The new definition of literacy

Suzi Stef­fen pointed me to this post by Doug McLen­nan ear­lier. I like it. Doug writes,

I think the new lit­er­ate goes beyond words, and beyond mak­ing video and image and sound. I think code and meta-data are the new lit­er­acy, and that in turn leads to a new lit­er­ate­ness. Infor­ma­tion and ideas are multi-dimensional. Those who can take dynamic infor­ma­tion and mash it up and mix it and find cre­ative ways of pre­sent­ing it in ser­vice of ideas have the pos­si­bil­ity of com­mu­ni­cat­ing in more com­pelling ways than with just words or video or image.

He’s spot on. It reminds me of some­thing Matt said ear­lier this year in a Q&A ses­sion with Mem­burn. He said,

Script­ing is the new lit­er­acy, and the abil­ity to learn and exe­cute on your ideas with­out rely­ing on any­body else is going to be invalu­able as you iter­ate and exper­i­ment on build­ing some­thing. It’s good to build for your­self first, because in the worst-case sce­nario where no one else likes it, at least you will.

That type of individual-driven cre­ation and pub­li­ca­tion is some­thing schools still strug­gle to grasp. Our school sys­tem must move quickly to adopt new ideas of lit­er­acy beyond what’s traditional.

I par­tic­u­larly like that Doug pointed out it’s more than the act of cre­ation that makes for lit­er­acy. You need to do more than write, record, or pho­to­graph. A cre­ative form of pre­sen­ta­tion is an inher­ent part of his def­i­n­i­tion. Your abil­ity to use, mas­ter, and build those tools deter­mines how much you con­trol your path.

3 Responses to “The new definition of literacy”

  1. This reminds me of an awk­ward and stunted thrust I made awhile ago, prob­a­bly on Twit­ter or some­thing (with its bloody use­less search, it is pretty well lost now; also I am lazy)… that writ­ing is a form of cod­ing, that there is no intrin­sic dif­fer­ence between writ­ing code to be com­piled by GCC and writ­ing words to be printed on a page. I may or may not have expanded on that (likely not, due to the afore­men­tioned lazi­ness) to say some­thing about how some of the things we code in the expres­sive and flex­i­ble lan­guage that maps to sounds we make with our face-holes should really instead be expressed in a very strict, machine-readable lan­guage… like laws & leg­is­la­tion… legalese is a ter­ri­ble dialect, and a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to abuse of the legal sys­tem. We really should instead express laws in a stan­dard, struc­tured lan­guage that lends itself to being scru­ti­nized by a sta­tic analyzer.

    There was another Twitter-bout-of-mine-that-I-can’t-find about how MS Word and the entire WYSIWYG par­a­digm has taught us to think slop­pily and super­fi­cially. The above gems you’ve found totally crys­tal­lized this for me: WYSIWYG has dri­ven us towards illit­er­acy. We’re made to think only in terms of “what it looks like,” with­out even col­laps­ing the structural/presentation/behavioral/metadata lay­ers… they’re sim­ply ignored.

    Why doesn’t Word­Press drop TinyMCE and it’s ter­ri­ble man­gling & obfus­ca­tion­ary attempt to be a “text edi­tor” in favor of some­thing more hon­est and true to the web? Other than the whole “such a thing doesn’t exist and we’d have to develop it our­selves” prob­lem, I’d guess it’s because of the effort it’d take a typ­i­cal user to dig them­selves out of the hole Word and its ilk have dug for them; a steep learn­ing curve runs pretty con­trary to WP’s stand­ing mis­sion, huh. And even Very Smart Peo­ple are painfully illit­er­ate; remem­ber that ques­tion at #wcpdx about how one’d align some­thing some­how, and the won­der­ful woman from Automat­tic very politely smacked him down with, “you’ll need to do that in your template’s CSS”? Dude wasn’t dumb, he just didn’t grok any­thing about the web’s lin­gua franca.

    There’s more to dig into here, but I need to ingest more cof­fee and get some “real work” done. Maybe I’ll try to dig up the afore­men­tioned twitter-blorkings or some­thing. Thanks for unin­ten­tion­ally mash­ing one of my but­tons again, and some­how coax­ing a com­ment out of me that’s longer than your orig­i­nal post.

    • Thanks for the com­ment, Matt. Great stuff, even if it is longer than the orig­i­nal post. :)

      While at Whit­man I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Now I think I’ve real­ized that were I ever to work in a school sys­tem I would want to teach a web lit­er­acy course. Not some­thing that is ham­strung by stan­dards or what’s “impor­tant.” Rather, a course that taught the basics of inter­ac­tion with con­tent on the web and how to mas­ter those skills in an open man­ner that sam­pled many tools to draw the under­ly­ing connections.