Research Assignment 1
Your Views on Literacy
My first thoughts on literacy are around words and their meanings - the ocean of words that come upon us each day in waves. As an adult I cannot imagine getting through a day without the help, the cues, the security I get from words to guide my life. Yet without a word in sight I often manage to experience the world, experience other people and experience through my own body in profound ways.
For instance, how important is a word when I’m taking a sip from a steaming, frothy capuccino? If I don’t murmur a response out loud, or feel compelled to describe the experience, then I can float through a delicious range of physical sensations. I may even smile. Now, if a friend were sitting nearby, that smile could cue to my friend, sharing the suggestion that my enjoyment was visceral, real and worthy of expression. My friend might even order what I am drinking without saying a word -- by pointing to the cup and then holding up a single finger to the waiter who happens to walk by. With a nod, the waiter would disappear and still without a word spoken, reappear with another frothy capuccino. Then with the classic ‘OK” hand signal, my friend might even end the transaction and wordless exchange with a sense of approval.
And so, as humans, like animals steeped in social behaviours, we have learned to read each other, both with and without words. We are very literate about behaviours, even reading signals relayed by clothes, by objects and forms, and by the elements we touch in nature and by nature itself.
To be literate about something means that one has understanding, that one has paid attention, perceived cues or clues and made some sense or meaning. Once, while watching a bullfight, my knowledgeable friend explained each aspect of the deeply acculturated activity. If he had not, my strongest responses would have been repulsion and confusion. Yet I managed to restrain my emotional responses by ‘reading’ particular meanings in what appeared to me to be an elegant yet violent sport. My friend’s words, and my informed observations helped modify my emotions and enriched my experience.
For some people, works of music, art, mathematical constructs or scientific configurations may seem meaningless, like foreign languages that others can appreciate because they understand the symbols and signs. Sometimes these languages can be taught and other times there can be great effort made to keep the language secret and inflated with meaning -- and perhaps allowing only a select few to access as if using the correct password. Such are the challenges of learning to be literate in a world filled with many kinds of symbols, signs and systems for meaning.
There is much to ponder. On a cloudy day, I look up to the sky and read the weather as unpredictable. And so, I venture out into the world, prepared with an umbrella patterned with the alphabet, and with a hope to make sense of it all.
While working as a college prof my experiences around literacy were varied and perhaps less complex than confounding. While teaching budding young graphic designers I was usually surprised by the basic lack of regard for reading materials that weren’t attached to other media forms – ie: digital, musical, video. I realized that students were more familiar with a wider range of devices and newer literacies than myself. Of course most could noodle and gossip and explore for ‘information / knowledge’ on the computer, or over a magical phone, but a sense of cultural or philosophical reference was often shallow. At one point, I deliberately posted newspaper articles on the wall in the Illustration studio to be read there rather than providing them in digital form on the computer. It may have seemed harsh but it was a way for me to observe their ability to just read something that wasn’t of personal interest. I was trying to introduce them to the classic newspaper page and to tackle a difficult editorial illustration assignment. The whole thing was treated as a joke or affront to their style or freedom because they couldn’t read where they wanted, when they wanted. So, as information is everywhere all the time and there definitely is a lot of conversation happening across time/space, entertainment is also easy pickings. But there are kinds of information/knowledge and pleasures that still persist without the digital venues. Learning will continue across many formats -- and those who want to learn certain ideas and concepts will seek them out, regardless of convenience and media, I hope.