Wednesday, December 27

Striking A Visual Chord

The Fifth Column is a group of bloggers who pride themselves on attempting to "whittle away at the dominant culture, the status quo, and the accepted and the norm."

I mention them today — as Islamic fighters and Ethiopian-backed government soldiers begin to clash in Somalia, potentially sparking a civil war and dragging in the entire Horn of Africa — because one of them effectively demonstrated the power of a single image. The photo, showing white doves of peace growing darker as they fly upward past a tank, is a bold social commentary on current events in Africa and, unfortunately, most of the world.

The LA Times has an excellent write up on this growing conflict at a time when most men and women are wishing for peace on earth.

In sum, Islamic leaders, who recently seized control of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia, are calling for a "holy war" against Christian-dominated Ethiopia unless the neighboring nation withdraws its troops, which were sent across the border to prop up Somalia's weak transitional government. Both sides have been massing weapons and troops in strategic points around southern Somalia in recent weeks.

Should this occur, Eritrea and Kenya will most likely be drawn into the fray. The United States could also become involved, given that our government has been funding some warlords as part of the greater war against terror. Other than funding select warlords, it has been hands off in Somalia after 18 American servicemen were killed in Mogadishu. The story, of course, was popularized by the book and film "Black Hawk Down." According to military sources, other players include Syria, Libya, Yemen, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt supplying funding and logistical assistance to Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys.

Moving back to the topic of striking a visual chord: this one works because it accurately presents a framework for their entire column, which is how photos work best. Despite the old adage that a picture paints 1,000 words, most cognitive studies have found considerable evidence that effective working memory is increased by using dual media rather than a single medium to communicate.

In fact, one theory, called cognitive load, suggests that the best form of communication is one that is limited to two representations of the same material at one time: aural/pictorial or written/pictorial. You can give readers the third option, but two remains the best option (which explains why users hit the mute button on "musical" blogs).

Regardless, images, particularly photographs, are thought to be easier to assimilate and to be more universal than words. When combined with words however, they create a compelling message.

For example, The Fifth Column appropriately gave this photo the caption: this is what it sounds like when doves cry. Imagine what a different impact the photo might have with the caption: world peace at last.

Maybe it's my profession, but I have always been fascinated with the psychology of communication as much as the execution of it. Now if only those leaders vying for power on the Horn of Africa could consider that most differences, regardless of distance, can be bridged with communication. Or, at minimum, they could at least begin to understand each other, even if they cannot agree.


Rich on 12/28/06, 7:53 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

Somali government troops rolled into Mogadishu unopposed on Thursday, the prime minister said, hours after an Islamic movement that tried to establish a government based on the Koran abandoned the capital and promised to make a stand in southern Somalia.


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