Thursday, January 10, 2013

VISUAL Memory is Powerful

Dec. 14, 2012 - 10:15 am.  With my carry-on bag tucked snugly into the overhead bin, I settled in, blessed to have secured an aisle seat, on Virgin America’s Flight 23. After four hectic days, I was returning to San Francisco.

I fastened my seat belt, secured my ear buds and turned on FOX news, fully expecting to hear chair-bound anchors delivering their usual business and social commentary. Instead I was watching reporters on the ground from Newtown, Conn., where law enforcement was sorting out a confusing incident of a gunman or gunmen at a school. As the facts were pieced together and the reporting became clearer, I watched with horror the unfolding in real time of the Sandy Hook School massacre.
Dec. 14 started out in a familiar manner as I juggled my bag, Blackberry and boarding pass while the town car driver deftly navigated a back route from Brooklyn to JFK Airport.
But the day was to be different. It would be memorable for me and many others, the result of images that would be indelibly etched into our visual memories. I’ve lectured on the impact of a visual image over the spoken word many times, but never have I really experienced the power of it so forcefully.
One image in particular was transformative and stands apart next to (and usually overriding) all the additional reporting and photos. It appeared fairly early in the reporting: a photo of an unidentified young woman with dark hair screaming in anguish into her cell phone. No sound or words were necessary—the visual was all-encompassing, with the human tragedy profound and her grief palpable. We heard her!
Three hours later when additional information about the Newtown shooting was released, I was still watching. When I finally got up to stretch my legs and maneuvered my way back to the galley, I took note of the images flashing on the seat-back screens: 90% of the passengers, like I, were tuned into the tragedy as it continued to unfold in horrific detail.

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