I absolutely love all of the talk about transliteracy that’s clogging up my Google Reader. This sounds like a worthwhile and necessary conversation. For the record, the working definition of ‘transliteracy’ is: The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. (PART).
But, I still don’t understand. I’m not trying to be contrarian. I’m not trolling. I’m not against the concept of transliteracy…it’s just that I’ve read all of the relevant blog posts and I still don’t get it. Here’s my quick thought (sure to be fleshed out in a few days):
The whole discussion must be motivated by the digital environment. Really, it has to be. Otherwise, transliteracy is on the downswing. For example, previous generations had communicative methods that were wildly divergent (more so than now). Specifically, look at the deep cognitive differences between reading, writing in longhand, writing in script, navigating the early telephone interchanges, creating telegrams, using a typewriter, understanding Morse code, creating/viewing film, broadcasting/listening to radio and TV, etc., etc…all these things that the well-educated of the 1940s could accomplish. I would argue that the cognitive differences between the platforms, tools, and media of the 1940s far exceed those we are dealing with now, mostly due to the wildly divergent input/output methods. So, there must be something unique about the digital environment, from a cognitive perspective.
Given that the digital is the key, what digital “platforms, tools, and media” are the current proponents of transliteracy talking about? It can’t simply be a difference in input devices…a PC vs. Mac vs. tablet vs. Smartphone sort of thing…the input methods aren’t sufficiently different (e.g., the QWERTY input method), and the only substantive differences are in the instrumental aspects. It also can’t be the output methods…there is no cognitive difference between text on paper and text on digital displays, other than the instrumental aspects behind turning the screen on. Linguistic conventions can’t be the issue, either. Understanding text-message shorthand is no different than understanding telegram shorthand and, in any event, this would be bilingualism, not transliteracy.
Could the key to transliteracy be in evaluating the web? No. That’s information literacy. Could the key to transliteracy be found in the ability to create blog posts, tweets, product reviews, comments, bookmarks, etc? Perhaps, though that all seems purely functional.
Old style ‘literacy’ was about the cognitive processes involved in translating the spoken to the written. If the digital environment requires a new “literacy”, then it must reference a shift from the written to something else, and this is where I honestly can’t follow the discussion anymore: what is the non-spoken, non-written element that drives transliteracy. If transliteracy is unique to our time, then I can’t figure out how. If transliteracy is a new term for the code-switching, technology-jumping behavior of recent generations, then why not look to the behavior of earlier generations?
I guess I don’t really know what to make of transliteracy. Again, this is just an impulse post I started seven minutes ago and don’t intend to edit. Such is life when your five-month-old wakes up at 1:30 in the morning. I kind of hope that…whatever transliteracy turns out to be…a little of it rubs off on him.