As the title suggests, I have been toying with various subject matters to write about. Should I write about design, write about writing, write about India, people, places, food, the importance of breakfast, the rise of consumerism, the rise of food prices, the state of education, the lack of good education, the pitfalls of design education, the vanishing forest cover, the vanishing Parsis, the almost vanished tigers, ugly urban architecture, beautiful traditional architecture, unbelievable politicians, soaring corruption, starving farmers, farmers with BMWs, mobile phone plans, fair and lovely/handsome advertisements, creeps on motorbikes, families on scooters, chauffeurs in Audis, bhelwallas, the helpful staff at the Bank of India, the not-so-helpful staff at the Pune bus stand, chaotic traffic, load-shedding, weight-gaining, Indesign crashing, the superior nature of Apple, or the charm of the printed word?
Speaking of words, people say we don't think in words, we think in pictures, but I think that we think in words too. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a word is also worth a thousand pictures. Words and pictures, or language and visuals are two sides of the same coin, the coin of communication or expression. As human beings we can't live without these two essential tools of our own creation. The earliest humans expressed themselves through images, as seen in cave paintings. Even today some of the richest expressions, such as those of tribal artists, are in the form of images. Language came much later. But then language turned out to be such a powerful, fascinating tool, and gripped humankind with such intensity for generations, that now we can't live without it. It is as essential to us as breathing. More than the Printing Revolution, or the Internet Revolution, it must have been the Language Revolution, or rather Evolution, that has actually had the maximum impact on us till today.
I was flitting through a book Empires of the Word — A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler, and it's fascinating to see how one can actually study the history of the world through its languages. Language is deeply intertwined with perception, colonization, economic strength, religion, and much more. Indeed language is much more than just words. It's how we think, how we feel, it's the lens to our entire reality. Any language has phrases, metaphors, and even certain words unique only to that language, and carries in it centuries or millennia of meaning, culture and tradition. Language has DNA as well, in its words, sounds, subtle meanings and double meanings. Concepts of gender, direction, transaction, self-consciousness and ego-centricity stem from language and are affected by it. Does your language shape how you think? I think yes.
Though the language of designers is visuals (supposedly), there are some designers on whom the wordy language still has a strong grip. A very interesting project is Mandagrams by Johnson Banks, an amazing graphic amalgamation of two languages. It almost seems like a return to hieroglyphics. With the rise of mobile technology and twitter-talk, maybe the future of language will be some kind of 'designed' system of modern, hyper-efficient and ultra minimalist hieroglyphics.