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Exerpts from the CD-ROM "Multimedia: Working It Out!"

Humans have only recently developed text and symbols for use in communication. That remarkable development began about 6000 years ago in the Mediterranean Fertile Crescent- in Mesopotamia Egypt Sumeria and Babyloniawhere meaningful marks were scraped onto mud tablets and left to harden in the sun.

Only members of the ruling classes and the priesthood were allowed to read and write the pictographic signs and cuneiforms. Because this new medium did not require rote memorization by frail human gray matter, written messages became popular among the elite. Unlike their human counterparts, these new messages were less likely to perish due to dysentery, acts of God, or amnesia.

Even if your message were intercepted by foes or competitors, it would still be indecipherable except by those few who had acquired reading skills. In fact you probably attended school with most of the other people in your society who could read your message, reading, writing, and power politics in those days were naturally intertwined. In some former eras it was a capital offense to read unless you belonged to the proper social class or possessed a patent granted by your rulers.

Today, however, text and the ability to read it are doorways to power and knowledge. Reading and writing have become a skill pervasive within most modern cultures. Now, depending upon your proficiency with words, you may be awarded a doctorate instead of the death penalty.

And, as has been the case throughout history, text still delivers information that is concentrated and can have potent meaning.

Imagine designing a project that used no text at all. Its content could not be at all complex, and you would need to use many pictures and symbols to train your audience how to navigate through the project. Certainly voice and sound could guide the audience, but they would quickly tire of this greater effort is required to pay attention to spoken words than to browse text.

Words and symbols in any form, spoken or written, are the most common system of communication. They deliver the most widely understood meaning to the greatest number of people - accurately and in detail. They are vital elements of multimedia menus, navigation systems, and content.

A single item of menu text accompanied by a single action (a mouse click, keystroke, or finger pressed to the monitor) requires little training and is clean and immediate.

Use text for titles and headlines (what it's all about), for menus (where to go), for navigation (how to get there), and for content (what you see when you get there).

Even a single word may be cloaked in many meanings, so as you begin working with any medium it is important to cultivate accuracy and explicitness in the particular words you choose.

Multimedia authors weave words, symbols, sounds, and images, and then blend text into the mix to create integrated tools and interfaces for acquiring, displaying, and disseminating messages and data using computers.