Five Provocations – Kate Pullinger

I wrote this manifesto prior to attending ‘In(ter)ventions' at the Banff Centre in Canada; it
reflects my concerns as a writer who works in both print publishing and
digital fiction.  At Banff the focus of the conference was primarily on
the avant-garde and poetics; as a fiction writer my concerns, in this
context, felt more mainstream.  This itself was interesting – in the
world of book publishing I’m often seen as the futurist, the digital
advocate.  At Banff my concern with narrative and story positioned me as
a member of the non-avant old guard, a traditionalist.  This is an
observation, not a complaint – I found the conference hugely useful and
completely fascinating

1.  We need to talk about money.  Some of us reside
inside the academy, some of us reside outside the academy; some of us
get grants for our work, some of us do not.  Writers need to be
thinking hard about how to protect our revenues across all platforms. 
As publishing is shaken up by the new technologies, writers need to be
proactive, involved in the on-going discussions about developing fair
terms and new business models.

2.  Writers, publishers, and teachers need to get their heads out of
the sand:  the digital future is already here and we
risk becoming dinosaurs, as well as ostriches, if we don’t engage with
the multitude of possibilities for storytelling offered to us by the new

3.  Stop talking about ebooks. Ebooks are boring. 
Convenient, practical, destined to become one of the ways we read, but
boring, as counter-intuitive as placing the text of the latest
blockbuster novel on a television screen.  The Google Book project,
which sees the world’s leading libraries collaborating in secret with a
giant corporation, effectively pulling the copyright rug out from under
our feet, is either our best friend or our worst enemy or both; however,
the Google Book project, along with rapid developments in ereaders, has
ensured that the book, as a digital file, will remain at the heart of
our culture for the foreseeable future.  So stop talking about ebooks. 
There’s a new world of media-rich literature around the next corner;
reading on screen has huge potential to enhance the way we tell stories,
and to expand our audiences in new directions. 

4.  Always remember that human culture is highly visual.  The first
non-oral form of storytelling was cave-painting – the original
powerpoint presentation.  The dominance of film and television as
storytelling forms in the twentieth century demonstrate that as soon as
we are able to use pictures to tell stories, we do.  Literature must
reckon with this fact.  As technology enables us to carry rich media in
our pockets we need to find ways to make writing – good writing –
relevant to new generations of readers.  If we take the long view of the
history of storytelling, are plain old words on the page –
fixed-type print – an historic anomaly? 

5.  Good writing – and by this I mean writing that
demonstrates the love of language, of a good sentence, a well-turned
phrase, the power of words, writing that rewards re-reading – must
survive, regardless of platform or media
.  It’s up to us to
make sure that happens. 

This was first posted on my blog at

Transliteracy: some thoughts on themes and common ground

Transliteracy_conference wordle  At the recent transliteracy conference, one conversation touched upon the question of whether it was appropriate to have a definition for transliteracy. Although the presentations covered a rich mix of story-telling, digital and transdisciplinary art, anthropology and critical literacies, each presenter was, nonetheless, able to describe what they consider the relevance of the concept of transliteracy to their own research and discipline. This would seem to indicate that the working definition is fit-for-purpose, at least in initiating debate, engagement, if not always common ground. continue reading

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What is Transliteracy? Yes, I’m asking again!

The detailed “Working Definition” that I see to the right of
the latest post every time I visit only goes some way towards
answering this question for me, but raises many more questions along that way.
Of course, I’m not the first to ask these and some transliterate
gurus have provided some pretty good answers to some of them… but the
discussion isn’t over yet, so raising them again may elicit some useful

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.

 The context of and need for this emerging definition are
documented by seven highly qualified writers in the article Transliteracy:
Crossing divides
suggested as Background Reading for this blog. I’ve read it, a few times. So
why my need to grapple? With all the work that’s already gone into it and
especially if, as the article states, transliteracy is not a new behaviour, why
is it still a “working” definition?

