Kids need to think in pictures because that’s the way of the future. YouTube is quickly overtaking Google as the search engine of choice, but not for people who grew up in the age of text. (Like, probably, all of us). So I mean mostly the people who are growing up today, on the verge of a post-text era: Generation Z.
The art collective iHeart Street Art does a great job of capturing the way our kids exist on the bridge between the ages, as we move from text-based language to an age of visual language. They created the graffiti art above. And they created this art, too, which depending on your generational mentality you will read as a Mad Lib or as a pictograph to describe longing.
Perhaps the biggest sign that visual language is taking over is that McDonald’s has experimented with using emoji’s instead of text in their ads. (And graffiti artists are even using emoji’s to create commentary on those ads.)
Ad week calls these ads with emoji’s “terrifying” but I think the thing that really makes emoji’s terrifying is that they signal the transformation of language from text-based to picture-based. And like all generational rifts, it’s terrifying to see that Generation Z is going to have a whole new way of communicating that makes us feel outdated (yes, even you guys from Generation Y).
In the future, design will be part of everyone’s career, just like the Internet is part of everyone’s career today. Soon design will be integrated into the fabric of our lives so that it will no longer be a skill to include on a resume.
Which means our kids need to be educated in pictures and signifiers more than they need to be educated in long-form writing. Kids need to be exposed to a wide range of visual language—not just in video games (although the exposure video games give kids to other forms of language is probably one reason that kids who play video games do better as adults.)
Don’t bother bemoaning the dumbing-down of language. History shows how you will be on the wrong side of the debate. In the 90’s, everyone thought that text-based hyperlinks would dumb-down reading. And people said the vernacular languages of the Renaissance would dumb down academia. I can imagine parents thinking their kids who were inventing language on dark walls of caves were losing the collective knowledge passed down during the physical act of the hunt.
We know from history that change doesn’t mean dumbing-down, but it does mean a shift in what is most valuable to our society. For example, linguists are already pointing out that as society becomes more focused on social skills, it makes sense that our language would be more driven by emotions than ideas.
I am enthralled with the idea that as society moves toward an emphasis on social intelligence over intellectual intelligence we need a different language to describe complex emotional issues. And I love the idea that visual learning tools are the appropriate way to prepare kids.
Think about lesson plans: How do you make kids think about the complexity of love?
The first time I did that was in school, when we read Eric Fromm in high school. Fromm was difficult reading, and rather than getting ideas from Fromm, I found myself lost in the text and wondering why love seemed so easy for everyone but me.
Which is probably why I’m particularly enthralled with the idea of using images to describe big ideas. I wish someone had given me iHeart Street Art rather than Eric Fromm to describe how it’s so very complex to get to the simple equation for love: