I’m sitting in a corner of my living room, trying to get my head both clear and focused, debating whether I am as productive with music playing as without, so that I can put forth a good effort on this final post. I think about our discussion of multitasking and whether such a thing is really possible. I am believing more and more that for me, it is not; at least, I cannot give more than one thing significant attention and probably give my focal activity less attention than when there is no secondary activity to even nominally pay attention to. But, even knowing that, I don’t want to disconnect and retreat to silence in the service of giving my work deep attention. Whether through podcasts, online t.v. episodes, or iTunes, I feel more attuned to the world at large when I am writing or reading while simultaneously trying not to pay attention to other noise.
Perhaps this makes me more millenial than I care to admit, but the desire for digital connections when face-to-face interaction is not possible (or, let’s be honest, sometimes desirable) motivates many of the uses to which people put online technologies. Ito’s report for the MacArthur Foundation gave me great language for thinking about this. Even the concept of “hanging out” online, the least involved state, connotes the kinds of street corner and back porch communities that used to drive neighborhood relationships. Now, a person’s options for casual or committed community has exploded through the creativity of programmers and designers who develop spaces devoted to interaction styles or affinities.
Perhaps these digitally-mediated spaces are another step down the road away from orality. Words are no longer printed on tangible paper in a handful of possible styles–book, newspaper, scroll, pamphlet, etc. Digital spaces could take a wide variety of organizational spaces, but more importantly merge multiple sign systems. In order to successfully navigate and communicate within Facebook, I have to know which words are just words and which link to to various pages, which pictures function as “avatars” that link to a profile and which link to external sites, which thumb signs and speech bubbles let me talk to someone, and how to set up my own information so that only certain people can see it. Codes, icons, text–there’s a lot happening. And let’s not forget that, though it presents as a scroll, it is non-linear.
On the other hand, don’t many of these spaces present in ways more closely related to speech than “literate” spaces? For one thing, embedded videos in which a person speaks directly into a camera could be considered spaces for modern rhetoricians and story tellers to reach a limitless public. Norms surrounding tweets and status updates do not dictate the use of Standard Written English. The idea of writing as one speaks is celebrated rather than edited. I’m all for expanding definitions of literacy to basic acts of communication through social negotiation of meaning. Oral societies are not necessarily pre-literate; rather, their communicative acts are taking advantage of the dissemination technologies they have created, just as our society does. Communication happens either way.
I didn’t really expect my post to go in the direction that it did, but I like considering my definition of literacy at this time. One thing I have seen in the pre-service teachers with whom I have spoken as part of a project for another class is that they tend to see literacy as reading and writing only while at the same time taking up Brandt’s navigation metaphor. If they already see “functional” aspects of literacy as important, why not keep going to define all acts of meaning-making as being bound up in literacy whatever the mode or technology employed?
And did I avoid ever making technlogy an agent? I watched my language so carefully.