Literacies Associated with Digital Media
Many of the new literacies result from the new digital media. Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel (2003) identify a number of "new literacies" associated with participation in a world mediated by ICT's and interactive media:
scenario-planning. Scenario-planning involves inquiry-based thinking about the future through creating what-if scenarios or narratives that serve to address potential developments and formulate policies for addressing those developments. Given potential concerns with changes in environmental, health, security, energy, crime, education, and economic conditions, people need to know how to address these changing conditions.
Scenario Planning Resources
What is Scenario Planning?
One example of scenario-planning has to with predicting the future availability of resources - water, oil, minerals, natural gas, etc., as well as the impact of pollution and environmental changes on climate change. Commercial media plays an important role in this process by continually promoting consumption of goods that require using up finite resources. Advertising on commercial media celebrate short-term benefits of owning products without consideration of the long-term effects on the environment. (For an analysis of the role of the media in fostering a consumption society, see Advertising and the End of the World, with Sut Jhally. (For a written version, see "Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse" by Sut Jhally.)
Computer games such as Simscity involve players in city planning activities designed to address problems of crime, housing, transportation, employment, etc., facing urban dwellers, requiring players to develop ways to address these problems in the future.
Zines. Young people actively participate in the production of zines as a means of actively expressing their counter-culture perspectives. Through e-zining,
The Book of Zines: Readings from the Fringe
The EText Archives
Google.com directory: e-zines
they are using on-line zines to challenge what they perceive to be status quo sexist and racist norms in the culture, often through parody, satire, and spoofs. Because they can publish these zines on the Web for a large potential audience with little or no expense, they are motivated to create material that they assume may have some impact on their audiences.
multimediating. Much of the new digital performance art involves producing art involving a range of different digital media forms - on-line chat windows (with I-phone), websites, telnetMUD sessions, streaming video, PowerPoint, Flash "learning objects," net-radio, etc., combined together to create multi-media on-line experiences. Computer and digital art function as forms of new media that are often highly interactive. Museum goers can now often alter the art work through choosing different options. And, museums are employing digital tools such as computer kiosks and holography.
The following are a few of the many art museums with digital art collections or with on-line resources for studying art:
Museum of Web Art
Museum of Computer Art
Rhizome: digital art
Telematics: Walker Art Center
digital art collections
Electronic Art Intermix
New York Museum of Modern Art P.S.1
New York Museum of Modern Art Modern Starts (1880-1920)
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Digital Gallery
Whitney Museum Artport
Chicago Museum of Contemporary Arts
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Espace
These computer/digital art works involve forms of multimedia combinations facilitated by digital tools. As students begin to acquire these tools, they are producing multi-genre/multi-media written reports and art works that involve complex intertextual links between images, sounds, video clips, and texts. Making these links involve literacies associated with perceiving semiotic and cultural relationships between different forms and genres, as well as creating novel combinations of links.
blogging. Blogging involves on-line chat forms containing multiple links to previous messages or resources, organized often around current issues or themes, in some cases, written by professional journalists who are constrained by the dictates of "objectivity" operating in their news, radio, or television organizations.
As with many of these new literacies, the access of people outside of established institutions have resulted in changes in ways of participating in creating one's own forms of media. A key aspect of success in blogging is the ability to cite relevant, credible links that will function to convince others of a validity of one's claims. And, users need to be able to attract others' attention to one claims by being provocative, while at the same time, not being sensational or inaccurate.
Module 10 on the News will discuss ways in which teachers use blogs to provide students writing about issues with a greater sense of a shared community with people from outside the classroom.
Using blogs to Teach Writing
Educational Bloggers Network
Scott Hatch's webquest on using blogging to teach writing
Using blogs in education
culture-jamming. Another new literacy involves culture-jamming of establishment, often highly commercialized media productions through parody and satire (Lasn, 1999). One of the most familiar examples of culture-jamming is found in the Adbusters magazine and website. As with zines, people engaged in culture-jamming alter or modify media texts to create their own critical message about the adverse effects of consumerism on the society and environment.
Another example of culture-jamming was a contest in October 2003 for homemade commercials challenging the Bush administration organized by MoveOn.org posted 1,017 of the amateur commercials.
