Beyond New Literacies – D. Wilber

Beyond New Literacies – D. Wilber

The world, according to Wilber, is constantly changing with the development of new technologies. As well, there’s a rise in new language and literary practices born of technological change. The concern is how to analyse such rapid development of technology within that literacies framework.

The field of new literacies is the focus on how technology and tools shape language and literacies in daily life. The emphasis of such study is on what makes literacies ‘new’ in an environment of constantly changing tech tools. Wilber considers how such tools exploit global networking together with cutting edge software and hardware.

Today, technological change happens so rapidly that the changes to literacy are limited not to technology, but rather by our ability to adapt and acquire the new literacies that emerge.

New literacies must be studied as soon as they emerge, while they’re being adopted and taking shape within people’s lifestyles. New literacies are able to traverse all social spaces from education, family, leisure, work, public and private life. 

New literacies can be defined as ‘tech stuff’ and their ‘ethos’ – referring to the spirit or the way in which the technology is used. New technologies lend themselves to an ethos which is participatory , via collaboration and open sharing of information online. Fluidity is also emerging as an ethos of new literacies as texts are remixed, reshaped, mashed up and added to. One good term (not mentioned in Wilber’s paper) is ‘forked’, where a project or text is split into different forks or streams. The result is a shift in power and authorship from academic to social and challenges notions of expertise, legitimising the notion of ‘amateur’ experts.

Participatory culture is the method in which users participate in pop culture and new literacies. This is achieved through avenues such as fan fiction, gaming and online communities. Such literacies result in the creation of original texts, organising, editing and publishing. The result is a challenge to how texts are viewed: what is a text? how is it created, shaped, re-shaped and so forth? New literacies also move into the conventional notion of space – our personal lives, work, popular culture, forums, anime, fan fiction, etc. 

There exists much tension between traditional literacies and new literacies. Studies have looked at how chools attempt to use social networks – combining traditional literacies with new literacies. The results show that technologies don’t always foster new literacies (especially in an traditional literacies context). It supports the notion that technology is often shoehorned into the classroom (producing traditional literacies), despite educators’ best interests to create new literacies.

Taking the view that new literacies can be transformative, technology has the ability to reshape education, taking it into new literacy spaces. Education itself can be remixed with new media and emerge as a new digital space. Vasudevan’s study on “digital geographies” observers the effect of new literacies on participants – who are shaping and shaped by the space around them and tech tools that they use. 

Conducting further research into digital culture, society and technology affords a chance to look at how new literacies are transformative – how media, technology and information shape our lives and are, in turn, shaped by us. 


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