Why “The Image” is Relevant 62 Years Later

Recently, I read Kenneth Boulding’s book, The Image and felt it was more relevant than ever in today’s ever-changing, ego-driven culture. Our society is moving at a speed within digital transformation that I sometimes wonder if those moving this transformation see the vision cast or if we’re moving just to move because we can.

We are consistently trying to keep up with ourselves, our Apple News and the world around us. Apple News has the power to dictate the messaging that impacts the way in which we view other cultures, states, politicians and social causes. The punchy headlines lend to quick open rates, blasting a large population with quick knowledge without even learning more about the story.

As a social and technological culture, we’re challenged when people bring up topics we haven’t read about and often have to fight the urge of feeling not good enough for “not being in the know”. We can play it off, come clean and ask questions about what’s new or find a way to positive ourselves as knowledge keepers. (Rough concept right?) With that in mind, I would encourage you to pause and pick this up for a quick weekend read to see how it correlates from 1956 to now.

“The image is built up as a result of all past experience of the possessor of the image”

I felt connected to this book once I read, “The image is built up as a result of all past experience of the possessor of the image” (Boulding, pg. 6, 1956). This is something I have personally been intrigued by for the past six months in various conversations. Watching how past experiences shift and leave a sense of permanence for individuals, therefore carries the tendency to influence their ability to see perspective or alternative ideas other than their own image. In other words, based on a series of past events, the image of their expectations and perspectives become consistent and if altered, become a disruptive state of mind.

For example, something as basic as a large city can carry the image of a “concrete jungle” if the individual is used to outdoors, fields, greenery and natural landscapes. However, an individual who has been accustomed to a mindset which welcomes change, variety and carries a unique value system in each unique environment, potentially carries a history of this change-based thinking into each new image (Boulding, pg. 6, 1956).

In a similar context, I think Boulding touches on a significant concept that you hear the noise you are listening for (Boulding, 1956). I have been intrigued by this idea over the last six months in that what you are looking or listening for, there you will find it. If you are listening for negativity, you will find it. If you are listening for positivity and joy, you will see it. Therefore, I think The Image sets a powerful tone to our culture, all these years later, that our minds have the capacity to create the image we’re looking for in life. Boulding also has a unique approach to reflecting on the power that words spoken over our lives can have an influence on the impact of messaging that reflects our image. Words can influence, trigger dramatic resistance, carry rejection and shift our perspective (Boulding, 1956).

The Image reflects something I genuinely consider on a regular basis and rarely speak aloud, such as my recent experience of listening to a story about a homeless man. For whatever reason, I have compassion in considering that the “fact” is a man is without a home, so society recognizes that as homeless, which has carried a message of fear or doubt, impacting the image of homelessness. Instead, the person sharing this story saw the words spoken from a positive root, as fear and uncertainty, ultimately stemming from our perception rather than of random encouragement.

What we miss in our image is the message of how, why, and variable factors of the man’s story that our image can’t detect based on viewing the “fact”. We have to go to a place outside of our immediate image to consider the before, the now and the future of this man.

We have to go to a place outside of our immediate image to consider the before, the now and the future of this man.

Boulding touches on the possible impacts on messages of the image (Boulding, pg. 10, 1956), and I feel like this theory connects to the homeless man image. I don’t think that it’s something our culture regularly reflects on or considers. We can sometimes be a “matter of fact” culture. I saw this confirmed when I shared a story recently with a dear friend, who shared that in her early 20’s she was homeless. Again, the immediate image and messages leading up to her story or the “fact” that you see her with a husband and child now, would not allow you to weave this image of homelessness, yet again, expanded my perspective of the image.

Our society’s busyness of “the now” and futuristic obligations lead us often failing to recognize what has impacted someone’s image unless it’s portrayed in a documentary on Netflix or Hulu and posted in a long caption on Instagram. We miss moments of consideration when this happens.

We miss moments of consideration when this happens.

On the other hand, those who choose to speak about the impact regularly, can often be “stuck in the past” or only focus on the decisive moments of the past rather than looking ahead. In a sense, Boulding’s focus on how knowledge gives structure and essentially organizes the chaos, and lack of organization reflects the power of the mind. It also demonstrates that although this book was written decades ago, it still carries a refreshing relevance in a punchy, condensed format.

References

Boulding, K. E. (1956). The image: Knowledge in life and society. University of Michigan Press.

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Host of The Feedbackcode Podcast + Brand Strategist + Connector. Igniting potential and activating perspective through stories of everyday feedback.

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Steph Barnes

Steph Barnes

Host of The Feedbackcode Podcast + Brand Strategist + Connector. Igniting potential and activating perspective through stories of everyday feedback.

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