Visually literacy requires us to go slow
A fork in the fertilizer path
African American English
One fond memory of the pandemic was driving into New York – while some businesses were boarded up, never to return, driving a car in the city was a true joy. Manhattan has returned to its old traffic ways, and driving into New York has become a nightmare. The fight over congestion pricing, charging cars a fee to enter the most crowded portions of Manhattan, is just getting underway. There are any number of stakeholders who want or do not want those surcharges to reduce automobile traffic. Automobile traffic is not necessarily the outcome of densely packed citizens; consider a far more densely packed town, Tokyo.
“When you see cliched images of Tokyo, what invariably is shown are the enormous crowds of pedestrians crossing the roads, or Mount Fuji in the background of the futuristic skyline. I expected something like Los Angeles in Blade Runner, I suppose — futuristic and overwhelming. From photos, Tokyo can look almost unplanned, with neon signs everywhere and a huge variety of forms of architecture. You expect it to feel messy. What I experienced, however, was a city that felt almost like being in a futuristic village. It is utterly calm, in a way that is actually rather strange.
And it took me a little while to realize why. There is simply no traffic noise. No hooting, no engine noise, not even much of the noise of cars accelerating on tarmac. Because there are so few of them. Most of the time you can walk in the middle of the street, so rare is the traffic. There are not even cars parked at the side of the road. That is not true of all of Tokyo, of course.”
From HeatMap, How Tokyo Became an Anti-Car Paradise
The Internet has wrought many changes, a diminished attention span, and as I have mentioned in the past, images have returned to the forefront of communication, although there remains a niche for the spoken word as podcasts.
“Ours is an image-saturated world, which makes sense, given how sight arrives before speech. Yet visual literacy is often an afterthought, perhaps because it is associated with the specialised looking of art history. But we look at things all the time: at stamps, Ikea instructions, book jackets, press photographs, billboards, comics, Google doodles – the stuff that James Elkins in The Domain of Images (1999) refers to as ‘informational images’ – images that confront us all day, every day, in a barrage, or ‘flow’ or ‘stream.’ The amount of visual information we routinely process is unfathomable. But presenting visual media this way prioritises speed-processing at the expense of lingering. It also, notes the writer and visual artist Michelle Henning, ‘intimates potential disaster’ – invoking a ‘flood’ that overwhelms the viewer even when some of this material very much warrants our attention.”
“The endless visual stream is meant to keep you distracted because if you look closely, you will see more clearly.”
Do we look too quickly? Do we treat images like words, accepting just the gist and not the context? From Psyche, To master the art of close looking, learn to hold time still
ACSH co-founder Norman Borlaug was a big proponent of fertilizer to increase the yields of our agricultural efforts. Fertilizers are not without their unintended consequences. Is it time to put a fork in them?
“In the modern world, food means fertilizer. Everything from a bowl of breakfast cereal to a curry relies on abundant use of synthetic fertilizer to raise crops or livestock. …Over the last century, fertilizer use has enabled an unprecedented increase in human population and well-being. Average per-acre corn yields, for example, rose from 25 bushels in 1926 to 170 in 2006—and food became relatively much cheaper. But the Green Revolution has been anything but green. Fertilizer is a product of the fossil fuel industry, releasing carbon dioxide during its manufacture and emitting nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 300 times the warming potential of CO2. Globally, fertilizers are responsible for more than 2.6 gigatons of carbon emissions annually, more than global shipping and aviation combined.
Which leads to our present dilemma. How do we continue our extraordinary advances in nutrition and prosperity, worldwide, without digging ourselves deeper into a carbon hole?”
How indeed. From the Anthropocene Magazine, We’ve reached a fork in the fertilizer road: Which path keeps food cheap and the world cool?
Remember Ebonics? Most formally, a linguistic variety of English spoken predominantly by African Americans in the United States, with roots in the West African languages brought over by enslaved Africans during the transatlantic slave trade, combined with elements of English and other languages. With time, a more nuanced view of this linguistic variation has been developed by academics; here is one of those phrases that we might all be familiar with, even if you are not an OG.
“cakewalk (n.): 1. A contest in which Black people would perform a stylized walk in pairs, typically judged by a plantation owner. The winner would receive some type of cake. 2. Something that is considered easily done, as in, This job is a cakewalk.”
This is just one of the initial entries in the Oxford Dictionary of African American English. Another nine can be found in the New York Times article, The First 10 Words of the African American English Dictionary Are In.