Literacy in a new era

Thinking a little bit on Post Literacy and looking at what it means to be literate in todays society – one way of relating post literacy and digital literacy is to look at literacy as a property not of a person but of a social environment. That literacy is the medium through which we gain access to community knowledge.

In what would be commonly termed a “pre-literate” society, there is usually an oral tradition, where people pass down stories from generation to generation. Literacy is the knowledge of references and the background as well as the substance of stories so that meaning can be made and community knowledge can be established.

In a literate society, knowledge is codified through text – information can be obtained so long as you can gain access to it and can decode it according to conventions, not only reading in a functional sense. Literacy is skills that give access to community knowledge encoded according to shared conventions.

In a post literate society, knowledge is all encompassing and accessible through technological tools which can present it in a variety of ways. Literacy is the ability to work the tools needed to present community knowledge in a manner which can be decoded by the individual.

Digital literacy is to a post literate society what reading is to a literate society and story telling is to a pre-literate society.

At one level its a continuum, but at another there are fundamental paradigm shifts. once society is comfortable with the transition from pre-literate to literate society, there is a relaxing of the pre-literate demands for shared community knowledge – which at one level was what the Culture Wars of the 80s were about, that as Western societies reached near 100% literacy, pre-literate skills were held in lower esteem.

In the transition from a literate to a post-literate society, conventions that were essential for passing on codified knowledge become less critical as information can be communicated and processed in a variety of ways.

Literacy has always been thought of as something that is possessed, but perhaps the form in which it is possessed is contexual – that literacy in a “post-literacy” society is qualitatively different – and that we need a new word that defines the 4Rs as a past indicator of literacy and that digital literacy is actually our new benchmark.

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