“The Age of the Image” – Book review


I could never understand why one of my elderly friends at church was so afraid of images. He didn’t want any kind of art creeping into the church. He thought words only were the way to stay on the straight and narrow. Perhaps he was afraid we’d cross the line too far and break the third of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4).

But it’s not images themselves that are inherently good or bad (well, for the most part), but how we use them.

We live bombarded with images. We always have. From the beginning of time God gave us so much to look at. Jesus often used word pictures to relay his message in parables. Visual storytelling was one of his specialties.

So I found Stephen Apkon’s book particularly intriguing: The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens.


According to Apkon, part of being literate in the 21st century is our ability to navigate screens and and communicate with our newer technologies. While I doubt he’d be a proponent of babies swiping iPhone screens (which I’ve seen some 1-year-olds very skilled at), he does urge us to better understand how words and images can work together, not as opposites, but as companions.

And to learn how to use that connection to our advantage to tell better stories.

He gives many examples in his book about how to do just that, including stories of using film in school classrooms.

Here are some quotes from the book (sorry just words, no pictures) to consider for yourself. They’re about more than just images; they’re about the larger scope of communication in general.

“All of us will be called upon to be not just consumers but producers. Listening to the story and judging it is no longer enough. We now have to start telling the story ourselves, all of us, if this is to be a literate society.

~ * ~

“The manipulation of video is shortly to become a global language, and its seductive powers will be on display for all to see. But it is morally neutral. It can be used for good and evil and everything in between.
The most pertinent question now facing us is not how can we resist this revolution in thought, but how can we respond with the maximum amount of thoughtfulness, energy, and smarts? How will we present ourselves to the world?
How literate will we be?”

~ * ~

“True literacy is always a two-way transaction. We don’t just consume; we produce. We don’t just read; we write. The ability to receive information is always the first part of the literacy equation that is necessary for the masses, and then the ability to express information generally follows, as we strive to quench our desire to communicate. The root of communicate is to commune.”

~ * ~

“We are slaves not to what we know, but to what we see, and this is how we elect our presidents.” [Ouch!]

~ * ~

“We come back to the home truth that stuff doesn’t matter. It’s what you teach yourself to do with the stuff that does. I have always believed that the primary—maybe the only—valuable delivery to the average person through this “stuff” is the transmission of stories.
Albert Maysles said the following, which I have tacked above my computer: ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away when they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.'”

~ * ~

“Literacy has always been the barrier between the haves and the have-nots in our society, and in the larger global society and economy. . . .

We must adapt with the changing times and acquire the necessary skills in order to have full access to this opportunity—to remain competitive and engaged. Because, ultimately, one of the most rewarding things we can do is tell our stories and hear the stories of others. It is one of the fundamental cures for loneliness throughout time, a means of human connection.”

Perhaps one reason this book appeals to me so much is because I’m a visual learner. And maybe my elderly friend was not. Either way, images and increasing use of them among technology are here to stay.

We’d best learn to use them in wise and godly ways.

Below is a short film for The Age of Image.
[click here if you can’t see the video “I AM HERE”]


* * *

Are you a visual learner, too? Do pictures sometimes speak louder to you than words? Please share in the comments.

6 thoughts on ““The Age of the Image” – Book review

  1. Michele Morin

    Hmmmm . . . maybe this is why I struggle with the technical aspects of blogging. I guess I’m a “word-y” learner. I love print and always have. For me pictures are beside the point, but I do have a couple of sons who love pictures, and devoured picture books before they could even read them, gazing at them, and even laughing at them without anyone reading to them. Thanks for this review, Lisa. You certainly read a wide range of material!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I am definitely a word-lover myself, from way back. Words have always fascinated me and they continue to. That’s one reason I loved “The Book Thief” so much–the writing in that book was so incredible. But images–I do love those as well. My skills are still lacking in being a producer of them but I’m learning. 🙂 That’s cool that you identified your sons visual acuity from early childhood.

  2. Linda@Creekside

    Your last point is well said, Lisa. The horse and buggy days are gone, technology is alive and well and here to stay.

    And I think we’ll be figuring out how best to enfold it into our lives without it defining every move we make for a long, long time.

    Weekend rest and joy, friend!

  3. David

    Hm. I agree with the point on production (“True literacy is always a two-way transaction…”). That is a strong point. I think consumption/production is much more important than image/text.

    IMHO, the “language” of images is just a limited, primitive subset of real language.

    One thing that is more to the fore in iconography is rhetoric, and I do think rhetoric is badly neglected in language education. I think rhetoric is not something corrupt, to be avoided, but is part and parcel of language: how an argument (set of linked statements) should be set out in time (speech) or space (graphics).

    I’m a computer programmer (among other things;) so I see other layers here too:
    – People who use real language will always have more power than people who are limited to image languages: you can use wordpress, but who decides what wordpress can do? (not limited to computers of course: the priest who can read the sacred text might have more power than the illiterate warlord who has to accept the priest’s interpretation).

    – Computer use is often overlaid with metaphors. I don’t know if these have any effect, but they strike me as noteworthy. e.g. deleting a file:
    – WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pointer): the user clicks on the document icon, ‘drags’ it over the the bin icon, and ‘drops’ the document icon onto the bin icon. The user is doing the work. The metaphor is that the human takes the document and puts it in the bin.
    – Command-line: the user types “rm filename” and presses return. The computer is doing the work. The metaphor is that the human tells the computer to do something and the computer does it.

    Sorry for talking shop 🙂


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      So this obviously strikes a chord with you. 🙂 Very interesting comments! I wonder what reactions you would have if you read the book directly. I may or may not have given off a proper vibe of it.

      I need to think more about this:
      “IMHO, the “language” of images is just a limited, primitive subset of real language.” I’m questioning now what is language, really? We have so many diverse ways we communicate, and image is definitely just one of many. I suppose it depends on what we’re trying to communicate as to what mode is the most functional for it. I definitely am a word lover so I’ll never argue that words are “less” but I do appreciate the and/with approach.

      Your examples of literacy are worthy. I wonder how Stephen Hawking would respond to it all, with his warnings of artificial intelligence taking over the world one day….

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