New Literacies – Evolution in Progress

I’ve been reading chapter one (Sampling “The New” in New Literacies by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel) of the collection  A New Literacies Sampler ( edited by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel, Vol 29. 2007) which looks at the definition and description of New Literacies.  Literacies is a term they use to describe the literacies of everyday life that are part of our social construct.  Or as they describe it, “Sociocultural definitions of literacy, then, have to make sense of reading, writing and meaning-making as integral elements of social practices”.  Literacy is not divorced from life and our everyday social interactions, but it is an integral part of what we do and how we live our lives. New Literacies are the literacies needed to interact with the new sociocultural environment of cyberspace.

Of particular interest to me in this writing is the discussion of new mindsets that come with these new literacies.  The new literacy requires participation in new “Ethos Stuff” where there is an evolution away from the old mindset of physical space and the literacy expected in those spaces (people are considered individual producers, production is typically based on physical space, products are material artifacts, etc.) into a new mindset of cyberspace as a physical space with it’s own rules, definitions, and concepts of literacy (focused on collectives as the primary producers, expertise is considered a collection of contributors, space is fluid, etc.)

Just one example is their discussion (pg. 21) of what creates value of any given product.  In the old mindset, scarcity creates value.  The more scarce any given product is to the market, the more costly it is to obtain this product. The example they use is scholarly credentials.  The more difficult it is to obtain a degree, the more value there is in that degree.  Where in the new mindset, it’s the relationship with information that is of value.  Networks of people working together on a product have much more value than individuals working on their own.  Or as Schrage argues (2001), “Anyone trying to get a handle on the dazzling technologies of today and the impact they’ll have tomorrow, would be well advised to re-orient their worldview around relationships.”

This blog post covers just one of the many interesting insights in this text.  There are many more insights, including an interesting discussion about how Web 2.0 is an evolution of the mindset about web applications and how they are often not “owned” by any particular company or person.  It is through the strength of a network of interacting individuals that the products on the web become more reliable, useful, and productive.  There is also an examination of how “tagging” (or what they call folksonomic orginazation) by many, many individuals of pictures, documents, and other items has made the information about those items much more useful.

And an evolution of literacy is part of this new world.

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