Friday, August 12

Criticizing the person versus criticizing the idea

One aspect of Virtual Leader that I have liked is that it forces players to differentiate between criticizing ideas and criticizing the people who sponsor them.

And yet, the exact mixture of the two provides a lot of additional information as to how raw, even how religious, the conversation is getting.

A post I made on schools and business hating each other definitely hit a bit of a nerve with some people outside our community, posting in.

But no topic raises such primal emotions as talking about post-literacy. The very idea that books are "just" a technology, three steps forward and one step back (my own working definition of any technology), strikes some people as blasphemous. It comes off as anti-book, as if being pro-automobile is the same as being anti-walking. One friend asked me not to use the phrase around her.

We are going to have to begin talking about post-literacy. The irony is that as we explore the topic, our love for reading and writing will become more heightened, not less.


Anonymous said...

Here's my stab at criticizing the idea instead of the person.

Regardless of where you stand on the books-as-technology question, I think that "post-literacy" is a poor choice of phrase to describe the move away from books, and may account for at least some of the hostility you encounter. As you yourself acknowledge, literacy, reading and writing, may well become more important than ever as books-as-technology fade in the future (if indeed they do). But the phrase "post-literacy" suggests a decline of written language, rather than just just a decline in one method for recording and accessing written language.

So, what's the answer? "Post-biblio" is a little clumsey, but at least it conveys what you're trying to communicate. Are there other good ideas for addressing this out there? (I guess "post-pulp" has a nice alliterative quality to it.)

Godfrey Parkin said...

Perhaps "post liber" would be better, since it is books rather than literacy that has (allegedly) been superceded.

But since liber has multiple meanings that might not work. Liber means free. It also means offspring or children. And in a sense books are the offspring of their authors, ideas set free.

The internet age is certainly not a post-freedom age, probably exactly the opposite. And if online documents are the offspring of books, then it's not a post liber age at all. Maybe everything BEFORE the intenet was pre-liber??

How about post librum?

SkyDaddy said...

When I teach faculty how to use our web-based content-delivery system, I invite them to imagine berobed Herr Doktors sitting in cloistered University halls circa 1505 saying to each other, "Vat schall ve do mit ziss 'book' uf Gutenberg's? All ze students demand dat ve use dem!"

Books ARE just a technology. So are the wheel and lever. None of these tools are going away anytime soon. The form in which we use them, and the purposes for which we use them, will change as other tools become available.

So IMO it's silly to talk about books being obsolete.

A correct use of the term "post-literate" has to do with the fact that a great many educated adults are a-literate - that is, they can read but choose not to. They get most of their information from TV or radio rather than from books and magazines.

Donald Clark said...

Dateline -- Out with the textbooks. In with the laptops. When Empire High School opened last month, it made history. The Tucson school didn't buy a single textbook. Instead, it equipped every student with a laptop computer (Apple iBook).

In Mihai Nadin's book The Civilization of Illiteracy (1997) he explains how we are progressing towards illiteracy. Nadin writes, "By civilization of illiteracy I mean one in which literate characteristics no longer constitute the underlying structure of effective practical experiences. Futhermore, I mean a civilization in which no one literacy dominates, as it did until around the turn of the century, and still does. This domination takes place through the imposition of its rules, which prevents practical experiences of human self-constitution in domains where literacy has exhausted its potential, or is impotent."

Becoming post-literate or entering the age of illiteracy does not mean that everyone becomes illiterate, rather it means it is no longer the dominating factor. Literacy has been great -- it drove us to where we are now. But where do we go next? To most Westerners, literacy means that you speak and write English AND follow all of its rules. Language is sequential, centralized, and linear, thus it corresponds to the age of linear growth of humankind. This is not bad as it got us to where we are today, however, it does limit us. Language was made for small communities, cities, and countries. However, we have now entered the age of interconnectivity. Many now consider themselves "netizens" -- an identity that relates them to the entire world.

Nadin's The Civilization of Illiteracy simply means that we start thinking and working above and beyond language, such a visually and digitally, sort of as mathematicians from all over the world do when they communicate perfectly to each other through mathematical formulas.

Literacy opened access to knowledge as long as the knowledge structure was compatible to the structures it embodied and supported -- the language itself. People cling to literacy in order to maintain a touch of nostalgia for something that has already ceased to affect their lives. Disney's Fantasia was an exploding visual work. You could not just read McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects -- you also had to visualize it. Readers of Wurman's Information Anxiety were introduced to a loosely organized collection of multiple typographic elements on every page that moved between text and diagrams. Scan the web -- images substitute text, sounds add rhythm or nuance, dynamics are created with animation, video adds life.

Literacy will certainly be important for writers, teachers, editors, etc., but beyond that, how literate does one have to be? It seems as if some of the most creative people are those who have broke beyond the bonds of literacy by defining new means of communicating. We have only begun to network, such as through this list. Once we break the bonds of literacy by focusing on cooperative endeavors that include many more, then our learning curves will become even more efficient. The past was about direct encounters; the future is about conceptions, interconnectivity, and processes.

Clark Quinn said...

I don't think the issue is post-literacy (I think we'll still need text and consequently literacy), we're just going to have new forms of literacy, that go beyond books. I resonate with those who interpret 'post-literacy' as eschewing literacy.

So it's neo-literacy (ok, conjuring bad associations with neo-con :), or perhaps multi-literacy (same problem with multi-culturalism? :).

BTW, I'm still waiting for the broader term than eLearning, incorporating KM (Knowledge Management) and Performance Support (both of which have some baggage). Anyone?

Donald Clark said...

Neo-literacy, post-literacy, multi-literacy, Civilization of Illiteracy, post liber...

"Learning is about making connections -- Just as all architecture is making connections -- the way that two rooms are connected, the way the floor meets the wall, the way a piece of wood meets a piece of metal, the way a building meets the street -- so is all learning...In teaching or communicating anything, we have no choice but to make connections between a new idea and that which is already known." - Richard Saul Wurman (2001)

The literacy of our time is the formal means of connecting with others. Could you connect to this young gentleman?

"All media are active metaphors in their power to translate into new forms. The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way." - Marshall McLuhan (1994)

To McLuhan, just about every vehicle used to format, store, or deliver information is a medium. In addition, they act as an extension of humankind. They enable us to extend our experiences to others.

"I began to realize the potential for multimedia to enhance the learning process was just astronomical...I'm a big proponent of a new kind of grammar that goes beyond words. To tell a story now means grasping a new kind of language, which includes understanding how graphics, color, lines, music and words combine to convey meaning." - George Lucas

Both McLuhan and Lucas understood that using a formal means of communication (literacy) was not always the best means for transferring our metaphors to was well...just too formal. They knew that to reach the young gentleman, that you had to go beyond formalism -- to reach others, one has to place content and context over compositional elements, allowing the world to become one global village rather than a collection of countries, states, and cities.

"This is the age of knowledge...In the civilization of literacy, knowledge acquisition could take place at a slow pace, over long periods of time." - Mihai Nadin

According to Nadin, there are two critical sources of knowledge -- the work of experts and researchers in areas of higher abstraction, way beyond what literacy can handle. The other is our day-to-day human experience, our common-sense interaction. It is this second group that is much more critical and we know even less about the second source of knowledge. To be able to mine it means that we are going to have to be able to use various means of expression and communication...step beyond our current literacy.

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