Literacy, Inside or Outside the InterWeb

Those who are literate are said to be not only able to read and write, but to comprehend and postulate using a given language. At a low level, it affects how well a student or person is able to interact using that language, but more essentially literacy is important if because it demonstrates an individual’s ability to reason, persuade and criticize. Simply limited to reading and writing the language loses the sense of the word.

Think about it — literacy exists in several different modes, even within American English. A literate Web user, for example, knows about the dramatic chipmunk, Read My Lips, the Numa Numa dance, eBaumsWorld and the 2008 presidential candidacy of Ron Paul.Also within the ability to reason is the ability to talk and speak correctly using the given language. In the example of Internet-ese, a user who doesn’t rofl or lmao or j/k is Internet illiterate.

An Internet illiterate is someone who is unable to make the connections to the vast populations of meme and viral videos, all-important in the Web world of hyperlinks, but also in the basic premises of literacy.

After all, literacy often has to do with one’s understanding of the seminal works of the given language — a literate Spaniard must read Cervantes, just as a literate Englishman must read Shakespeare, or as Joyce is the choice of the literate — sober — Irish. All of Western-heritage literates must have a cursory knowledge of the Bible — as explained here — and of Virgil, and Plato.

The way one uses prior works to inform one’s own argument strengthens that argument and bolsters that person, and so literacy is adequately defined as a sufficiently strong ability to reason in a given language referencing the elements of that culture when appropriate.

Is there a difference between linguistic and cultural literacy, or is one a finer distinction within the other? If so, which, why and how?

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  1. Chris

    I would think that cultural literacy can be taken in different ways. It could be through literature, as above, or it could be a kind of pre-reflective understanding of the rituals that make behavior ‘meaningful’ in a given society. For example, I might hold the door open for someone or tend not to stand too close to them when they are talking. In both cases, I don’t “think” about what to do. Nor do I even seem to be able to state the “rule” that governs my behavior. I’m ‘aware of it’ without having to actually think about it. That’s cultural literacy, if you ask me.

    Does internet literacy ever reach that level? I’m not sure.

  2. Agreed.

    I wouldn’t find it impossible for Internet literacy to reach that level. There are some rules of decorum already — dOn’T tAlK lIkE tHiS, or in ALL CAPS, ALL THE TIME!!1!!1 — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a culture, and a wider culture beyond l33t-speak, develop within the Internet.

    On internet forums, for example, double-posting brands you as anathema or a n00b. I’m sure there are hundreds more of these little rules of the Internet.




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