Pic City: The Return of Visual Communication

Social media has left the text world behind and returned to pictures through the creation of mobile apps like Instagram and Snapchat—moving back to a form of communication that has been ingrained in the human race since the caveman years. Visual communication itself has expended over the last few years due to technological advancements that have made the world of communication easier than ever. The increase in the “selfie” has also brought about the increase in platforms that cater to communicating visually.

These advancements in technology that allowed for mobile apps to grow and become the force that they have, brought about things like Instagram and Snapchat. These new ways of sharing visual communication, that exist almost entirely on a mobile platform, gained popularity rather quickly. According to an article released by Digitaltrends.com, Instagram has reached almost 20 billion images shared since its release in October 2010.

“I would say the evolution of it, the ubiquitous of it and the ease of use,” says Professor David Gerzof Richard, Professor of Media Relations, Social Media and Marketing at Emerson College, is the key to technology’s promotion of these new platforms in social media. “It’s evolved. It’s come from digits to sending photos. It’s ubiquitous in that last year was the first year that smartphone penetration in the US was over 50 percent.”

Visual communication has always been a way to communicate, dating back to the years of the cavemen. Cueva de las Manos, or the Cave of Hands as it’s translated, is located in Santa Cruz, Argentina and can be said to be one of the earliest forms of social media, something that dates almost 13,000 to 9,000 years ago.

“They didn’t have Facebook, they didn’t have text messaging or picture messaging; they had cave walls, they had a dye and they had reeds,” says Gerzof-Richard about the ancient’s way of communicating. “Before there was Facebook, there was ‘handbook’ and that’s how they connected.”

These caves aren’t the only way people communicated visually. People have been using art to depict events and people for centuries. Before the creation of photography, artists would paint portraits for paying customers. Unlike pictures, which were more correct when it came to being perfectly precise with features, these early versions of selfies were up to the interpretation of the artist. When photography was created, many were afraid of this new invention, believing that it took something from the subject every time a picture was taken. It became popular anyway, due to the fact that it was cheaper than having a portrait painted.

In 1839, the first self-portrait was accomplished in the world of photography. According to The Public Domain Review, Robert Cornelius was the first to snap a picture of himself. It was accomplished by removing the lens cap and then running into the frame where he sat for a minute. He replaced the lens. According to the article, early self-portraits like Cornelius’ were common in the early days of photography as people were continuously experimenting with this new platform.

The launch of MySpace in 2003 brought about the first time that a self-portrait was used in social media at such a high rate, as people used these selfies for profile pictures. Since then, the selfie has spread to other social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. As the selfie became more popular on social media, it also opened up a new way of expressing ones self.

The advancements in technology helped the selfie become an every day fad, as phones like the iPhone began to be equipped with cameras. By 2010, when the iPhone was equipped with a frontal camera in order to support video chatting services, the selfie was cemented into history as users began taking pictures of themselves. Now, it’s not only pictures of themselves that people are posting on these picture based apps, but also of their food, their pets, their friends, anything that a person can deem picturesque has been snapped and uploaded to one of these apps.

According to ROI Research’s Performic Life on Demand Summery from 2012, people using social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter paid more attention to pictures posted by their friends. These numbers, at 35 percent, were 9 percent higher than the second interest that was status updates (25%), providing a starting point for this new trend.

By the time Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends Report, posted by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, came about, the trend had increased, showing that SnapChat alone shared about 700 million snaps per day, while 1.8 billion photos are uploaded and shared per day throughout all image accessible platforms. By sharing this many photos daily, the trend has increased from where it had been merely five years ago, where only 50 million pictures had been shared.

“At this point, SnapChat, Instagram and other platforms are becoming more popular for now and it so happens that they are image based,” says Professor Roxana Maiorescu, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing Communication at Emerson College, “but it’s just a matter of time until corporations and your parents and other entities are going to use those social media platforms and [the younger generation] are going to come up with something new.”

The rate at which visual communication has returned since the lunch of mobile apps like Instagram and SnapChat has been fast paced. And both of these apps, especially the later, are being populated by the younger generation. SnapChat, in fact, owes most of its success to teenagers, who are incredibly active on the app.

“I think it’s being driven by the younger generation, folks that are sort of playing with the latest apps,” confirms Professor David Gerzof-Richard.

In a world where communication is key, visual based apps have risen to the top. Driven to that peak by the younger generation, social media platforms are continuously expanding as one is always searching for the best new thing, moving from Facebook to Instagram to SnapChat. Visual communication, while always having been part of the human culture dating back to ancient times 13,000 years ago, has proven to be the new thing, condensing what could be said in 140 words to a simple picture. As communication evolves, the future is uncertain but for now, just smile.

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