the New Yorker cover ‘scandal’ makes a valid point:

John McCain can say that he doesn’t know much about economics and later deny it flatly, then have one of his top economic advisors say it will take one term for a McCain presidency to balance the budget, only to turn on a dime and say it will take two term, and almost nothing of it gets reported in the media. But hey, Jesse Jackson gets overheard using the word ‘nuts’ and it’s time to break out the ink.

If that’s what the ‘mainstream’ news media can do when left to their own devices, a cartoon is nothing.

Seems to me, as one of the commenters on this article says, this is another example (like the ‘nuts’ episode) of the media reporting on itself rather than on the stories.

But it also suggests something else: when we start summing up complex issues in illustrated form the scope for misunderstanding is huge.
At the New Views conference it was asked why critiques of design have to rely on words, why can’t we use design? (Similar arguments are made in favour of letting students create ‘visual dissertations’) Because writing depends on redundancy – it contains clauses, clarifications, opportunities to go off on tangents or rehearse devil’s advocate positions. Create a design to critique a design and you can’t guarantee that the message will be decoded correctly. The irony here is that I’ve just read several thousand words explaining what the New Yorker cartoon is supposed to be saying.

I think the New Yorker cover is a brave attempt to highlight the way the media and others pick apart minutae like the Obamas’ fist bump, unpicking images (often because there’s not really enough real news to fill a 24 hour news ‘culture’) but falls foul of precisely the same problems: images have no redundancy. The article that accompanies the cartoon is a few thousand words long and makes it clear what it is saying. The cartoon has no words and is consequently translated differently depending on who reads it, or (importantly in this case) reads about it. If the cover had instead been a cartoon alongside the article it might have made sense. As a cover, it doesn’t and simply exacerbates the problem it seeks to analyse.

Barthes famously said that images are polysemous, they have multiple meanings. Text, he said, fixes meaning.
I don’t think we’ve yet reached a level of visual literacy (or ever will?) where images like this can be divorced from the textual context.

The Post-American World

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Bruce Nussbaum reviewing The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.:

When the US was the overwhelming power, everyone else had to learn American culture. The big change in the 21st century is now the US has to learn everyone else’s culture. It needs to share power, build coalitions, create legitimacy, in order to lead and prosper. It has to stop being the Voice of Authority and learn to Curate a Global Conversation–or many of them.

(Via BusinessWeek Online – NussbaumOnDesign.)

Academics denounce courses tailored for businesses

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’ve been writing a blog post on topics similar to this over the past few days but as it’s reached over 5000 words I might have to edit it down before I post it. In the meantime, read this Guardian story.

I share the worries, but wonder why it’s come as a surprise given that Sector Skills Councils have been around for about four years now with an overt policy of getting the government to make universities stop pushing the boundaries of knowledge and instead deliver nicely formed employees. Oh look, I’m off again – I’ll stop now and let you read the article yourself…

Lecturers today condemned reports that the government is planning a major expansion of the role business plays in the delivery of degrees, warning it will lead to graduates being ‘churned out’ of ‘identikit’ institutions.
A leaked document, seen by the Financial Times, suggests that ministers are considering ploughing extra funding into degrees jointly designed and funded by employers.

It also suggests that degrees could be redesigned to make them shorter and more intensive, reflecting an increasing interest in two-year qualifications.

The document, Higher Level Skills Strategy, dated from last November, recognises the ‘risks’ for universities in tailoring courses for businesses.

But it makes clear that the short-term expansion of higher education will be dominated by courses involved with industry.

‘An institution may worry about its public image,’ the FT reported the document as saying.

‘We expect the majority of this growth to be in provision that is developed with employer input – either foundation degrees [two year vocational degrees co-designed by employers] or employer co-funded places,’ it said.

A spokesman for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, refused to comment on the leaked document but confirmed an announcement made last December to plough £105m into ’employer engagement’, including co-funded places.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and Colleges Union, said: ‘University is about so much more than just getting students through their degree and out the other side. We should be celebrating universities that are prepared to take risks and push the boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge and research.

‘We need to trust people who have spent their lives working in education, not allowing business to dictate the short-term direction universities should be taking.

‘The creeping marketisation of higher education seems only concerned with a bottom line and treating students as commodities. Identikit institutions in all our towns and cities churning out graduates in a couple of years is not what the country needs to protect its proud position as world leader in teaching excellence and innovative research.’

The creative industries are the engine rooms of a modern economy? Not really…

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

According to Davide Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council: “The creative industries are the engine room of a modern economy built on ideas and knowledge.”

Erm… really? Compare the ‘knowledge’ that’s come out of, say, the film industry or the fashion industry to the number of patents, medical discoveries, technologies and who knows what else that researchers in universities produce each year.

The creative industries may be built on ideas and knowledge, but that knowledge is produced elsewhere.

So not so much the engine room of a modern economy, more the onboard shopping mall.

The creative industries are important, but a little perspective would be good here.

The New Economy Is Here

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The New York Times asks an interesting question that could be asked of UK politicians too:

Why do presidential candidates touting their concern for the economy pose with factory workers rather than with ballet troupes? After all, the U.S. now has more choreographers (16,340) than metal-casters (14,880), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More people make their livings shuffling and dealing cards in  casinos (82,960) than running lathes (65,840), and there are almost three times as many security guards (1,004,130) as machinists (385,690). Whereas 30 percent of Americans worked in manufacturing in 1950, fewer than 15 percent do now. The economy as politicians present it is a folkloric thing …

It is that the transition is over. The new economy we have been promised is in place. …The ‘jobs of the future’ that were promised 20 years ago are here. Choreographers, blackjack dealers and security guards have replaced factory workers as the economy’s backbone, if not yet its symbol. New economies have always required a kind of initiation fee of those who would participate fully in them.

(Via The Creativity Exchange.)