Stephen's Web features an article today entitled The New Literacy.
Academics are wringing their hands over the decline in student literacy. Professors lament that their charges can't write a sentence, follow the rules of grammar, or read a complex passage. Last year researchers found that most of the students on the campus of a California State University lacked the skills to read the textbooks in their heavy backpacks.
Perhaps the current crop of students fill in for reading with other forms of literacy. They are "polyfocal."
Stephen Downes says,
Stephen purports that
Today's reader works with a much wider grammar. Even such simply typographic conventions, such as the use of italics, bold and capitals, can add new meaning to a text. The addition of symbols, such as smileys, convey emotion or sentiment. The breaking of linguistic rules - like this - can add urgency or clarity. The dropping of nouns, verbs or pronouns can express coreference (essentially, placing two separate thoughts into a single context). True, the haste with which people type online can result in a myriad of interesting typos and other errors - but then the error rate in a message also designates its degree of formality (conversely - to remove the errors reduces all text to the same sterile state of formality).
Perhaps taking in many short bursts of information in parallel is superior to the text-only communication we are accustomed to. Stephen concludes, "The new literacy may not be an even greater grasp of the fine points of language, but rather, a capacity to move beyond the limits of text and to manipulate experience directly."
Robert Horn tells the story of a medical student at Stanford who whizzes through medical texts, taking in their messages by reading only the pictures.
There's not so much wrong with having a short attention span for a person who can grok deep meaning in tiny bursts of time.
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