Rachael Sullivan, the University of Texas at Dallas
Expanding Literacy Studies at The Ohio State University
April 4, 2009
Introduction: My presentation this afternoon examines and critiques a traditional understanding of the term “text” in order t o get at a broader problem in higher education. The problem I want to point out is “print favoritism”—or the privileging of print culture and the materials and values that are bound up with it.
“digital culture” vs. “print culture”
College undergraduates demonstrate literacies that seem to compete with or challenge traditional literacies of print culture.
Henry Jenkins explains that young people can be productive with what might seem like distracting entertainment and tech toys.
The issue isn’t really technology. It’s about the way teachers approach the technology in the classroom—whether or not they can approach it with an open mind.
the basic issues:
generational differences &
Two obstacles to overcoming some of the resistant attitudes associated with using new media in the classroom
1. Generational Differences can cause tension and make print logic look less attractive than youth culture.
“hybrid” culture: a composite of two very different generations, just as a spork is a composite of spoon and fork
“digital natives” vs. “digital immigrants” – problems with this birthplace metaphor
Clay Shirky: “One of the problems that old people like me suffer from is that we know too many solutions for problems that no longer exist. It’s not so much that young people are smart and old people are scared. It’s that young people don’t have to unlearn all the stuff that old people do have to unlearn if we want to understand this world. And unlearning is just about the least fun activity in the world.” (<http://www.cjr.org/overload/inter view_ with_cla y_shirk y_par. php?pa ge=all>)
Alexa, 7 years old.
Allen, 70 years old.
They’re rookies – new
It’s not about the technology. It’s about how we approach the technology.
cannot assume that digital natives have some innate technical ability
This Microsoft ad campaign for “The Rookies” actually demonstrates the generation gap as common ground – neither the kid nor the adult knows how to create panoramic photos.
The difference is, again, what Clay Shirky calls the process of “unlearning” that digital natives don’t have to go through. Part of this unlearning process is getting over the biases associated with print logic.
to the art of photo
stitching. …It’s easy at
2. The second way it seems print logic is privileged in higher education is by a narrow definition of “texts.”
A move from closed, printed texts to open, digital texts causes a fundamental shift in what it means to be literate
Henry Jenkins suggests that print and digital literacy live in the same house: he writes, “(see quote on slide).”
need fresh approaches to teaching textual analysis in the Humanities – approaches that honor the print tradition but refashion print logic in new ways.
“New media literacies include the
traditional literacy that evolved
with print culture as well as the
newer forms of literacy within
mass and digital media.”
“Confronting the Challenges of
Participatory Culture: Media Education
for the 21st Century” (2006)
“textbook” - most students think of this when
they hear the word “text”
“Take out your text and turn to page…”
the book that contains a text;
the text within a book
Is the text is different from the book in some way
Don’t “read” the book—we read the words in the book. Similarly, we wouldn’t say we are reading a computer screen or we are reading a cell phone; we are reading the words on a screen or the phone. But the materiality of the book (Derrida calls it “the supports,” Nichols calls it the “substrate”), the ink and paper, is not neutral. It is defined by all sorts of expectations associated with books.
the book that contains a text;
the text within a book
Infinite riches in a little room.
Edited by *…+ a corps of
Knowledge is contained to a physical space, as the Christopher Marlowe epigraph hints at: ”Infinite riches in a little room.”
You want what this book has: knowledge filtered through “eminent writers.” You want in that room.
Nothing is wrong with print media in and of themselves. Problem begins when standards associated with the book become the standards we use to understand digital texts.
Can engage students through teaching an array of digital texts, whether it be creating a text, adding to a text, or analyzing a text.
If a book contains the text…
…then digital technologies let the text go outside the materiality of the book
Lev Manovich writes, “Today, as media is being ‘liberated’ from traditional physical storage media—paper, film, stone, glass, magnetic tape—elements of the printed word interface *…+ that previously were hardwired to content become ‘liberated’ as well” (_The Language of New Media_ 73).
“User-generated content” - publication is out of the hands of Britannica's “eminent writers” and it in the hands of students
The book stops when the substrate changes from paper to a circuit board that
stores information virtually
when the book stops, print logic should no longer be default.
