Cyberliteracy (1)

“To be cyberliterate means that we need to understand the relationship between our communication technologies and ourselves, our communities, and our cultures (16).”

Gurak, L. J. (2001). Cyberliteracy: Navigating the internet with awareness. New Haven Conn.; London: Yale University Press.

Gurak defines cyberliteracy as “a critical technology literacy, one that includes performance, but also relies heavily on people’s ability to understand, criticize, and make judgments about a technology’s interactions with, and effects on, culture (13).” Noting Kathleen Welch, she goes on to state that “Cyberliteracy… is about consciousness. It is about taking a critical perspective on a technology that is radically transforming the world (16).”

This definition stems from the fact that the idea of literacy has long been equated with the ability to read and write. So writing was superior to oral communication, and literate people were considered to be of higher intellect and cognitive ability. “Western cultures living in the post-Gutenberg world of print, were, according to this way of thinking, superior to many traditional, indigenous cultures that communicated their history and cultural knowledge orally (through stories, poetry, song, and so on). However, this perspective was increasingly debated, establishing a different view that various forms of discourse from different cultures are also forms of literacy. (12-14).

The Online Video Conversation (OVC) does require a certain ability to use the video software, but it is extremely simple. So, by Gurak’s definition, it does not likely require a cyberliteracy, but I suggest such a literacy is likely gained through the use of the OVC. In other words, through using this communication method, participants begin to understand the benefits and effects of using it, and even begin to criticize it and determine times and situations in which it would be particularly beneficial to use it, as oppose to situations when it would be more advantageous to use different communication methods.

Gurak discusses Walter Ong’s notion of secondary orality as representing an updated view of literacy that includes electronic text, and helps describe much of our internet communication language – “language that is a blend of written and spoken communication (13).” This is clear characteristic of Ong’s secondary orality. However, she goes on to note that, “[E]mail texts sound more like typed conversations than printed material. (Spelling and capitalization are often ignored, for example) (14).” Yet, one cannot check the spelling or capitalization of a spoken statement; therefore, one cannot consider factors of spelling and capitalization in regard to oral communication, since they do not fit this communication’s structure. I do, however, acknowledge that email is generally more informal and conversational (characteristics of spoken conversation) than more planned and structured written communication, since they are often quickly written without as much thought as some other documents. Therefore, I do not see email messages as oral communication in written form, as much as I see them as a specific genre of writing, one that contains certain conversational features that are similar to those of oral communication.

Gurak makes many excellent points within this 2001 text; however, I find that they are far more fitting in the current age than they were at the time, occasionally questioning whether they are accurate at all during that time. For example, she writes that “[C]yberliteracy is not purely a print literacy, nor is it purely an oral literacy.(14).” Given the era in which she is writing and the communication method to which she is referring, this statement is not particularly fitting or accurate. Email is not an oral literacy; it merely shares a certain informality that oral communication possesses. An electronic document would really only fit this comment if it was an orated statement that was the translated or converted to text. While her statement is not accurate for the time, at least not to the communication methods to which she is referring, it does fit the OVC, since participants do use actual spoken oration (on camera), as well as interactive comments in both video and textual form.

“Online communication, which bears the marks of both speech and writing, has the potential for restoring orality to an inherently Western print-oriented world, and it provides new opportunities for determining what kinds of information are considered valid (22).”

As I’ve noted in the past, there is nothing that will return us to a purely oral culture. We cannot unknow what we know, and text is ingrained our communication. However, there are various ways in which the way we communicate online can become more oral. More accurately, we currently communicate orally online more frequently and more easily than we could in the past, and with the advent of new technology and improvement of existing technology, that point will increase. Current online communication that incorporates some level or orality does, however, allow us opportunities to determine what sort of information is valid, including helping to verify identity, authorship, and even ownership, and to look to different methods that might emerge as the most ideal for a given situation.

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