|By 48614116@N05 on Flickr|
Approximately forever ago (that’s March 30 in social media years), I got pretty tired of a certain argument bouncing around the pipes. On the one side, you have the transliteracy early adopters, insisting that transliteracy is a unifying framework covering all types of literacy. On the other side, you have the information literacy purists, insisting that transliteracy is a silly buzzword because, lest we forget, information literacy already covers all types of literacy. The problem is that it isn’t entirely clear that “all” types of literacy are even in the same category.
|by s_volenszki, on Flickr|
Transliteracy is about containers. Information literacy is about content.
I used to despise the container/content metaphor, but I think it makes perfect sense in this case.
You see, information literacy is all about accessing and evaluating information with the intent of determining if it is truthful or a load of crap, based on certain relevant criteria. When paper ruled the world, it was easy to incorporate both access and evaluation into information literacy because our modes of access required little more than basic print literacy. Yet, as digital communication expanded, information literacy was forced to absorb new and radically different modes of access. Gradually, the nature of accessing information became complex to the point that information literacy started to strain under the burden of new technologies. Though the content is still able to be evaluated by time-tested methods, getting to that content has pushed information literacy in several, often opposing, directions.
This is why I think transliteracy has merit as an approach to information use. Transliteracy alleviates the pressure on information literacy by treating access separately. If information literacy is about the content (the information), then transliteracy is all about the containers. The complexity of the information ecosystem requires that we have some account for how information travels between radically different media, from print to pixels and beyond. That account, I believe, is transliteracy. Transliteracy refers to an ability to transfer meaning between different media…different containers, if you will. Whether the message is truthful or a load of crap, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of transliteracy. It’s all about the ability to move fluidly between platforms and media.
And in this distinction between content and container, I see echoes of Claude Shannon’s (1948) famous exhortation:
The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.
The meaning of a given piece of information is separate from issues of communicating that information. The content is separate from the container. In a sense, information literacy addresses the problems of meaning, transliteracy addresses the engineering problem. Why else would the vast majority of articles on transliteracy speak so frequently of ebook readers, social media, the digital divide, tablets, and other technological issues? Why else would articles on information literacy so frequently discuss plagiarism, the credibility of Wikipedia, scholarly communication, and other conceptual issues? We need information literacy so we can think about the meaning of information. We need transliteracy so we can think about the communication of information. In a word, we need both.
So, there you have it. I tinkered with my chart. I’m sure a lot of people will think the communication/evaluation distinction is a load of rubbish. Information literacy folk will say they’ve got access under wraps (as they struggle to cram another technology into a concept bulging at the seams). Transliteracy folk will insist they really are talking about all literacies (as they re-appropriate basic concepts of information literacy). My only response is that it makes sense to me.
- Shannon, Claude E. “A Mathematical Theory of Communication“, Part I, Bell Systems Technical Journal, 27, (1948): pp. 379-423