Do pictures still paint a thousand words?

In spite of inaccurate attribution to Confucius and other proverb-makers, the term “use a picture, it’s worth a thousand words” can first be heard in an instructional talk given by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club in March 1911.

The context was that those who purchased print media would be engaged by stunning imagery more than dense text – perhaps an early 20th Century clue to the future of communication.

When we consider present day marketing, the body of thought is that product placement is advertising and doesn’t evoke emotion, whereas storytelling is marketing and evocative.

Thus, the plethora of Christmas TV adverts that are now trying to jump on the Sainsbury/John Lewis bandwagon and tweak our heart strings to access our bank accounts.

However, of some concern is the extent to which imagery is beginning to replace words in our day to day parlance.

Cue the GIF.

Do you remember CompuServe?

Back in the mid-80’s I purchased my first “laptop” computer – a Compaq house-brick that, as I recall, sported a 250Mb hard drive and probably less than 1Mb of RAM.

CompuServe was my server and I used their subscription services to access the internet.

In 1987 they introduced the GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) and we marvelled at primitive moving images on our screens.

The GIF has waited in the sidelines since, now resurfacing on our messaging applications like What’sApp and Facebook Messenger – and in a big way.

Pictorial messaging started with Emoticons and Emoji’s – those little cartoon figures with which we can respond without having to think about what we say.


and the development of sentences that depended on a sequence of such images:

😍 🏃 💋 👫👨‍❤️‍👨👍

all well and good – useful for busy times when you just want to acknowledge a message, without necessarily engaging with the sender.

The Facebook world of emoji’s has rapidly expanded, with a variety of themes constantly updated on our smartphones.

Now – we have the GIF or Giphy – which takes this method of communication to a new level by allowing moving images to impart our response.



and there are thousands of them, available free of charge on your smartphone or tablet.

So what we have now is a new and emerging method of communication:

  1. I post a selfie on social media – me with someone or in front of something;
  2. those who see the selfie respond with a GIF or Giphy, expressing how they feel about the photo
  3. bonus points for choosing an image that somehow connects with my selfie and, at the same time, introduces a famous celebrity (Homer, Clooney, J-Lo) to the thread

My friend and relationship expert Eric Schneider relates the selfie to the “dark triad” of Narcissism, Machiavellanism and Psychopathy, and considers how many of us define ourselves on social media this way (guilty!).

During a recent weekend in Berlin, my two daughters communicated with me and their siblings almost exclusively with selfies and Giphys – it was fun but I’ll have to wait and see them to find out how the trip really went.

Will pictures almost completely replace the prehensile typing thumbs of the Millennial?

If we asked Arthur Brisbane to take a look at this, would he agree that today’s Emojis and Giphys replace a thousand words?

I think not.


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.