Social Media doesn't threaten literacy!

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

You can read a lot about the threat of new media to literacy and the printed word. Harold Jarche blog post Literacies is an example. Often there is a link made between an ability to engage in deep and meaningful understanding and learning and reading large bodies of text. Or rather, a link between an inability to do this with the fast-pace of linking between different media in the Web 2.0 world. Well, I just don't buy this. In fact it's rubbish.

Firstly, literate doesn't just mean reading large bodies of text, you can be literate in a number of diffrerent communication tools. Not just the one that dominated by necessity being the only means of mass media distribution available for a while. Now the oral tradition is making a comeback and I have no real problem with that. It's the way it was done before books were on the scene and its still the dominant way in many non-western societies who can now take advantage of what's on offer. Also, text literacy isn't threatened by social media it's enhanced by it. Facebook and messaging forced teenagers to use words and sentences for their communication where previously it was only speaking (I never wrote a letter to a friend when I was a teenager). Ok, it's short but what the matter with that. I'm more in line with Negroponte on this issue. He says:

"Reading and writing are going to be around forever. The word is not going to go away and collecting words into bodies of thought is not going to go away." and

"There is no question that words are powerful, that they always have been and always will be … But just as we seldom carve words in rocks these days, we will probably not print many of them on paper for binding tomorrow."

Let's not confuse reading with publishing. Publishers want reading to be synonymous with books. But it doesn't have to be this way and it really isn't now.

The ability to quickly reference, aggregation, annotate and manipulate text is a massive, massive plus for learning and understanding. It can be done and was done in the old way but not by nearly enough as we'd care to admit to ourselves. Often the book champions are avid readers. What about those that don't read much. Surely, engaging in social media is plus for them. There exposure to words goes up drastically. Now the conditions for learning (admittedly only in computer rich societies) are far more desirable. Thinking about how I learn, I like printing and noting, but I also like RSS, online note-taking, bookmarking, and blogging. There things are fundamental. These things facilitate my learning and democratise it for all. The single biggest factor in helping the quality of my literacy is this blog (please don't comment on my grammar, it's improved a lot)!

The biggest barrier to this is learning how to learn this way and an obstacle in the way of this is the negative light social media is painted in.