Whenever humans have been faced with a historic transition in how they communicate, they have responded by creating new forms of writing that use the new forms of media that have been introduced. The new media offers a new type of access to knowledge, which enables adaptation to existing and emergent crises.

An example from the 11th century : the Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of how William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England :

Embroidered between 1066-1082, on linen; it was 70 meters long by 50 centimeters high.

Here is a recent example in Québec : The Image Mill by Robert Lepage (Ex-Machina) :

Projection of Quebec City’s history on grain silos – 329 loudspeakers, 238 lighting fixtures and 27 video projectors (2008 to 2013).


1494 The modern book appears, Aldus Manutius.
1605 First newspaper in Strasbourg.
1751 Edition of the first volume of the Encyclopedia of Diderot ; a first compilation of knowledge is tested.
1826 Perspective Grass, first photograph, Nicephore Nièpce.
1895 Output of Lights factories : start of animated photography and the cinematography by the Lumière brothers.
1902 Trip to the moon Georges Méliès, the beginning of the industrial use of special effects.
1927 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of the first cartoons of the film industry, Walt Disney.
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first industrial production animation studio in human beings, Walt Disney.
1953 The first public issuance of analog television in North America (NTSC).
1962 Spacewar , the first video game.
1963 Mouse and the graphical interfaces, Douglas Engelbart (SRI).
1969 Webcast of the moon, with video camera, the moon landing of Apollo 11 capsule.
1972 Odyssey, the first video game console (Magnavox).
1974 Bravo, the first WYSIWYG software.
1984 MacPaint software, first public interface of graphic image media, Bill Atkinson (Apple).
1989 The first Web Hypertext screens, early social exchanges, Tim Berners-Lee (CERN).
1990 The first generation of smart home (home automation).
1995 The first book to be sold online by catalog, Jeff Bezos (Amazon).
2001 The Semantic Web, Tim Berners-Lee.
2004 Google Maps, Google.
2007 The iPhone has a touchscreen and multi-touch interface and a camera, Steve Jobs (Apple).
2008 The Clone Wars series, produced and distributed by catalog and online subscription Netflix.

An attention economy

During the industrial age, companies fought with each other to obtain from people the most precious thing they had : their money. As the post-industrial era settles into place, they are fighting for something even more valuable : peoples’ attention and time.

The first experiments in progress (2015):

  • work on the Semantic Web (W3C) ;
  • short texts written by algorithms (Finnmarket-Interfax in Russia) ;
  • processing of data sets by automated mapping (Yandex in Russia) ;
  • short texts written by an artificial language (Associated Press Narrative Science and the US) ;
  • the use of six colors of icons, or emojis, able to express different emotions (Facebook Spain and Ireland) ;
  • reading a newspaper in virtual reality through the use of a helmet (Google Cardboard) coupled with integrated goggles and a multifunction telephone (New York Times and Paris Match) ;
  • the supply of book summaries (snippets) can attract and orient the reader’s interest (Google Books) ;
  • any current mappomania (Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mappy, Mapquest) ;
  • appliances that are sold with instruction booklets displayed in several languages ​​(because of the globalization of markets) ;
  • all the current games currently in pseudo-3D ;
  • all current mobile and interactive advertising ;
  • the appearance of the presentation languages ​​(Prezi) ;
  • optimization of new character sets for better playback on mobile devices, so on smaller screens than computers (Apple) ;
  • using buttons to express greater emotional range : Like, Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad, Angry (Facebook) :

In the US, over 50% of development funds earmarked for images-based communications comes from military programs (armies, naval, aviation and space that materialized in the development of Battlefield Internet).

The challenge is to process a universe of data that is in constant rapid expansion (see below). How can we collectively find and build the knowledge that will allow us to tame the looming crises ?

This taming can be accomplished by combining three steps and two Webs :

  • Semantic Web – similarities that provides links (development of new algorithms based on the language industry);
  • the web that provides links to schematic representation (new forms of media-writing and visualization-mapping techniques) (see no 10);
  • the approach by fortuitous discovery or serendipity (discoveries related to chance, by accident, fortuitous, often due to trans-disciplinary exchanges) :

A new world using the intelligence of the eye.

The characteristics

There now exists a kind of visual shorthand (symbolic and metaphorical) that relies on oral culture ; it has been born from the intersection of several trends :

  • The arrival of phones and tablets without keyboards.
  • The emergence of new customers attracted to thousands of geotagged applications (more than a million?).
  • The proliferation of either images-on-screens or on paper, but mediated by three types of devices : the TV, PC and mobile.
  • An Internet that is becoming a public space filled, not with information but of opinion combined with civic energy. This has the potential to disturb the established socio-political and economic order.

