The Despotic Eye
Our human perception of the world we live in comes mainly from the five senses we are endowed with: hearing and seeing, touching, smelling and tasting. Although the power of each of these senses considered individually is crucial for human psychology and survival, the sense of seeing has marginalized the rest. We are completely helpless without the eye. It dictates most of our important decisions. They are usually made after the eye has passed judgement. Would you then choose a partner just form hearing or listening to her/his voice? Would you buy a piece of furniture just by touching or smelling it? Even our food is not independent of the eye.

Out of sight can indeed mean out of mind. Germans proverbially say: Das Auge isst mit: literally: the eye eats first meaning it is a treat for your eyes or the way food looks is as important as it tastes. The idioms around this sense are countless. In addition there are a variety of verbs which refer to this sense surpassing the other senses : see, watch, look, gaze, stare, seem, appear, show….

TV is chewing gum for the eye but watching TV has become a little dirty secret. Nobody admits. Germans say: Alle haben geguckt, keine hat es gesehen literally rendered: Everybody watches rubbish but everybody pretends they don't. In other words ratings are sky-high but funnily enough, you never meet anybody who actually watches that stuff. A book without pictures and drawings tires the eye. Often people prefer watching and listening to reading and writing. Still, there is nothing odd about this behavior because seeing and listening are primary skills given to us by nature.

Reading in the age of "fast everything" is slow and visual aids like graphs and (moving) pictures are being increasingly used to communicate information because they are faster than texts. In addition, the information imparted goes deeper and more conveniently into memory. Advertising agencies put more emphasis on visual aids. This has to do with the despotic role of the eye. Reading and writing are both secondary skills. Does this mean we are heading towards the end of the reading age? No, it doesn’t seem so. Although we are already experiencing other ways of learning, the number of books and magazines published on a daily basis is increasing.

A printed text is still more convenient than reading online even if you cannot change the font and its size or color. Books provide a good overview and you feel there is something in your hands you can touch. Books, however, need paper, ink and space but can be stored over a much longer period of time than information stored on optical disks. You can always find a book somewhere but you can’t guarantee something you have read online to be available the next day. Cultural differences also pose a problem for many learners. Discourse and organization of ideas, grammar and text cohesion can change depending on the genre, register and medium.