Manovich: “comparing new media to print, photography, or television will never
tell us the whole story” and “to understand the logic of new media we need to
turn to computer science. It is there that we may expect to find the new terms
*…+ which characterize programmable media” (65).
“The very concept of a text underpins
almost all discussion of cultural forms including
film, photography, and television. But in
cybernetic systems, the concept of „text‟ itself
undergoes slippage. Although a textual
element can still be isolated, computer-based
systems are primarily interactive rather than
one-way, open-ended rather than fixed.”
—Bill Nichols, “The Work of Culture in the
Age of Cybernetic Systems”
Two key features of digital textualities. Once they have slipped away from
their material forms, they can be interactive and open-ended.
2. Interactive texts. The print version of Faulkner’s _The Sound and the Fury_
A difficult book: scattered narrative structure, some passages in stream of consciousness style. Plot is interwoven and nonlinear.
A helpful tool: hypertext edition
(demo hypertext, point out features)
http://www.usask.ca/english/faulkner/ Click a passage to find that passage in its chronological order
Also a color-coded option
The creators of the hypertext say: “The possibilities for visually displaying a text's information and structures in a hypert ext format are rich and productive, and the first goal of this edition was to exploit those possibilities to display the novel's first, chronologically most difficult, section”
How does a hypertext change the literary work?
What does it mean to “read” and “write” in this context?
Does the virtual/material binary hold?
Where is the text on the screen?
2. An open-ended text
How does the digital information add to or take away from our experience of the book?
Books have hyperlinks (index, end notes) and multimedia (pictures, charts)
What is the primary difference between Wikipedia and a book?
The open-endedness Nichols pointed out
Wikipedia is never complete.
Over 135,000 edits per day as of January 2009.
Clearly, this is not a book, but when instructors write “DO NOT USE WIKIPEDIA OR SPARKNOTES” on syllabi and assignment sheets, they reveal the print logic they are using to judge Wikipedia as a worthless learning and teaching tool.
The circuit board
almost nothing in
the book as a
traces of the
The language of print—its shared practices, its values, its histories, its memory—remains in the minds of many as a trace or echo of what is familiar.
“Trace” is a word most would associate with Derrida and deconstruction, but for my purposes, it is a sort of nostalgia for an age-old culture that is being remediated and refashioned by digital culture. At best, it is nostalgia. At worst, it is a powerful ideology that can pose a threat to
the effectiveness of education. Clay Shirky points out that he “had to unlearn a million things, not because younger generations know more, but because they stopped being true.” This unlearning process is akin to a shift in literacies—from print literacy to digital literacy and
Attachment to familiar language and literacy is intense and understandable. About a shift in literacies, Walter Ong writes “we need to die to continue living” (15). The letting go of print logic can be painful and feel like a death, but it is not a death. What it means to read and write
digital texts today (i.e. digital literacy) has fundamentally and permanently altered the traditional, and oftentimes privileged literacy associated with print-based textuality. Print literacy will never be the same because of digital literacy, but at the same time, digital literacy will never
displace traditional print literacy.
This word printed on a page means the book is
In digital media, ends can be beginnings.
For Manovich—and I would agree with him—the printed word is a “cultural
tradition, a distinct way of recording human memory and human experience”
(72). The fluidity and open-endedness of digital texts brings with it a new
culture of multimodal creativity, participation, collaboration, and
transparency. Many characteristics of print logic are challenged by the array of
values and practices associated with digital culture. I mentioned earlier that
like any other genre, digital genres offer new freedoms and constraints. The
challenge is to avoid focusing too much on one or the other.
network with me!
Rachael Bradshaw Sullivan on
slide 1: Jano de Cesare via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 2: Mr. Tea via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 3: ptr via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 4: betsymartian via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 10: “Title Page of the Americanized Encyclopedia
Britannica,” via Wikimedia Commons
slide 11: “Resuscitation” by Patty Keller, used with the
slide 12: Flickr Creative Commons
slide 13: Derren Hestor via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 15: Compound Eye via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 16: _FXR via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 22: Caro's Lines via Flickr Creative Commons
slide 23: B Tal via Flickr Creative Commons