Video is for consumption and text is for production

The Information has a piece up, The Case Against Video. The Information charges a decent amount for its services which are in text form, so of course there is some bias here insofar as this belief was probably preexistent.

But I happen to agree. It strikes me that video is relatively low density, and it often takes reading to be able to combine facts/concepts together to form something new. It can be done via video, but it ends up taking more time.

For most people video will be sufficient, just as for most people television news is sufficient. But real depth will require reading.

10 thoughts on “Video is for consumption and text is for production

  1. Right tool for right job.

    Video: emotion, empathy, capturing essence of people and places in your mind’s eye, certain kinds of fiction/non-fiction narratives, more memorable, certain kinds of visual representation of data, doing a how-to for physical tasks (looked up changing a light panel last weekend on youtube)

    Text: abstract, longer logical arguments, facts, data, charts/graphs, other types of narratives video doesn’t do well, etc.

    The media is chasing video for better monetization. So in that sense of course The Information is correct video is not magic.

    But the larger point is video is very information dense when used the right way. Well done nature documentaries. Rohingya refugee videos. Also, I have some old videos of my kids as babies. You can pack a lot of memorable info and emotional power in a 30 second clip.

    So given what you write about on gnxp, obviously text is far and away more information dense. True. And also a fair point that video is better for vegging out. But I’d disagree with the general point. Both video and text can be used for production or consumption. Both can excel. But only when used properly in their natural domain.

    I’d add that audio/podcasts has a niche as well.

  2. Being ADHD colors my view. Reading feels much too passive for me. I’ve always been a fan of interactive mediums. If I have to read, it’s not by choice. It’s because there’s no alternative.

    It always struck me as odd that more educational tools were not like Reading Blaster and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego since those games in my childhood alongside videogames taught me English so much better than reading any Sherlock Holmes or Homer did.

    Additionally, the likes of Dan Carlin always caught my attention in the presentation of history over the textbooks themselves. Auditory and muscle memory help some people more than reading text in some cases.

    The closest to interactive I’ve had in a traditional class setting have been the maths and especially programming classes since it’s incredibly hands-on as opposed to the more brute memorization required in medical training and biochemistry. Some of the courses I’ve had in immunology struck me as so deeply perverse terms of expecting students to memorize the names and functions of cytokines when the names themselves are so unintuitive and non-descriptive. It’s hard for me to sit still and absorb content that simply requires me to read the same words over and over until my memory work has gone through.

  3. i listen to audio books, articles and youtube video anywhere from 1.5-3X speed. i’d say most aren’t worth the time so it helps to go fast. for the more dense GNXP articles i sometimes have to go .5x speed (read to me in a British AI accent, of course:) I did Graeme Wood’s ISIS book and Jesse Bering’s book, “Fantasyland” and also “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” each in a day or so this week. were they worth it? maybe. lots of times i learn something that i’m not aware of until later. other times i’ve learned nothing new i think.
    for the new Frontline double episode on Putin, i downloaded the transcript instead of watching it and will get paid to listen to it on monday at work!

  4. With news I’d rather read and get the information I want, than spend 3 minutes listening to someone tell it to me. Unless there are some truly important visuals (there usually isn’t), news video is a waste of time.
    Documentaries are a different thing entirely.

  5. My disillusionment with video really took shape sometime when I was in high school, and ordered transcripts of a few Nova episodes; I had been a huge fan of PBS documentaries. But reading the transcripts, without the background music and stock footage and so forth, the case that Nova presented seemed so shallow.

  6. My disillusionment with video really took shape sometime when I was in high school, and ordered transcripts of a few Nova episodes

    But the transcripts did not capture even a fraction of the information presented in the TV program.

    I am someone who limits my younger children to a maximum of two hours of screen time PER WEEK (that’s TV, iPad, computer, what have you). I am very big on reading actual, physical books – you know, turn the pages with fingers and all that.

    BUT, surely those of you who claim that text is “denser” than video must realize that context is key in this discussion. Let me illustrate with my hobby horse, Judo. First, take a look at this very short video:

    It lasts roughly about 30 seconds, and is a demonstration of a Judo technique called “Seoi-Otoshi” (sometimes mistakenly called “Drop Seoi-Nage” among English speakers). Now, if I were to describe the specifics of this technique in text only, it would take much, much longer than 30 seconds to read (and would still not convey the information accurately and/or with enough detail). Indeed, I can probably write a 50-page manuscript that describes the techniques, including the necessary, specific body movements as well as the directions of force, and shifts of balance necessary to make it work – visual information that is displayed in the video.

    That’s how “dense” the information conveyed in that 30-second video is, especially for someone who understands Judo. Even for those who do not, they will unconsciously absorb and mimic at least some elements of the body movements if asked to imitate them after watching the video. I doubt any would be able to with a text description only.

    The important thing about information in video, as opposed to the more explicit text, is that A LOT of the specificity of information is almost subliminal. Only the very knowledgeable or watchful will note the details consciously. Others will not, but still absorb some of it without thinking. And that’s not just video, but audio as well (try watching a film clip stripped of music score and then re-watch with it re-inserted – there is a world of difference).

  7. The important thing about information in video, as opposed to the more explicit text, is that A LOT of the specificity of information is almost subliminal.

    90% of news video is some talking head blathering away in a studio, with an occasional cut-away to a pre-recording of their-man-on-the scene standing in a parking lot.
    If the video actually does show something worth seeing it’s already been shared 1 million times on facebook, before I ever see it there.

  8. What’s the best method for convening information is dependant on the type of information being transmitted. In one of her books, the linguist Jean Aitchison pointed out that (both oral and written) natural language is often ineffective in giving directions, as compared to using gestures with some short descriptions or a map. I think the same thing is going on with the Judo moves; the written instructions may be more concise, but the video (or even a few still or good drawings) is more comprehensible.

    The advantage of the text comes with conveying difficult intellectual information in as concise a manner as possible (although often is best done with graphical media like tables, graphs and maps; anything using mathematical tools will require the specialized notation of mathematics to go with the text). But that can be daunting for a beginner, which is where video can play a constructive roll.

    To me, a good documentary is like a good series of lectures from a good professor (nowadays you can find such things on YouTube and the like). They aren’t there to make you an expert, but to make you competent enough in the basics so that you wouldn’t get loss in the more difficult materials in books, articles, etc. In that way, I think the NOVA documentaries do a fine enough job.

  9. I would wholeheartedly agree on the density part, but would like to say that video, especially those created by authoritative sources (PBS, BBC Documentaries, David Attenborough- and Kenneth Clark-esque videos) also serve a niche. Visual learning has its place, but I am beginning to realise the superiority of the written word over AV media. And as pointed out by other commenters, audio podcasts serve their niche pretty well.
    AND BTW, thanks for the book recommendation!

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