From Computer Literate to De-Literate

“Computer literate” is obviously not a new term or concept; we hear it often to refer to one’s general ability to understand and use a computer. I suggest it applies to the general ability to use a mouse/keyboard, perhaps to navigate the Internet, or to create a basic Word doc with bold headings and numbered lists. However, given the importance that computers have in our professional and personal lives, the term is really too general and broad for any real application. Without any direct context, a reader or audience of the term cannot fully know the concept to which the statement is referring.

There may have been a time (early 90s?) that “computer literate” was been more logical, applicable, and universal. This was a time of the general public becoming more familiar with how to use a computer to perform the basic tasks required of them in the workplace, classroom, or personal/home setting. However, we’ve far trascended that time with an increasing number of people having that base computer knowledge and accepting it as a professional and personal necessity not unlike arithmetic, grammar, typing, and tying a tie (actually no longer a necessity).

So can we narrow the intent of the term to consider new terms, such as “Web literate,” “spreadsheet literate,” “Flash/multimedia literate,” etc.? I think not. Even in such a focusing of “computer literate,” there is still too much ambiguity in the manufactured terms. Additionally, we’d have to create so many “n-literate” categories, the effort would be relatively pointless, since the list would be ridiculously cumbersome. Actually, “computer literate” or “n-literate” refers less to being “literate” than it does to being “able.” This idea stems from the fact that “literate” refers to text – More on this point later.

Therefore, assuming we could at one point have used “computer literate” with an understood and relatively accurate meaning, we can no longer do so. We can, however, speak to the idea of a “de-literacy” in terms of becoming computer-abled in such a way as to communicate, lecture, and present ideas in a particular aural/oral manner. In other words, the ability to use the computer keyboard, mouse, email, MS Word, etc. is second nature to virtually any academic or working professional. However, the ability to effectively use software and hardware to record, edit, and manage audio files for this purpose in some ways removes the concept of a written literacy, although reinforces that concept in other ways. Yes, more on this in the future, as well.

There is the traceable transition from pre-literate to literate culture, including all of the changes in social, physical, political, etc. aspects. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’d never suggest that we are completely scrapping the written word in favor of a return to orality. However, there is a certain new application of orality that has aspects similar to that of traditional oral culture. Therefore, there is a sort of “return” to the trend, yet new (see A New Literacy). I pondered inventing terms, such as “neo-literate.” There is a an element of accuracy to this term, since there is a new ability (a specific computer literacy) that one must attain to use this new media (NM) orality. However, more accurately it is a “de-literacy” in that for this one trend, this one application, we are ignoring the written word (beyond the use of creation navigation I’ve discussed before) in favor of aural/oral communication. I’ll acknowledge this as another lengthy post and assure more on this topic in the future.

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