For example, Dr. Boli wanted to know how to get the € symbol on a Macintosh keyboard, because he uses a Macintosh keyboard layout, though not on a Macintosh. (Anyone can use a Macintosh keyboard on a Macintosh—that’s no accomplishment at all.) So we call up Startpage, a search engine that gives us Google results anonymously, so that we see what Google would give us if it had no idea who we were, and we type “euro symbol macintosh keyboard.”
The first result, enclosed in a box to let us know that it is the recommended answer to our query, is a video.
Screenshot provided for the fair-usey purposes of criticism, etc.
This is a short video, only one minute and five seconds long. Eleven seconds into the video, the video producer says “Let’s get started” and then begins his explanation at the 12-second mark. So one-fifth of the video is introduction.
By a curious coincidence, “Let’s get started” is exactly the same number of syllables as “Shift-option-2,” which is the answer we were looking for. It took one second to say “Let’s get started,” so we can assume it would take the same amount of time to give the answer without the useless fluff. But a one-second video would be silly, wouldn’t it?
Yet the information could be absorbed in less than a second if it were presented in written form:
Now, what is the rest of the video about? We still have 48 seconds to go, after all.
Well, our videographer gives us two methods of producing the euro character. The first is the painfully roundabout way of pressing control-command-spacebar, which brings up a symbol list, then clicking on a “small icon” to expand the window, then clicking on “Currency symbols,” and then finding the euro sign, and then choosing the font you want from the “Font Variation” panel. Yes, this is all much easier than shift-option-2. Are we a little sarcastic today? No, not at all. Dr. Boli? Sarcastic?
All that takes us to the 48-second mark, at which point we are finally told that the keyboard shortcut is shift-option-2. From second 55 on is just the standard boilerplate begging us to subscribe to the creator’s channel, where presumably we’ll find similarly informative videos (“How to type Letter H on MAC,” “How to make Space Between Words on MAC”).
In what way is a video better than displaying the answer “Shift-option-2” as the top search result? In only one way: since Google supplies the results, Google leads us to YouTube, a Google property, where it can now try to persuade us to watch “Otter Carries His Little Friend Up the Stairs with One Paw” or “A baby hears Pavarotti sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ for the first time ever.” Bing! We’re engaged!—Oops—sorry—we accidentally slipped and used the B-word, but you get the idea.
Content providers prefer to have us sit still and shut up and watch a video. This establishes a certain expectation among the younger generations. In ten years or so, it will be mandated that all essential information be presented that way. Road signs, instead of instantly recognizable symbols, will carry little animations showing the proper way of yielding to oncoming traffic or the dreadful consequences of taking this curve too fast. Fire extinguishers will have color displays to play the ten-minute video that demonstrates how to aim the extinguisher at the base of the flames.
This is how literacy will die: not because we the people will lose interest in reading, but because the capitalists who control access to the information we want will refuse to let us read. Gradually we will accustom ourselves to the idea that we do not control how we take in information. Our masters will unscrew the tops of our heads and pour in the information they think we ought to have in measured doses. It will not be necessary to prohibit reading. It will simply be made more and more inconvenient to find information in written form, and our native laziness will do the rest of the work.