writing convention


On Weekends & Media.
February 23rd, 2008 by Lex

Weekends are reserved for creating, so it is likely that UA will take a break every Saturday and Sunday. Or perhaps it will just turn slightly more philosophical.

For example, the layout of this website and the photographs posted so far raises a natural question. Media that is read, such as pages of books, newspapers, magazines, and (unfortunately) websites, has a vertical proportion. Think of anything you may write on and its dimensions: vertical rectangle. The world of words is ruled by 8.5″ x 11″. Legal paper spills its content even further down. Go back in history and consider written scrolls, which are vertically unending. Language is vertical.

Visual content tends toward the horizontal. Television, the movie theater, your wide-screen monitor. All these tools are perpendicular to the written word. We instinctively expect the horizontal to be a “pausing” experience. One stops by a horizontal painting to quietly consider it, sits down to relax in front of a television or movie, or dives deep into family photos expecting to put in reflection and time.

Of course, certain visual media break this convention. Painting and photography are obvious examples, but the choice of vertical vs. horizontal seems to have a non-transparent effect. Vertical paintings may not seem as serene, or as demanding of attention. What do tall photographs do? On some level, they resemble a page in a book or a newspaper article more than a screen. So do they raise the same kind of response one gets from sitting down in front of a TV? Or are they more of a window and a mirror?

And then of course there is YouTube, which is doing an excellent job of destroying the “pausing” experience of horizontal media. The convergence of all these things on the web, and soon enough on all the screens we interact with, is transforming the proportions that signal to us how to consume content. No wonder the Iphone flip-flops between the vertical and horizontal.

Also, what about non-Western languages?