I can remember the exact moment when I realised the track Burnin’ by Daft Punk was an absolute banger. A few pints in, I was in Sheffield University’s Student Union bar and it came on as part of a DJ set. Almost two minutes in, the beat drops properly. Certified classic. I realised that ever since buying the album as a sixteen year-old, I’d skipped that track because I’d never listened to enough of it.
There are tracks I’ve skipped on other albums that I’ve gone back to later in life. As Heraclitus famously pointed out, we cannot step into the same river twice because the river’s changed but also we have changed. The context shift doesn’t just apply to books and music, but to relationships and, well, anything that we formerly have dismissed as “not for us”.
So this post is a reminder to myself, and anyone who’s reading, to go back and read, listen, and explore things that have previously been rejected. Sometimes, they speak to us differently as we age.
I’m reading A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman at the moment. It’s an amazing read, and perfectly suited to our pandemic present.
It’s a long book, so I feel justified in skipping over the occasionally-lengthy descriptions of battles and campaigns, in favour of the much more interesting economic, social, and cultural history.
As a former History teacher (and someone with an MA in the subject) I’ve always found the undue focus on political and military history a bit boring, which is why I appreciate Tuchman’s comment on how it’s the extremes of time periods that tend to be recounted by historians.
In individuals as in nations, contentment is silent, which tends to unbalance the historical record.Barbara Tuchman, ‘A Distant Mirror’
Tuchman throws in all kinds of interesting tidbits of information, such as two-thirds of the population of Europe being under the age of 21 throughout the 14th century. Half were under 14! She uses this to explain the general lack of maturity in everyone from peasants to nobles.
Some might wonder why I’d want to read something so ‘depressing’ as the population of Europe being reduced by a third during the Black Death. After all, isn’t that a bit close to home right now? I’ve actually found the opposite is true: reading things like this make you realise that we live in much more pleasant, civilised, and reasonable times, and that things could be far, far worse
This post is Day 21 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Earlier today John Sutton asked for my “top few accessible reads overviewing digital literacies”. I was walking my son to his new school at the time, so responded that I would write a quick blog post later. Well, here it is.
Right off the bat I’d go for Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart. It’s wonderfully written by a (gentle) giant of the field. What I like about it is the mix of anecdote and academic research. It really is well put together.
After that, it’s slightly trickier to know where to turn – for a couple of reasons. First, the books in this field tend to be more academic than perhaps they need to be. Second, they’re also more expensive than they need to be. £20 for a text-based book is not my usual idea of money well spent. I’d rather dip into the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy (available free online) – especially articles like Towards a Transformative Digital Literacies Pedagogy (Thomas, 2011)
Having said that, anyone who wants to get to grips with the field of digital literacies really does need to read Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. I enjoyed (re-)reading it. You might also want to try James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
I haven’t read everything that’s come out around digital literacies since I finished my thesis, but it’s important to realise that there’s different understanding of what the territory looks like depending upon which sector you’re in (schools, universities, formal/informal) and where you are in the world. The ongoing work of Henry Jenkins is venerated in North America so it’s probably worth reading the free MacArthur report he wrote with some others in 2009: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.
Other than that, and perhaps some work by David Buckingham, it’s difficult to point you towards something specific. There’s some great work by Stephen Downes and by Helen Beetham, but their work is more wide-ranging than just digital literacies. Downes’ excellent presentation Speaking in Lolcats, for example, is almost an hour and a half long. You can find Beetham’s work scattered around the Jisc Design Studio (a wiki).
Finally, while I’m slightly wary of tooting my own horn, I did spend six years looking at the field of digital literacies in my thesis. While that in itself is not as incomprehensible as some academic work, I am (taking my time in writing) a more accessible version of it. It’s an ebook called The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies which you can buy it now (currently at v0.9) and you’ll get v1.0 when it’s finished. I hope that helps John and some other people.
If there’s something I’ve missed that you’d recommend, please do mention it in the comment section below! 🙂
Image CC BY-NC-SA Tyler Wilson