Home/Psychology/The evolution of explaining things

You can’t fight Mother Nature. Humans like to explain things, humans want to explain things, always and everywhere. Since the dawn of time, mankind has striven to explain its own existence and that of the world around it.

It all started with symbols some 30.000 years ago when cave men and women painted drawings of what they saw, did, and experienced. Even today, researchers are trying to explain the meaning of drawings at Chauvet cave, the oldest found collection of prehistoric cave paintings, trying to figure out whether the abstract designs in cave, aside from many recognizable animals, depict a volcanic eruption. In 30.000 years, somehow it seems that we managed to make a full circle and come back to that simplicity of explaining things using pictures and symbols to explain complex ideas so they would be understandable to all.

drawings at Chauvet cave
marketing attempts of Alexander the Great

Let’s look back at the first marketing attempts of Alexander the Great, who, by the age of 25, had conquered Greece, Egypt, and Persia, creating an empire of 2 million square miles. So everyone had to know who he was, not just by name, but also by image. Right? And what he, and his later successors figured out is that the best way to do that is to put the face of Alexander the Great on coins. This was a mass communication medium used by ordinary people every day and was the best way to explain and affirm the ruler and his empire. So, it seems that explaining things is at the very core of our activities: „We may not best be described as Homo sapiens, but as Homo explanans – the creature who explains himself to himself, and who explains all the rest of the world in ways consistent with that explanation. We are the creatures who are apparently compelled to explain everything.“.

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Of course, over time, the techniques of communication, and thus explanation, changed. We invented languages that made our explanation endeavors easier; mass production of books for easier dissemination of ideas; we systemized schools to explain the world to those becoming part of it; invented radio and television and lastly – the internet.

So from the period that dates back just to last century, when it was difficult to find information we are now living in a world that is overwhelmed with information. This information-overload means EVERYTHING about ANYTHING is just a click away. However, it is not easy to navigate such a vast pool of information. Thus, we need to make things simple, catchy, and often short in order to be visible.

Even with these technological changes, the technology is just a platform; you still need good substance in order for it to “taste” good. Like a bottle of wine – if it ain’t good, nobody’s gonna drink it, no matter how good it looks. This substance is made out of information arranged in a way to be interesting and explain something. So, in other words, when you explain things you use building blocks of information. Let’s call them bricks. So you need a certain amount of bricks in order to build any story – whether it is written, audio, video, graphic, or speech. As any construction worker knows, first you have to have a solid base, so that the construction doesn’t fall apart. This is the lead and it is the bait that catches your public. From there, you add more bricks that will develop the issue that is being explained.

technological changes

And there are many options. However, in this vast virtual space the written word is often taking a back seat in comparison to something that is visual. A photograph, as the old saying goes, is worth a thousand words.  So what about video?  Recent reports show an evolution in a way that video is being consumed. It is one of the most demanding forms of expression. In order to reach the public, it has to be interesting, catchy, explanatory, motivational, and all of this in less than a minute. And the viewers have to be captured to make a decision to view the video based only on its title. But, if done well, it pays off, whether it is a citizen journalist filming a riot, or a company explaining a product, by growing in reach of public.

Any thoughts about how it would be more simple and more natural to explain subject-matter to the audience, apart from predominantly using motion? Let us know in the comments. And, as always, don’t forget to share!

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The Ultimate Guide to Explainer Videos download