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.


Matt Pearson says:

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.

[…] you may have heard the phrase that “scripting is the new literacy.” Since I work in support on, one of the more common questions that I see asked […]

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