Literacies

When I hear the word Literacy I think of the ability to read and write in a way that allows one to function as a contributing member of society.  This thought is immediately followed by my concern for the illiterate and how they are suppressed by their illiteracy.  A few years ago I would have considered myself a very literate person, but as technology evolves,  new forms of literacy unfold.  I am beginning to feel illiterate and wonder if this type of disability will suppress me or my less computer literate students.

The trouble with technology is that it is always changing, usually at a rate that is faster than most of us can keep up.  Consider the first grader who is just learning to read.  Should the student struggle to learn phonics or take a short cut and do sight reading.  Sight reading will get him to read his first book more quickly, but phonics will allow him to become more literate in the long run.  Technology is causing us to revisit a similar issue, is it better to learn computer programming, or just to know the right buttons to push to get the job done.  Mike Sharples wrote in Electronic Publications: Writing for the Screen, about how the "Dynabook was supposed to be a devise for learners," but it turned into a device to make office work more efficient.  This of course led to a less creative instrument, but one which the less literate could use.

In The Disappearance of Technology Toward an Ecological Model of Literacy, Bertram C. Bruce and Maureen P. Hogan, warn that "an important part of literacy education now is to consider a range of options for learning in a wide range of technologies."  We should not allow technologies, with their rigid formats, stifle the advantages that a literate person has in our society.  There is the fear that the free thought and spirit of the " old type" of literate person will be squelched as one tries to learn these new literacies created by technology.  As Bruce and Hogan suggest these new literacies should only be used as additional  ways to communicate, liberate,  and accomplish goals.  Care is needed to avoid creating a gap between the old literate and the new illitarte.  Another article in Reading Online: Hybrid Literacies, suggests "we will continue to see both old and new literacies intermingled and continually reconstructed."  People will not only become literate in new forms but also constructors  of their new literacies.

Finally, as I used some of my new literacy to search the web,  I found an article by Ted Nelson in ZDNET Interactive Week Online, titled, Time to Liberate the WEB.  he suggests that "computer people don't understand computers."  In addition, he says, that "computer literacy is an illusion."  Training people in today's strange conventions and constructs is not what it means to be literate.  Nelson suggests that when Apple II turned into Macintosh  "it was like they gave you MTV, and in return took away your right to vote."  Is technology changing so quickly that only the licensed programmer can keep up.  Is the new  literacy creating an illiterate society?  Are
most of us going to become sight readers?