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“Expanding the Concept of Literacy” by Elizabeth Daley


Literacy traditionally means being able to read and write, but computer literacy means how well you can use a computer, and still media literacy describes how TV and film manipulate an audience.The definition of literacy has grown. Daley proposes expanding the concept of literacy in four ways:

  1.  Alternative media is progressively dominating the textual medium. In this technology age, people come into increasing contact with television and computer screens, images and sounds rather than words.
  2. Images and sounds can create abstract ideas faster than text. Instead of engaging in one way, images, sound, and text now combine to create deeper meaning.
  3. Linguistic text has long been regarded the “lofty” medium for communication and other media – visuals and sounds – as backwater vernacular. Academics aren’t keeping up with the momentum of these colloquial mediums.
  4. Those who wish to be literate in the 21st century must embrace these emerging media in addition to the traditional, textual medium.

My Reaction

As a senior in college, I can relate to this precedent for elevating the written medium at the expense of other media. I do a lot – a lot – of written assignments. (like, this one) But, never have I been taught to actually manipulate other forms of media. I can take a picture, but ask me to make a logo, and I’m lost. I can record myself telling a story, but I don’t know how to edit it. I can film on my phone, but only for one fuzzy minute.

In terms of making myself a marketable, literate candidate on the fast-approaching job market, things aren’t looking great. I can write – yay. But, that doesn’t cut it anymore. As I look through job ads, employers want people who can create visuals using Adobe Illustrator. They want people who can write computer code. They aren’t teaching these in school. Daley is right. To be literate today means so much more than being able to read and write, and institutes dedicated to education need to recognize that.

Why does this matter?

I can now see the value of learning about multimodality. The real world screams for individuals literate in many media, but our education systems fail to embrace this new age. It’s like the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar expects people to speak as if they know every rule in the English language. Descriptive grammar allows for vernacular. You would never write an essay using descriptive grammar because it would sound like this, “y’all’ll (you all will) like never get a job like if you talk this good.” But, even now, there’s a girl talking behind me in this spirit. Prescriptive grammar sees that as vile, but that’s how people really speak. This article is arguing for the same acceptance.



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