Literacy: A Sparkling, Multifaceted Term


Before the 21st century, to be literate meant the ability to read and write. Now, the definition has become a multifaceted term, pushing past these two mere abilities. Previously considered ludicrous, acronyms, symbols and even small pictures are considered words. In order to be literate in this era, one must be able to transcend their writing through a breadth of different media, analyze text with empathy, and be to write and decipher symbols in a discourse new to the 21st century.

Though they’re many ways to publish personal work, a persuasive writer must adjust their writing for certain mediums in order to be successful. There must be an ability to transcend writing skills from black and white outlines with cold tones, fit for newspaper articles, to colorful online public journals. Printed articles can only offer text and pictures, yet when blogging, a savvy writer will utilize different medias such as videos, hyperlinks, podcasts, and even provide interactive forums. In addition, personal voice and style are imperative to capture the attention of an audience, while it is deterred when publishing more structured work.

At first, blogging was “an experiment, an exploration into what that genre could do for me, (Alex Reid) and other rhetoricians” (Reid) by “speak(ing) to us (the targeted audience) as a companion, a fellow researcher”. (Bartholomae 513) By connecting to certain “networked public(s)”, (boyd) blogs have enticed large, interactive and interested audiences. The website has recorded 133 million blogs since 2002, a number that is growing exponentially every day.

In addition to writing to a designated audience, one must have the ability to think like the audience as well. Progressive teachers of the 21st century have encouraged “to try a variety of voices and interpretive schemes” (Bartholomae 512) when analyzing text with their students. Professor June Jordan reflects on her unorthodox approach to analyzing text in Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan.

Instead of merely reflecting and comparing passages, June Jordan legitimizes the vernacular of “Black English” to analyze and enhance the meaning of The Color Purple by Alice Walker with her EGL 487 “The Art of Black English” class. In addition, Jordan made the controversial subject matter relevant to life outside of the classroom by “mobiliz(ing) themselves on behalf of a Black classmate whose unarmed brother had been killed by White police officers in Brooklyn, New York” (Harvard Educational Review 363) by submitting an article to The Village Voice which represented the oppressed. By analyzing text in this way, Jordan has empowered her students by embracing their “community intelligence” (Jordan 363)

Worldwide culture has appealed to the idea of fast, easy and effective. Now than ever before, people want their products to be sleek and simple. This mindset has been integrated into literature as well, introducing a new discourse community. Because most conversations had on the Internet are not made face-to-face, acronyms and symbols replace words for convenience and to convey emotion. As ridiculous as it seems, the ‘frowny face’ emoticon is now an authoritative statement. In previous years, this discourse would not be considered a vernacular at all; this shows that the priorities of literature have changed. Foreshadowed by George Orwell in the book 1984, the representation of words replace words.

I have struggled to understand how to connect the readings and lessons in Writing 105. As I analyze what it means to be literate in the 21st century, I realize that these diverse readings paint a picture of the present. Previously, I have been conditioned to think that social media is bad. Teachers would give speeches about how, when they were students, had to flip through encyclopedia after encyclopedia to find the definition of a simple term. Assigned and a bit guilt ridden, we would take notes on tangible paper and flip through books, hunting down information the same way they did 60 years prior. Instead of looking down at a high school textbook, I have been looking at literature through the eyes of the ‘people’. This is a world where now freedom of expression can be utilized anywhere with blog posts and podcasts. Where conversations about vernacular can be held with pride, and the syntax of language can be adjusted to enhance personal expression. I agree that it is essential to understand and apply basic skills introduced in grade school, but now it is time to endorse an era of progressive thinking, which is carried though the sparkling, multifaceted term of what it means to be literate.

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