Perhaps it’s because this comprehensive statement uses so
many words that signify more than one thing; suggesting so many required skills
that I wonder if anyone can ever be truly transliterate. It seems to start off

Read? Yes. Write? Yes. Interact? Yes. Across a range of
platforms? Er… ye-es…. Wait,… how many platforms? All of them? All the time?
Some of them? Some of the time? Which ones? Simultaneously? Consecutively?
Transformatively? All of the above? And what exactly are these platforms, tools and media?
Signing? As in hieroglyphics, or signing for the deaf, or iconography, or traffic
signs…? Come to think of it… Read? Write? Technically? With or without
spellchecker? With what levels of comprehension and intent?

Full of these thoughts, I tweeted on Mon 26 Oct 2009 … “Is
multiliteracy different from transliteracy?” Toby Moores aka sleepydog replied that
“transliteracy is transient – it helps to be multiliterate to see transliterate
opportunities which then become new literacies”.

Is transliteracy partly an attitude then, rather than an
accumulation of a minimum number of skills? Is it the willingness and desire to
transition between media, learning what one needs to know as one goes, to
create or interpret content that is as close as possible in form to the
original content in the original medium, while accepting that it must
inevitably be different and differently apprehended in its new form?

I say “form” deliberately. The article notes that “the word
‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write
or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a
different alphabet or language.” This does not mean to “translate”. For
example, one might transliterate the Hebrew word “רוח” as “ruwach”. This would enable those who use Latin rather than
Hebrew script to say the word, but not to understand it.

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Slow Teaching

Those who know my work with digital media may be surprised to read that I largely support this remark by Mark Bauerlein in his article Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming in the Chronicle of Higher Education (19 Sept 08):

—given the tidal wave of technology in young people's lives, let's frame a number of classrooms and courses as slow-reading (and slow-writing) spaces. Digital technology has become an imperial force, and it should meet more antagonists. Educators must keep a portion of the undergraduate experience disconnected, unplugged, and logged off. Pencils, blackboards, and books are no longer the primary instruments of learning, true, but they still play a critical role in the formation of intelligence, as countermeasures to information-age mores. That is a new mission for educators parallel to the mad rush to digitize learning, one that may seem reactionary and retrograde, but in fact strives to keep students' minds open and literacy broad. Students need to decelerate, and they can't do it by themselves, especially if every inch of the campus is on the grid.

I don't agree with restraining the digitizing of classrooms, which Bauerlein also calls for, but I do agree with ensuring there's a mix of learning spaces available. I also think that teachers should have the imagination to sometimes teach outside of the classroom altogether. In my own case, I teach mostly online and am constantly struggling with ways to bring that slower and more physical engagement into the learning experience.

Most of Bauerlain's approach is the same-old same-old but I do think we must pay attention to the need for slow spaces both in teaching and in life. Slowness is certainly a vital element of transliteracy.

Thanks to Mez at Facebook for the link to Bauerlain's article.

x-post from

Can’t Read Can’t Write – Channel 4

Can't Read Can't Write is a fascinating and very moving TV series about a group of UK adults ranging from 100% illiterate to a little more literate than that. I simply can't imagine operating in our text-bound world where I cannot read anything at all, as in the experience of one of the participants who is roughly the same age as me and who left a shop in tears because she could not find the word 'ham' on any of the products. Of course, this was slightly exaggerated because presumably she has been buying ham for 50 years just from looking at the contents of the pack, but it was still very provocative to imagine her plight. Last night was the first of the series, and you can watch again here.
Disclosure: My daughter Erin Thomas Wong was Production Manager for this series.

Emerge(ing) Transliteracy

How the web saves me work.
This week I went to an event organised by Emerge where I have the enjoyable role of Steering Group member. Emerge is the support project for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Users and Innovation Programme. Find out more here.
It was quite exhilerating to meet around 80 UK educators all looking for ways to use new technologies for collaboration and innovation. Furthermore, the nosy anthropologist in me could watch networking happening live and in the raw!
I did participate in a small way, at the Unconference organised by Brian Kelly and Graham Atwell, but just as I sat down this morning to write this post about our conversation on transliteracy, Google Alerts popped into my inbox to let me know that Brian had beaten me to it. So, thanks for saving me the work Brian (and Google) ! Here's Brian's post….

Multimodal Narratives Conference 27-28 April 2007

xposted at musings
Saturday marked the second and final day of the Narrative and Multimodality conference organised by Dr. Ruth Page and held at UCE.

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