Critical Analysis of Culture-Jamming: teaching activities
attention-transacting. Another literacy that is inherent in these other literacies is the ability to pay attention to and to receive attention in the midst of millions of alternative bits of information and images. One of the challenges of living in a media/information saturated culture is the ability to know which bits of important are important or relevant to one's live and which to ignore as less important or relevant. Because massive amounts of information are readily available through the Web and on various data bases, Lankshear and Knobel, drawing on Richard Lanham (1994), note that people need to know how to create "attention structures" that assist them is eliciting and providing relevant, timely information, as well as interpreting the validity and timeliness of that information. The cite the example of Amazon.com that uses a highly interactive website to provides customers with relevant, useful information about books and other products. Because the site stores information about previous purchasing choices, it creates customer profiles that then provide a customer with suggestions regarding new choices that are consistent with their previous choices. Moreover, it now provides customers with reference searches so that they can enter in keywords and information about the uses of those keywords in book indexes are provided.
Another aspect of attention-transacting has to do with being able to maintain one's attention over time when so much of the media is highly transitory. Based on the work of Michael Goldhaber's (1997) notion of the "attention economy," Lankshear and Knobel note that attention itself is an economic recourse in terms given users' lack of time, they will only pay attention to those sites or information on sites that they consider to be worth paying attention to. Success on the Web can therefore be defined in terms of creating sites that will attract and maintain attention in the midst of millions of other competing sites. This success can be determined in terms of which sites appear in the beginning of a Google search in that Google lists sites based on the popularity of sites according to the number of hits received, being listed on other sites or in blogs, or being referenced on listserves or e-mail messages (Gauntlett, 2004). The success of the Howard Dean presidential campaign was a function of not only having an effective website that was used to raised campaign donations, but also the listserve support organized by MoveOn that continually reminded contributors about the campaign in order to maintain their attention.
Another manifestation of "attention transacting" in a media culture noted by Lankshear and Knobel is the relationship between "stars" and "fans." Film, music, television, and sports stars are continually attempting to seek the attention of "fans." These "fans" afford the "stars" real attention through following their careers, reading about them in magazines and the news, or going to their websites.
The "stars" need to continually reciprocate to maintain their popularity through affording their fans and audiences "illusionary attention" by providing fans with information about their lives, "being seen" in the media, participating in or producing new texts, or engaging in community/celebrity events. When "fans" perceive these "stars" as withholding their attention, they can then discontinue their allegiance to these "stars." This suggests the need for students to examine the relationships between "stars" and their "fans" as a means of understanding how the media constructs audiences, as well as their own personal ties to certain "stars."
One example of "fans" use of digital media to foster allegiance with "stars" is the construction of their own DVDs that contain material and clips from television series or films, particularly series that have been discontinued, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Firefly" (Nussbaum, 2003). These DVDs include positive and negative fan commentaries and clips from
Attention-transacting also is related to attempts to enhance the significance of media events for audiences, events such as the O. J. Simpson trial, the death of Princess Diana, the 9/11 tragedy, the Iraq War, the Super Bowl, World Series, political conventions, etc. In some cases, cable network news broadcasts suspend their usual formats to provide nonstop coverage of such events, coverage that attracts large audiences. These broadcasts promote the significance of these events in ways that serve to attract these audiences. In cases of events that could be deemed as less significant, they may actually attempt to promote the significance of an event through their coverage in ways that serve their own financial interests. A local television news station may provide a sensationalized coverage of a local event in an attempt to attract attention to their coverage, as opposed to another station's coverage. Students could examine these promotion attempts as an instance of attempting to attract attention through hyperbolic construction of media events.
searching, categorizing, and organizing information. Another important literacy has to do with searching, categorizing, organizing, and mapping information. Related to attention-transacting literacies, people are now overwhelmed with the accessibility of information through computers, e-mails, cell-phones, and various media. A study by Berkeley scientists found that information created on print, film, tape and disk in 2002 was roughly equivalent to all the text in the Library of Congress multiplied by 500,000, an amount that has doubled in the past three years (Levy, 2003).
This means that most all information can be stored in relatively inexpensive digital storage archives. This information can also be readily cross-referenced to create novel intertextual connections. However, the challenge remains as to how to store it in ways that can be readily accessed and organized. This means that they need to know how to effectively search for relevant, useful information through keyword searches on Google and other search engines. Effective searching requires an understanding of one's purposes for searching for relevant information, ways of selecting uses of different databases or library indexes, and strategies for accessing those databases.
People also need to know how to categorize or organize that information in files or storage sites, and/or create visual maps that can then be retrieved at a later date for use. Creating maps employing tools such as Inspiration or the writing organization tool, Tinderbox.
On the other hand, Lev Manovich argues that organizing and storing digital images in some systematic manner remains a challenge.
As computerization dramatically increases the amount of media data that can be stored, accessed and manipulated, we are gradually shifting towards more structured ways to organize and describe this data. For example, we are moving from HTML to XML (and next to Semantic Web); from MPEG-2 to MPEG-7; from "flat" lens-based images to "layered" image composites and discrete 3D computer generated spaces. In all these cases the shift is from a "low-level" metadata (the fonts on the Web page, the resolution and compression settings of a moving image) to a "high-level" metadata that describes the structure of a media composition or even its semantics.
