This continues from my previous posts on Literacy -> Digital Flow. References can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/wiki
CC BY-NC-SA DareMo Shiranai
Is the word ‘literacy’ useful? Literacy is a state which has traditionally been ascribed (or not) to individuals. Is the state that writers on ‘New Literacies’ espouse simply a case of encoding and decoding texts? It would appear from the above, given the references to ‘identity’ and ‘community’ that perhaps we have moved beyond literacy. An idea to be explored in what follows is that a digital version of the concept of Flow may be a Pragmatically-useful concept to use in place of the seemingly never-ending ‘umbrella terms’ outlined earlier.
In his seminal book of the same name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced flow as being at the root of true happiness, successful learning experiences and what can loosely be termed ‘intrinsic motivation’. In a state of flow, individuals undergo what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as ‘the autotelic experience’:
The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward… Most things we do are neither purely autotelic nor purely exotelic (as we shall call activities done for external reasons only), but are a combination of the two. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 2008:67)
Focusing on the term ‘literacy’ and attempting to shoehorn 21st-century behaviours, technologies and attitudes into the concept could lead to anachronism. Literacy, as we have seen, is predicated upon technologies used to encode and decode texts. The reason Traditional Literacy was such a stable concept with a definite meaning in the minds of most people was due to it built upon a technology that did not change significantly in hundreds of years. It is the pace of innovation in new technologies that has caused a problem for conceptions of literacy.
If instead of a ‘top-down’ approach to literacy (‘x, y and z consitute literate activities’) a ‘bottom-up’ approach was considered this could potentially side-step the difficulty caused by the pace of technological change. The reason that concepts such as ‘digital literacy’, ‘cyberliteracy’, ‘new literacies’ and the like have been proposed is to give a name to a socially useful state to which individuals can aspire. Given that most proponents of such terms would agree that their thinking is built upon Traditional Literacy, it would seem that using ‘literacy’ as an epithet for these extra skills, abilities and behaviours is unnecessary.
What may be more useful in a Pragmatic sense may be to assume Traditional Literacy and combine these skills with digital tools and sociocultural practices that lead to socially and educationally-useful outcomes. Instead of viewing a ‘digital’ version of literacy as a pinnacle to be achieved or surmounted, the focus would be on Flow. When dealing with digital ‘texts’ (loosely defined) this would result in Digital Flow depending upon literacy. Literacy becomes a staging-post on the journey instead of the destination itself:
Mass education – as developed in the 19th century – served to instil a minimum standard through drill-and-practice within the realm of Traditional Literacy. Some have likened this to a factory model with Taylorism as its guiding principles. This is slightly unfair, given the constraints, social problems and political landscape of the time, but does throw light upon how debates surrounding the purpose of education have shifted. It is no longer enough to ensure that young people leave school with the ‘3Rs’. Indeed, under initiatives such as Ofsted’s Every Child Matters (ECM), wider concerns such as children’s (mental) health, and their ability to achieve ‘economic wellbeing’ have necessarily been brought to the forefront of planning and curriculum design in UK schools.
Despite this, skills and abilities in almost every area of the curriculum are, somewhat indiscriminately, designated ‘literacies’. Courses are designed around concepts as ‘health literacy’, ‘financial literacy’ and ’emotional literacy’ as a shorthand to convey action relating to the ECM agenda. It may be more productive and instructive to replace this ‘scatter-gun’ approach to literacy with a more far-reaching commitment towards helping young people develop their ‘autotelic self’:
A person with an autotelic self learns to make choices… without much fuss and the minimum of panic… As soon as the goals and challenges define a system of action, they in turn suggest the skills necessary to operate within it… And to develop skills, one needs to pay attention to the results of one’s actions – to monitor the feedback… One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pusuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 2008:209)
Instead of having to continually widen and redefine literacy to cater for new technologies and methods of social interaction, a focus on Digital Flow would be consistent with the idea of ‘liquid modernity’. It would serve to end the idea of a ‘life-project’ being something external to the individual and encourage individuals to embrace short-term, pragmatic strategies when approaching digital technologies (Martin, 2008:153). Digital Flow is focused on the creative act, as opposed to never-ending definitions of literacy predicated on the consumption of media or physical goods. As a result, Digital Flow can be considered the ‘umbrella-term’ for which theorists have been grasping and over which they have been arguing. Moreover, it can be seen as a coherent target at which to aim educational experiences.
CC BY-NC spengy
I remember fondly my first ‘proper’ watch: a digital Casio black-and-blue affair with a stopwatch. It was awesome. When I got older and a bit more style-conscious I requested a Seiko Kinetic for my 18th birthday. The Kinetic range had just come out and seduced me into thinking I’d never need to replace the battery in it. They were right, I didn’t. Instead, within two years the whole drive mechanism needed changing at a price not far away from the original purchase price of the whole watch. You never buy version one of anything, trust me. For my 21st birthday I received (at my request) another Seiko that looked very similar but used a good old battery. That’s the one I’ve still got but, as of January 1st, 2010, no longer wear.
I was at university when I got that watch, in my third and final year. During that year I had a lecturer for one of my Philosophy modules who would whip out his Sony Ericsson T68i every so often to look at the screen whilst he was lecturing. At the time I thought this was incredibly rude: how dare he be checking to see if he had any text messages whilst lecturing?! 😮
Later I became the proud owner of a T68i. It dawned on me that my lecturer didn’t wear a watch and, because the phone has the time in big, bold numbers as a screensaver, he had been merely checking what time it was so he didn’t run over. I forgave him post-hoc. 😉
I’m always a bit worried about getting RSI, and so began to take my watch off automatically upon sitting down at my Macbook Pro after I noticing that taking my watch off whilst using it made my right wrist ache less.* But then I started to think… When I’m using my Macbook the time is displayed at the top-right of the screen; when I’ve got my iPhone on me (pretty much always) it displays the time on the lockscreen. Why am I wearing a watch at all?
The nail in the coffin for my watch, now cutting a forlorn figure on the kitchen table, was an article in WIRED magazine (to which I now subscribe). It too laughed at watches as an anachronism. Why on earth, it asked, when the time is all around us – including on personal devices that we carry everywhere – do we insist on wearing something that can only single-task? That was it, I decided I’d be watch-less in 2010.
Since then, I’ve found how liberating not knowing exactly what time it is can be. Yes, it’s necessary sometimes (when teaching, for example) but when in and around the house it certainly leads to more Flow experiences. And that’s a good thing. 😀
How about you? What else do we do or wear that could be considered anachronistic in this day-and-age?
* Yes, I (used to) wear my watch on my right wrist. No, I’m not left-handed. And no, I don’t know why I (used to) do this. I just always have done. :-s