Tuesday, August 03, 2010

On Literacy in the 21st Century

I was trawling the net for passages to use in school for comprehension when I saw (on Facebook via Leonard via Kok Hoe) David Harvey’s lecture on the Crisis of Capitalism. I thought it was a great lecture and started looking around for the text version, only to realize that there wasn’t one (horrors!).

This got me thinking about how our access to media is changing the way we acquire knowledge. Whereas in the past, the most effective way to transfer knowledge was through the printed word, technology has now enabled us to watch live renderings of the words actually being produced by the original speaker. We are able to capture speech (and video!) and record it in an easily reproducible form which is easily transmitted and played across geographical boundaries.

I find this profoundly amazing. It validates the idea that our basic human instinct is to communicate via speech. Text and writing came about because we needed a medium that could store speech and allow it to be reproduced across time and space. This idea is supported by the fact that before the Middle Ages, reading meant vocalizing words - the idea of silent reading with its implicit emphasis on knowledge acquisition versus social interaction had not quite evolved prior to then.

Today we have the technology to store and reproduce speech in its original form as perceived by the listener. It has been said that perhaps two thirds of communication is body language, so video is actually a more accurate capture of the communicative act than text.

While textual literacy is still useful and valuable (not least because of the number of texts that we still rely on for knowledge), I believe we are starting to move back towards the spoken word as the primary communicative method, especially now that we can speak across time and space through video. This means that literacy needs to move back towards an appreciation of the spoken word (and body language) rather than the primarily textual basis it currently rests on.

This also means a whole new (old?) paradigm shift in teaching and learning again. Wonderful times, these.

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