What about images? Computerization creates a promise (which maybe only an illusion) that images that traditionally resisted the human attempts to describe them with precision - will be finally conquered. After all, we now easily find out that a particular digital image contains so many pixels and so many colors; we can also easily store all kinds of metadata along with the image; and we can tease out some indications of image structure and semantics (for instance, we can find all edges in a bit-mapped image.) Yet visual search engines that can deal with the queries such as "find all images which have a picture of " or "find all images similar in composition to this one" are still in their infancy. Similarly, the metadata provided by a image database software I use to organize my digital photos tells me all kinds of technical details such as what aperture my digital camera used to snap this or that image - but nothing about the image content. In short, while computerization made the image acquisition, storage, manipulation, and transmission much more efficient than before, it did not help us so far to deal with one of its side effects - how to more efficiently describe and access the vast quantities of digital image being generated by digital cameras and scanners, by the endless "digital archives" and "digital libraries" projects around the world, by the sensors and the museums . . .
Creating online social relationships and identities. Another use of digital tools described in Module 1 is the ability to create online social relationships and identities in ways that serve one's social agendas.
In participating in online chat rooms, bulletin boards, MOOs, MUDs, Blogs, or e-mail exchanges, people need to know how to employ language to project certain voices, roles, persona, or identities; adopt the norms and conventions operating in the online community, establish their rhetorical purposes; gain others' identification with their beliefs and arguments; make social connections with others; and maintain a continual presence to establish themselves as community members. Learning to employ these various literacies requires practice in participating in various online communities, which may each have their own particular set of norms and expectations. Establishing one's status within these communities requires an awareness of these norms and expectations.
One MOO site is called Diversity U. This site contains the following description of a MOO:
MOOs are virtual online environments designed for live interaction and
collaboration. MOO stands for Multi-user domain (which means that many
users can log on simultaneously), Object-Oriented (which refers to the
type of program the MOO core uses).
MOOs can be used for synchronous communication through a more efficient
interface than most chats provide. But MOOs are much more than an online
place to converse with others. Since MOOs are object-based, users can
create rooms and objects which become permanent elements of the MOO! This
means that teachers can build online virtual classrooms, textbooks, slideprojectors,
and even robots that can be used for delivery of course material. Students,
too, can create objects for exciting online learning projects!
When online educators came across MOOs over five years ago, they became
very excited about the educational applications of MOOs. The roots of
MOOs lie with the online gaming community. (In fact, if you've ever played
any of those old DOS text-based computer games - like Star Trek, the
Hobbit, and 7th Guest - you're already familiar with the concepts behind
text-based, object-oriented games.) But because of the versitility of
MOOs, their educational applications are limited only by our and our students'
imaginations! EduMOOs are far from games.
Through the use of objects, teachers can deliver material in an engaging,
creative, and innovative manner! For example, a colleague at the eduMOO
Diversity University has created an online robot who will answer students'
questions about writing essays and documenting sources! A biology teacher
at DU has created a prokaryote which students can look at, touch, and
play with. Most students feel that using the MOO is play, and researchers
note that when an attitude of play is adopted in learning activities,
engagement and learning are enhanced.
When it comes to constructivist student projects, the MOO excels! At
Diversity University, students have created online simulations of rainforests,
volcanoes,and biology labs, and re-enactments of the 100 Years' War, Dante's
Inferno, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Anne of Green Gables (with the
characters played by online robots!). The creation of these projects requires
little computer expertise, as most of the work is done through writing.
While web and VRML interfaces for MOOs are currently being developed
(which means that MOOs will be incorporating more and more graphics in
the future) MOOs are predominantly text-based environments. This means
that all our interaction with the MOO environment and other MOO users
is done through reading and writing! Students who MOO willspend hours
reading and writing each day. And the reading/writing skills developed
in the MOO transfer to all areas of their academic lives. For reading-
and writing-across-the-curriculum, then, few learning activities surpass
One example of the use of a MOO in a secondary literature class is a MOO developed for studying Brave New World. In this MOO, students create their own fictional roles and share discussions of the novel in fictional rooms, exchanges that address some of the basic themes of the book.