The range of tools

These entries are the result of several years of maturation :

The 50s

During the 1939-45 war, increased propaganda brought about a new science :  public communication in a world beginning to industrialize and urbanize (Schram, Lazarfeldt, Berelson Watzalwick, etc. )

The 60s

The explosion of mass media created a flood of images-on-screens and texts from major television networks and from newspapers. People began to spend one or two hours a day looking at information via images on television screens. Mainframe computer screens appeared :

The 80s

The advent of computers in the office, at home and at the university as well as in gaming consoles introduced not only digital images, but also a first level of consumer interactivity (Apple2, TRS 80 Commodore). There was an explosion of office-related content and even the beginnings of mediated content by pioneers (early adapters). Because of Douglas Engelbart, Xerox Park and Steve Jobs, the 80s were the era of micro-computer metaphors.

Below are the symbols of a desktop becoming an interface based on user logic instead of functional or operational logic (General Magic Company, 1995) :

It’s at this point in time that people began becoming familiar with icons on screens, and were able to combine signs to create an initial iconic grammar (here an arrow and a heart) :

The 2000s

Globalization conquered the world with the help of smart mobile devices, (those without keyboards or mouse). Then the era of continuous visual information appeared on the scene along with user-friendly computers and computing tools. A quarter of the world’s population now spent twice as much time alone in front of three types of screens (TV, computer and mobile devices) and began to connect and speak out on social networks.

The 2010s

The world began to experience an ongoing tsunami of images superimposed on the written word because of three key issues : there was much more information in circulation ; there was an increase in quantity and quality of specialized publics (niches, membership groups, social networks, etc.) and, increasingly, machines to communicate were able to make content appear visually :

  • interactive whiteboards and tablets in the classrooms ;
  • the results of examinations in hospitals are given to the patient or the doctor in the form of images on CD ;
  • automated systems (third-generation robot drones, security devices) capable of recognizing objects or faces with their cameras and sensors (chapter 6, no 17) ;
  • infotainment that mixes tweets with television programs ;
  • displays in automotive dashboards or installed on appliances ;
  • video images taken by snapparazis and sent to news channels to be viewed then by the general public. Etc.

Screen example, 2020 (a wristband screen project) :

This is visual writing that demands much more complicity on the part of the user. It is deductive, because it relies on assumptions often developed by the user, and is culturally localized :

Compared with the industrial age :

Sources of images

Among the millions of symbols and public images that exist in the world today, people use only a limited repertoire of signs, typically those directly related to daily activities in their proximity. How many are used today? (For example, an average Chinese person uses 8000 ideograms, while a scholar uses more than 15,000).

• Transportation

Access to almost all activities in this area is based on individuals interpreting visual signs and symbols, and some text :

• The computer environment and electronics

These signs have appeared in our lives in waves. Below, the first line shows the first generation of icons used on electronic devices (70). The second line shows the first moving icons on the Macintosh (80). The third, signs borrowed from social networks. Finally, smilies appear :

The first important step was the electronic creation of the look and feel of Apple, which was the first interactive manager widely marketed (from MacPaint software in 1984).

Thinking in images

A US study of creation reveals that 50% of people think in pictures, 34% using words, and 4% using sounds (the Motion Picture Association, in Time, August 2013). These signs are abbreviations of situations, or a form of interactivity shorthand (see the intelligence of the eye) (chapter 9, no 5).

A recent example of a simple schematic comparison (Henry Dreyfuss, Symbols Sourcebook, 1972) :

Right now, three new ways to process information by viewing are appearing:

  • interactive graphic writing ;
  • tables ;
  • the serendipity technique.

Interactive graphic writing
(Guerilla graphics, popular ideography, etc.)

This is a screen display where one combines with screen logos, symbols, text ends with lines or graphic marks (bubble, arrow, division of colors, etc.) to generate a short presentation explaining the simple concept. Others (SARS company, for example) illustrate a conference as using drawings taking place on the screen accompanied by the speaker’s voice, much in the manner of a comic book.

It is a highly deductive writing, that is to say based on assumptions on the part of the reader, and thus a form of metaphor. This new writing speaks to the eye, and enters directly into the imagination.

An example of a poster describing Big Data :

The characteristics of these new entries are :

  • shorter messages related to the recent decrease in attention span among viewers ;
  • more customized messages, because of specialized (and more emotion-based) public niches ;
  • messages that leave room for interpreting metaphors and abbreviations, readers are left to interpret/conclude by themselves;
  • media messages with iconicity of 4 or 5 out of 10. Iconicity measures the degree of conservation of the visual characteristics of an object in its representation (the automobile in the example below) :

The table

500 years ago, the first style guides offered us a first technique for ordering information : typographic code (paragraph, punctuation and titration, for example). Then 200 years ago, a new technique able to better systematize information appeared :

Halfway between the written text and the graph, today tables are devices used to spatialize information.