6 Responses to “You aren’t literate anymore”

  1. “Literate” as Merriam-Webster defines it is “to be able to read and to write”, to be “educated”, “knowledgeable” “competent”.

    As far as this definition is concerned, I think you need to be more specific: “digitally literate”.

    The preference for one medium over another does not imply nonexistence of the intellectual capacity. Actually, the very fact that there are so man intellectuals out there who do not use digital environments and tools yet publish, do research and have significant debates is the sign that you narrow the view on literacy.

    As for me, I prefer a thought-provoking book to a digital imprint that makes no difference on any level ( may it be intellectual, aesthetic or otherwise).


    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Cristina.

      Does the fact that the NCTE has standards regarding ‘new literacies’ change our perspective?


      Does the fact that literacy experts all around the world are talking about and researching ‘new literacies’ change our perspective?

      Should ‘literacy’ be defined in terms of the dominant information landscape of the time rather than those of the past? For example, we don’t think about literacy in terms of hieroglyphics any more.

      You say that we should be talking about ‘digital literacies’ as being different from general literacy. Couldn’t we just as easily say that you should use the term ‘print literacies’ since we now live in an era in which the dominant information landscape is digital and online (and thus should be the primary lens for ‘literacy’)?

      Is recognizing that there is no foreseeable future in which digital media do not supersede print media merely a ‘preference’ for one medium over another? Or is it a larger recognition – as David notes here in his quote – that notions of literacy and knowledge and fluency have changed and that we need to adapt as well?

      Glad you like print books. I do too. Have thousands of them! But that doesn’t mean they’re not going by the wayside. Slowly, of course. But also surely…

  2. I did not imply that the communication landscape did not change nor that it won’t. I have a MEd in Education Technologies and have been using technology with students as young as second grade for years.
    What I simply debate is the definition itself. What NCTE standards suggest is that there are more levels of sophistication in communicating information not that now we exclude the non-digital from it. You don’t have a less capable mathematician just because s/he still uses paper and pencil, or an illiterate poet because s/he prefers a typewriter or a notebook to write. The ability to process information and to get involved in the creative process is not related to how developed your digital skills are. Surely neither will thrive nor be popular in this environment, but they won’t definitely be regarded as “illiterate”.
    “Literacy” by and large means reading with meaning, writing coherently and thinking critically about information. Imagine this situation. You have a person who is versed in using tech tools but can’t spell correctly basic words and/or has so many grammatical mistakes that their product turns into a ridiculous piece (just check Facebook and you’ll know what I mean).I wouldn’t even mention the content itself which can be completely trivial. Is s/he “more” literate than an academician who does research on, say, anthropology and thus contributes significantly to the respective domain?
    As for the hieroglyphs analogy that is an erroneous one. That is a writing system that could use any medium to communicate information (ink, stones etc.)- it should not be mistaken with the medium itself.
    Concluding, I do agree the definition should be broadened. But extending a definition is not denying its core. Broadening means inclusion of further skills in addition to basic ones.

    • Thanks for sparking an interesting discussion, Cristina. I don’t see either David’s comments or mine as advocating that we exclude the ‘non-digital.’ I see both of us saying what you said, which is that literacy has now extended itself into new media.

      When we made the move from oral literacy to ink-on-paper literacy, we said that those who didn’t make the shift were ‘illiterate.’ Broadening/extending the definition didn’t deny the core of oral literacy, but we did say that if you didn’t broaden/extend your own capabilities – if you stayed stuck in just oral literacy – then you weren’t considered ‘literate’ any more. As we make the move from ink-on-paper literacy to digital, bits-in-the-ether, multimedia/transmedia literacy, I see David saying the same thing about this shift.

      Whether you’re an anthropologist, historian, or computer scientist, “reading with meaning, writing coherently, and thinking critically about information” are all taking very new lenses and forms in our new information landscape. It’s fine to still use a pencil and paper, but if a mathematician these days is ONLY (or predominantly) working with just those, that mathematician is ‘less capable’ than others who are also mastering new mathematical tools. Similarly, I think that in most cases the ‘ability to process information and to get involved in the creative process’ is increasingly related to how developed your digital skills are. Again, our predominant information and creativity landscapes are moving toward digital (or some blend of analog/digital). At some point, like David, I think that failure to master our changing technologies of information production and consumption may well fall into the realm of ‘illiteracy.’

      You’re making my brain work hard this morning. Thanks!

  3. This is an important discussion. I agree the core of literacy is transcendent of culture. Just because I can’t write fluently today in Mandarin doesn’t mean I am illiterate. In China, however, I am certainly disabled when it comes to communicating effectively with others in their culture.

    Do I need to gain communication fluency in hieroglyphs today? No. I don’t need to learn Morse Code either. Demonstrating adept skills in Morse code is no longer a requirement for advancement in the Boy Scouting program of the USA.

    Familiarity and competency with the predominant mediums of communication is an essential part of literacy, however. It might help to look at this through a cultural lens. The adult today who loves print books but resists both consumption and production of digital texts might be like a visitor to another country who doesn’t want to learn any of the local language.

    Literacy is different in varying cultural contexts. Our context now is far more digital than ever before, and our trajectory is accelerating. This means needed literacy skills have changed. When the skills of literacy change, what it means to be “literate” in a culture is different.

  4. You are blowing my mind, folks. I used to work in “media literacy” because my world – with its relationship to recorded and transmuted/ transformed reality – needed to be explained. Now it is more common for folks with cell phones to send mail as well as movies with the device. And the meaning under it and that the device enables is literacy. It is relationship to text and the meaning thereby derived. Which creates human connection through meaning embedded in words. I would argue that the current technologies are becoming – step by step technology after technology – central to functional literacy. However, the monk or any individual, devoid of the trappings of our current technology also has a relationship (assuming EDUCATION) to text. The key seems to me is the importance of subtext and context in the text. That’s what Scott brings me to in referring to “new literacies,” new competencies in our engagement with the text. I don’t see that the new context of literacy destroys the former sense, but shows how dynamic the process of creating meaning through the words with which we interact is and how it is continuously evolving. A key evolution is how a popular notion of a “picture worth a thousand words” and relationship of picture and sound to word and meaning IS ground-shifting. The fact that we are seeing literacy to include not just the printed word(s) but also the moving, sung, spoken and interpreted word, is a vital addition. But let’s not let ourselves as well as our kids get away with the idea that if meaning is social –whatever we think it mean – and that whatever we interpret the text to mean is okay. Meaning and words are deep have a legacy and history, context as well as subtext. And the Monk, outside of the trappings of our current favored technology, may remind us of that.

    Sorry if I completely missed the context of the discussion, but I’ve been in this personal conversation about literacy and its nice to have others who are so deeply engaged.

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