What the web strips out

As mentioned below, I recently attended the inaugural meeting of the International Media Literacy Research Forum . I've worked on the borders of media literacy for a while but this is the first gathering of media literacy theorists that I've attended, so it was extremely interesting to hear their points of view. Since there is no single agreed definition of media literacy, John Pungente, representing the Canadian organisation CAMEO, had been asked to provide one to act as a touchstone for that day only, so as to avoid much time being taken up by attempts to agree on a definition. It did not *sound* like a definition to me, since it comprised simply a list of words, and ones which could be applied to just about anything, but here goes anyway:

* access
* analyse
* evaluate
* create
For me, the most memorable presentation was by Ofcom’s Fiona Lennox, who presented a series of excerpts from video interviews from her research. It seems that the main catalyst for changing media use comes from changes in lifestyle, both personally and professionally. The interviews took place across several years so we were able to witness those changes in some people such as the Irish student who talked about her obsession with Bebo, then the following year described how one day she realised it was dominating her life so she ‘just deleted it’. Someone else described himself as a ‘weekend Facebook user’.
In transliterate terms, the most interesting interviews were the two people who did not like to shop online because they enjoyed the human contact of physical shopping and bartering. There was an elderly woman who likes to take the bus every day to go shopping ‘because it gets me out’, and a young Asian man who likes to barter when he shops, and get some human interaction. The web, he says, ‘strips that out’. This connects well with my recent thinking about the limits of emotional intelligence in the online environment, and with the notion of transliteracy as a fluid literacy which changes with need and platform. Neither of the two disliked using computers, but they both had made decisions about their preferences in using them.
Other interesting points included the fact that apparently the ‘creative community’ who use computers for creative pursuits (not defined) remains a ‘motivated minority’, and that many people play the role of ‘family technician’ – being seen as the expert who helps everyone else with their computer problems. This reminded me of the teacher role in oral communities such as the Asheninka tribe in Brazil, discussed in our paper, where knowledge is passed on via everyday interactions rather than formalised schooling. There’s a divide here between those family technicans who teach, and those who just fix things, but this is an interesting area to explore, not least because most of them will themselves be good embodiments of the ‘self-taughtness’ of many transliterate people.
A thought that kept running through my head throughout the day was that the digital has taught us a great deal about human connectedness and now it can be used as a vehicle to remind us of the importance of connectedness between the digital and the analogue; the virtual and the physical; the material and the spiritual. I was also struck by the problem of the missing definition, described above. There was a suggestion that Ofcom gather all the many definitions, from every country in the world, into one place. I think that’s an excellent idea and I look forward to reading them all.
Then I suggest we all get together in one beautiful place with gardens, eat nice food, maybe sing a few songs and dance a few dances, and remind ourselves of what the web strips out before we get down to the serious business of finding the One Great Definition of what it means to be literate today.
x-posted from http://travelsinvirtuality.typepad.com/suethomas/2008/05/what-the-web-st.html