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There are assumptions about images and how these compare with words, in terms of what is afforded us in communicating with each other. These assumptions have been limited by religion and economic imperatives in the past, and by education systems that grew out of those vested interests. One way to push past these assumptions might be to imagine a world without writing. Some science fiction examples are examined for their feasibility. In addition, the reader is reminded of humanity’s pre-writing past, and that pictures that survived from then are viewed through our present contextual lenses as containing a child-like view of the universe. This view has not been helped in western history by hundreds of years of monotheism and its vested interest in framing earlier belief systems as perverse. The origins of writing however, were completely bound up with accounting for production, for tax collecting and distribution, with specialization into occupations: the beginnings of the organized state. Could a future of pictures-only give us the deliberate communication we’d need for these exchanges or is that also science fiction? The major assumption to overcome is that the dependability of words anchors the waywardness of pictures. This paper shows some quotidian examples of picture-only communications which do not invite ambiguous or vague interpretations, and examples are given where pictures can disambiguate words. The future is most likely to witness the further compression of writing, not its total eradication; it is likely that the co-presence of writing and pictures makes for clearest communication. How would communicators be trained to be productive members of such a world? Research into style, pattern recognition and comprehension are necessary to further break down the historical assumptions about what constitutes good depiction. We need to break the spell of visual realism; to see it as only one of many choices for capturing the image, and to see the schema that make pictures up as components that can be taken apart and reassembled. The paper concludes with some examples of science-fiction curricula given to design students to broaden their thinking about the future potential for visual communications.
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