(My literacy paper rough draft)
We are living in the digital age, and because of that, we are writing more than the generations before us. Handwriting and calligraphy are being changed out for keyboards and fonts, and people generally don’t choose to make the distinction between writing and typing. The internet is a large place, as diverse as it is limitless, and has become a spaceless location, full of ideas and communities, most of which, communicate through writing. But we still first learn write with pencils in hand. We are engaging in more writing and communication than ever, and unlike the generations before us, we have control over many more discourses.
When I first started reading James Gee’s article What is Literacy?
I especially like the distinction Gee made between acquiring versus learning a language and acquiring a meta level understanding level learning
Every Spanish class I’ve been in teaches the language like a math. And Gee acknowledges that “Acquisition and learning are thus too, differential source of power; acquirers usually beat learners at performance, learners usually neat acquires at talking about it that is at explication, explanation, analysis, and criticism.” The school wanted us to learn, instead of acquire, so that we would be able to succeed in the explanation, analysis, and criticism parts. By learning the mechanics of another language, it gives one more perspective on their own.
But in order to gain perspective on your language and discourse, you first have to acquire one. And the best way to do that, is by reading. I had a bookshelf. I always had a bookshelf. Early on it was filled with large and colourful books, but as I got older, only the covers were splashed with colour. I was proud when I finished my first book without pictures. They seemed to slow everything down, when I wanted more and more text, faster and faster. Nothing could satisfy my quench for literature.
I had no older siblings, so my parents and my literature filled house was the inspiration and drive that got me excited. My mum and I would read the harry potter series together, until I was skilled enough to read them on my own. I was supposedly reading at a high school level in the beginning of middle school, though I’m not too sure about how accurate that measurement was. This burning passion for paper lasted through most of middle school, flying through series after series after series. Learning new words, stories, situations. I was evolving my primary discourse and tweaking it to become my own. But then I stopped. I didn’t finish the harry potter series, stopping halfway through book five. Technology and a growing social life began getting in the way, filling up most of my free time. Every day after school I would go onto the computer and AIM with friends. And this problem would only get worse once I got a phone and entered high school. But it is because of this that I developed a new discourse.
So am I literate? Or as James Gee would hone in on: have I mastered a secondary discourse? So yes, I like to believe that I am literate. I also have powerful literacy, as Gee defined as “control as a secondary use of language used in a secondary discourse that can serve as a meta-discourse to critique the primary discourse of other secondary discourses, including dominant discourses.” It’s the reason we learn Spanish in school. It’s so that we are achieve a meta level awareness of the language as a whole. You must learn to speak in another discourse before you are able to look at the original one from a truer perspective, so having lived in the east bay suburbia my whole life, there aren’t many varying or radically different discourses to draw from. Which is why I turned to texting and the internet. Everyone has their own way of texting and speaking on the internet that’s almost like a fingerprint; it consists of which abbreviations they use, how long their texts are, use of emoticons and smiley faces, punctuation, and personal slang. These are all affected by the community of people you text, and then in part by who they text. Different communities use different slang and abbreviations, and are bound by url, instead of location, making the community much more diverse. They are, by definition, discourses.
Much like language, writing has changed over time. How we use it to communicate ideas has melded around the means by which it is sent. Status updates that are only made up of links aren’t writing, but thought provoking and argumentative ones are. Even if you’re just writing a few words about your day, you’re keeping a public journal On Tumblr and YouTube, people will rant, talk, discuss, teach, and add their two cents into a debate. And these are undeniably writing. They may not be formal and classic as letters or books generally are, or always as thought out as a dear john letter, but there is most certainly a prose, which constitutes it as writing.
Reddit has become the public square of debates. And the catalogue of everything that is human. Much like the public squares in Rome provided a place for people to debate and speak, Reddit has became a community centered around debate and conversation. Unlike other forums, Reddit isn’t only individual comments all saying the same thing, but rather comments that lead into discussion and debate because of the systems structure and ability to reply.
I didn’t discover debate in reddit though. In high school, I joined the speech and debate team, and it pushed me. It was hard, cold, fast, and the first thing to really knock me out of my comfort zone in terms of discussion and critical thinking. I was in parli debate with a friend, and we would have four to five debates at each competition, each one a different topic which we wouldn’t get until 20 minutes prior to to the debate starting. Much like reddit, they were mostly related to current events in the news, but the metaphorical and offbeat ones are still out there. It taught me how to form coherent, organized, and strong arguments on the fly when you get up to argue against the opposing teams points that they brought up less than a minute ago.
Although both related to debate, Reddit and debate tournaments are two very separate settings, with very different discourses, even though the underlying mechanics are the same. Speech and debate is a much more formal setting, and uses a very distinct jargon. Words like resolution, LD (lincoln-douglas), PFD (public forum dabate), value premise, and contention quickly become common. And to even further assert it as a discourse, people quickly pick up how to speak in a debate. No one uses it outside of the arena, but inside, it’s an audibly different way of speaking they people practice and train to evolve and improve. Reddit also asserts itself as a discourse, by bringing in their own lingo and way of speaking. TL;DR (too long;didn’t read), literally, AMA (ask me anything), karma, lurker, and mods are commonplace on reddit, and can be found in even the smallest subreddits. Reddit also holds it’s own discourse, usually with a lot more voice and less formal than that of speech and debate.
I have also ran into many cultural discussions on Reddit (though this is also common throughout the internet). People are beginning to creating their own virtual cultures. As they discuss and debate online, they’re sharing and comparing their cultures, each time they use a word that distinctly exists in their own language or discourse. The internet is a catalyzing the creation of new discourses, and cultural diffusion. Discourses that include people from all over the world, that use the medium of text instead of oral language.
One of my favorite YouTubers C.G.P. Grey summed up social media and writing well when referring to Reddit, saying that the internet and the digital age are a lot like life: it is what you make of it.
My relationship with writing now mostly consists of writing for college classes, texting, Reddit, and occasionally gaming.
Where I’m heading – New discourse – academia.