Online Video: Immediate, Powerful, Elemental

Chris Anderson’s latest TED talk

TED Conference curator Chris Anderson gave his own TED talk in July, just released in September, entitled “How web video powers global innovation.” Anderson’s talk focused on the effect of online video on science, art, and education, thanks to a process he calls “Crowd Accelerated Innovation.”

Throughout the talk, he uses the same kinds of feel-good examples that utopians use to enthuse about the potential of the Internet itself. (What’s that TV commercial where the kids in America and the kids in Japan are playing chess together, with the inspirational music playing in the background?)

But Anderson also suggests that there is something elementally engaging about watching another human talk. It’s a good point that could apply to video journalism.

Text is obviously easier to transmit online, and it’s faster to read a transcript than to watch a video interview, for instance. But with video, he argues,

There’s a lot more being transferred than just words. It’s in that nonverbal portion that there’s some serious magic. Somewhere hidden in the physical gestures, the vocal cadence, the facial expressions, the eye contact…the sense of how the audience are reacting, there are hundreds of subconscious clues that go to how well you will understand and whether you are inspired…. Incredibly, all of this can be communicated on just a few square inches of a screen.

We think of online video as “new media,” and it is, but the core human experience that it speaks to is elemental. Face-to-face communication is actually the oldest medium of communication, Anderson reminds us. Reading and writing are comparatively new. Five hundred years ago, the printing press made the written word the most efficient way to communicate.

Now especially in the past few years, improvements in bandwidth and other digital technology are shifting that hierarchy once again.

What Gutenberg did for writing, online video can do for face-to-face communication. So that primal medium, which your brain is explicitly wired for, just went global.

Broadcast journalists and filmmakers probably think about this kind of stuff all the time, but it’s worth keeping in mind for online writers, too—especially if they’re wondering whether a video clip will really help their reader’s understanding of a complex issue, or enhance a written profile.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner