This is an interesting resource to look at the history of social events, in particular I am looking at the history of the written tradition and the book and the concomitant writing skill in order to search for the intellectual impact it had in society and its culture. This with the intention to find similarities, at least in the process, with the intense and -in some sectors-ubiquitous use of the Web as the platform for almost every thing that has to do with writing, much of the reading and publishing, which is a relatively new possibility afforded by the Web.
Publishing our thoughts and ideas to a broader audience, the possibility to share, in a very easy way our process of thinking and generating ideas is, I think, one of the major shifts the Web has brought about to our society. The transition from the printing press to the ‘publishing Web’ at the tip of our fingers and the concomitant digital literacies required to use this features to its maximum potential, not always consuming the media but also thinking about creating and produce in it, are under scrutiny in my mind.
I am trying to make sense of this process. Not only am I looking at this online resource but also reading two relevant texts: Ong, W. (1982), Orality and Literacy and Haverlock, E. (1963), A Preface to Plato. Both are good sources of knowledge about the transition from the oral tradition to the written tradition, starting with the Greek Plato and his struggle with poetry and the writing tradition.
Haverlock in Preface to Plato wrote:
The oral state of mind was Plato’s main enemy
Ong adds to this that
Plato was thinking of writing as an external, alien technology, as many people today think of computers (…) Once the word in technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology had done without the aid of the highest technology available (…) the new technology brought the critique into existence. Plato’s philosophically analytical thought including his critique on writing, was possible only because of the effects that writing was beginning to have on mental processes
Looking more into the thinking process he argues,
(…) the writer-reader situation created by writing deeply affects unconscious processes involved in composing and writing , once one has learned the explicit conscious rules
He continuous his line of thought saying that although writing is an artificial creation, a technology that calls for tools: styli, brushes, prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood and inks or paints, it is essential for the realisation of internal human potential.
Tools are not only external aids but also internal transformation of consciousness and more so when they affect the world.
The transformation some technologies bring about can be uplifting says Ong. He argues that writing heightens consciousness and that ‘artificial’ technologies, when properly internalised enhance humans ‘awareness’ thus, humans’ lives. I sustain that in order for tools to transform and enhance humans’ lives they need to be used in such a way that they become second nature (this is the maximum standard, there are different levels of mastery possible). In this process of mastering the tool skills are developed. The more internalised the skills become the better the tool operates hence the inner transformation, or in Ong’s words, the interior transformation of consciousness is more deep and intense.
This supports in part my argument that being digital literate is desirable in nowadays society and more so in the near future. These skills are aids to flourish in a society that is almost entirely mediated by digital technologies (take a look at this: Gov 2020). Digital skills are the equivalent of writing skills or literacy that Plato was rejecting but paradoxically he experienced its benefits in dramatic ways, leaving an intellectual legacy that still almost 2 millennia ago, when learned deeply can be transformative.
Digital literacies are the skills people, in this particular case, undergraduate students, need to develop in order to master different digital tools and the Web (as the overarching platform where most of the tools and resources live) in a way that allows them to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities this new digital ecosystem has to offer, in particular in academic setting . It will also enhance their digital capability so much in demand in the work place. Look at this interesting report from the Institute for the Future (USA) to get a grasp of what the future work skills will look like.
For young people operating in their personal and informal digital context, away from the university, seems natural. Using mainly ‘consuming’ tools, e.g. Google to find out almost everything or YouTube as the source for any informal hands on learning and BBC channel to find more about an area of interest. All of these platforms and tools seems to be handled easily without much of a struggle. Some preliminary and very early findings from the focus groups I conducted, students navigate documentary channels, shopping platforms, online banking, social apps like WhattsApp, describing with no complications the sets of functions that these technologies allow them to carry out: communicating with friends and family, listening to music, watching documentaries, reading online books, playing games, or watching video clips. All of these activities that are part of their personal life and where they have a visitor approach seems to occur smoothly and seamless, not to much effort nor struggle is attached to its use. They were even able to offer a quite coherent pictures of how all these platforms and tools fit together in their daily lives giving meaning to the many activities they carry out, having a very clear picture of the advantages those spaces bring to them, some of them included how these personal activities had an influence in their academic life. One student said:
I watch a lot of documentaries in the BBC and I think it is not only for my personal benefit because when I watch those documentaries I gain a broader vision, a wider perspective and then when I write my essays I have a stronger position, I have developed a point of view. I safe them so I can see them when I need to refresh my knowledge.
It seems to me this student is very clear about the benefits of this medium. She has found also a system -not very efficient she said-to safe the relevant resources in case she would need them later. This was not the case when they talked about tools they could use only for academic purposes, e.g., Mendeley, MindMeister, Evernote to cite some. Word and PowerPoint where not mentioned, they take them as the default tool to write and create presentations, the main means by which they are assessed. It would be similar if we ask students about the use of their hands for typing. I think the word processor functions as an extension of the hand and the mind while thinking and writing.
The use of these new tools, mainly web-based tools or applications, that can serve as an aid to work in a more effective and organised way seems not to be very common, even less popular, among undergraduate and at first sight it seems to me they generate more aversion than pleasure let alone curiosity. Digital literacies in academic setting definitely needs more exploration. We need to find ways in which they can be foster and improved, particularly for the more vulnerable and disconnected ones, so students can benefit of a wide range of possibilities that are available only if we know how to operate in this new landscape.
To complement this idea, again the Institute for the Future has a report about the future learning landscape that can give us an idea of the future of learning