"For the first time ever," John Berger remarked, "images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free."
He said that in 1972. Since then, images have become even more ubiquitous and even more free. Advances in photographic technology -- Kodak to Polaroid to Canon to Lytro -- have been shifting the cultural economics of pictures, transforming them from something scarce and therefore artistic and into something abundant and therefore mundane. Susan Sontag's accusation of aggressive photo-flâneurie is giving way, in the age of the smartphone's permattached camera, to something more promiscuous and more practical: the reflexive visual archive. The line between seeing the world and recreating it has never been thinner.
That fact is reflected everywhere on the Internet -- a world that was born of text (the first HTML, the first linkblogs, the first instant messages and emails) but which quickly adjusted its architecture to accommodate images (emoticons! jpgs! Geocities! animated gifs!) and video (cats!). Today's web, as an aesthetic object, is an advanced dialectic between text and image. (Comic sans, obviously, being the evil spawn of the two.) Online, text lives alongside decorative illustrations and share buttons and logos and embedded videos, the whole vibrant cacophony interacting so seamlessly that it's easy to forget that text and image are, in fact, different mediums. Social networks, in particular, break down neatly along text/image lines: There's Twitter, heavy on the text and low on the pictures, and then there's Facebook and Google+ (heavy text/heavy image), and then Tumblr (heavy image/low text), and then, at the other end of the spectrum, Pinterest (heavy image/effectively no text).