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An Argument for the Superiority of Printed Media Over Visual Media

The purpose of this essay is not to argue that visual media is inherently evil. Nor is its purpose to contend that visual media lacks any value. The purpose of this essay is to prove that printed media is simply better than visual media, and when faced with the choice to choose one or the other for educational or recreational purposes, a conscientious person should choose printed media over visual media in most cases. With each of the following points the possibility of immoral content is erased, quality in each form is assumed, and each medium is evaluated for its own inherent worth. Expressions of fiction are the primary focus of this essay, though these points could apply to other forms as well. An application of these points might be a comparison between reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë or viewing the film version. Another poignant example might be to compare reading the gospel accounts of the death of Christ or viewing The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.

1. Printed media communicates through logic and analysis; Visual media communicates only through images. The very nature of visual media prevents its capacity for profound depth. Visual media cannot thoroughly evaluate the human condition like printed media can. Printed media can literally borough into the hearts and minds of its characters, thus enabling the reader to understand and benefit from the development of each character and his relationship to the overall moral of the work. Visual media can explore character development to some extent, but due to time constraints and the nature of the visual, it cannot reach the potential of printed media in these respects. “Words communicate in linear, logical form; something communicated in words can thus be judged to be true or false. But an image cannot be true or false.”1

2. Printed media demands skill and work; Visual media encourages mindless consumption. Visual media is certainly more popular because it requires little if any active participation. In fact, visual media is attractive primarily because it is “easy.” Understanding, appreciating, and benefitting from printed media takes discipline and requires a certain amount of skill. This occurs, of course, on different levels, but each level encourages aspirations toward higher adeptness.

3. Printed media stimulates imagination; Visual media discourages creativity. Printed media allows the reader to fill in gaps with his mind, while visual media leaves little room for imagination, painting every picture for the viewer. Visual media can encourage a degree of creativity, but certainly not to the magnitude of printed media.

4. Printed media promotes education; Visual media invites vicarious participation. While many defenders of visual media insist that exposure to realistic visual imitations of life benefits the viewer, the nature of the medium actually solicits vicarious participation in the events. For instance, a boy watching a violent war film in order to “appreciate the seriousness of war” will more likely delight in the gratuitousness of the violence than weep over the depravity of the human condition. Because printed media demands more skill and lacks the sensationalism of visual media, such benefits as a healthy hatred for sin are
more plausible.

5. Printed media develops the whole person; Visual media cannot. Reading increases vocabulary, develops attention span, fosters imagination, cultivates reasoning skills, and stimulates the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas. Any of these benefits that are possible with visual media are never as extensive as with printed media, and visual media often discourages them.

6. Visual media inhibits the ability to appreciate printed media. Because participating in visual media is effortless, it is addictive, and with its discouragement of qualities such as attention span or depth of understanding, it actually inhibits the ability to appreciate and therefore benefit from superior printed media. Participation in visual media is not necessarily sinful. But all other factors being equal, printed media is superior to visual media in its ability to develop important qualities. All things being equal, those concerned with their education and betterment should choose printed media over visual media as a their regular practice.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), 162. []

2 Responses to An Argument for the Superiority of Printed Media Over Visual Media

  1. Steve Ingersol , behavioural optometrist, says the purpose of print is to form pictures in the brain. For this reason points 2 and 3 above are your most cogent arguements.  It is the difference between watching some one roller skating where it appears effortless,  and skating  yourself which is self-evidently full of risk and effort and fine judgement .

    In using Multi-media (aka modern illiteracy)  a person watches.   A reader, in contrast , is a participant by means of the mental images he creates to understand the written word.

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