MUVE's Multi-User Virtual Environments (example: Tappedin.org)
For example, these are a range of literacies required for participation in online personals and dating sites, which have increased in popularity and use. In the first six months of 2003, Americans spent $214.3 million on personals and dating sites (Egan, 2003). 40 million Americans visited at least one online dating site in August 2003, sites such as:
These sites require the ability to present oneself in a virtual context without reliance on the usual historical, culture, temporal, or physical markers associated with lived-world relationships. In constructing their profiles, participants need to construct descriptions of themselves that will appeal to others. Jennifer Egan (2003) cites the example of Lorraine:
. . . a 39-year-old mortgage officer and divorced mother of three teenagers [who] had no photo posted on her original profile with Match.com, and her descriptions of herself were
vague. A tepid response spurred her on. She uploaded a photo and wrote a lengthy profile,
whose "about me" section includes, "My ideal man is someone who respects a truly good
woman and knows how to make her feel special, important and loved . . . A man who would
give of himself before he gives to himself. (Ouch! I bet that hurt)." (p. 69)
Participants also learn effective ways to flirt in a virtual world. Egan notes that:
The most obvious are codified right into the dating sites as nonverbal signals people can click at each other: "winks," "smiles," "breaking the ice," depending on the site. While
women are generally more comfortable approaching mean online than in bars, man still
tend to make the first moves, and since women with attractive pictures . . . are usually
besieged with responses . . . it behooves a man to think hard about his opening salvo. (p. 69)
There certainly have been a lot of issues related to authenticity and deception involved in adopting online identities (Burbules & Callister, 2000; Dreyfus, 2001; Turkle, 1995). Given the anonymity of the web, people can adopt virtual identities that may bear little relationship to the selves they adopt in lived worlds. In chat rooms, they can pretend to be identities for the purposes of attracting others in an attempt to create actual live-world relationships.
(Judith Donath, MIT Media Lab, Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community)
They can deceive others about their actual identity because there is little or no accountability for the consequences of deception in these virtual sites. While one could argue that such deception is involved in adopting lived-world identities, relationships in lived-world contexts are part of local, familiar networks of people who know each other, while people on virtual sites may be located in all parts of the globe. Egan (2003) notes that deceptive profiles in personals and dating sites are not uncommon, but can have negative consequences:
For all the fibbing and fudging that go on, outright lying about who you are is generally regarded as uncool and self-defeating. Think about it: if all goes well, the person will
ultimately agree to meet you, at which point they'll discover you're not a race-car
driver from Monaco who speaks five languages and owns an island in the Caribbean. (p. 69)
People assuming online identities may actually need to consciously adopt to those certain markers or aspects of their identities that can be highlighted or exaggerated by a MUD or virtual world. If a MUD requires that people engage in intimate social interactions, then participants need to employ those practices required by these interactions, emphasizing their outgoing social self. (Alan Reed, Online Identities: The Centred vs. The Decentred Self)
INFO About MUDs
Concerns have also been raised about the ways in which virtual online interactions are seen as replacing actual face-to-face interactions, which leads to a loss of the importance of bodily, social contact with others. Nicholas Burbules (2002) argues that adopting online identities should not necessarily be perceived as substituting for or replacing live-world identities:
But very few people have been talking about virtual engagements 'replacing' ordinary embodied ones, and of course by definition virtual engagements will always lack some qualities that ordinary embodied ones have. Yet an equally important question is the obverse: what qualities can virtual engagements have that ordinary embodied ones lack? The advantages aren't necessarily all on one side. After all, the embodied experience for many people is seriously limited: by disability, infirmity, illness, chronic pain, isolation, or a physical appearance that leads others to prejudge, ignore, or despise them. For many of these people, the opportunity for interaction online, precisely because it does not require mobility or energetic effort, or precisely because it can be relatively anonymous, is preferable to ordinary embodied interactions. Here as elsewhere in these sorts of arguments, claims about which mode of interaction is 'better' must always be tempered by asking, 'better for whom?' . . . , the relatively disembodied space that is the Internet is not, by and large, regarded by people who live and interact there as a substitute for their 'real' lives, but as a supplement to it, indeed as part of it . . . In the end, it is not the Internet that has raised contemporary questions about the necessity of our bodies for our sense of identity; it is a much larger cultural shift that foregrounds the 'performative' rather than 'essential' character of our embodied selves. (p. 393)
These issues related to the construction of online identities suggests the value of having
students reflect on the identities, persona, or roles they adopt in online contexts. Students could examine their uses of language - informal versus formal style, or the uses of social practices based on norms operating in an online site, aspects of participation that will be further examined in
Module 8: Media Ethnography.
Summary: Digital media and literacy practices. Through participation in different digital media, people acquire these different literacy or social practices. The more experience they have with these different media, the more adept they become in using these practices. By studying the uses of these practices in the classroom, students learn ways of reflecting on their practices in ways that may help them become more effective users of digital media.