Technological Literacy (Hawisher & Selfe)

Hawisher, Gail E. et al. “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and the Literacies of Technology.” College Composition and Communication 55.4 (2004) : 642-692. Print.

Hawisher and Selfe use the term technological literacy/literacies of technology (not computer literacy–a skill literacy) as “an all-encompassing phrase to connect social practices, people, technology, values, and literate activity, which, in turn, are embedded in a larger cultural ecology.” (679). Technological literacy focuses on “literacy practices and values in online environments” and not “skills required to use computers themselves” (679). (Chippy side-note: I get fussy when these distinctions run the risk of ignoring or not attending to physical/technical skills as well. Isn’t that part of the picture–i.e. tool literacy is part of literacies of technology? I understand the disciplinary need to split instrumental from discursive/value issues, but it’s in the ecology..)

Their basic argument is that technological literacy in our theory and pedagogy needs to be situated in specific contexts. It’s always local, always historical, always cultural and educational and material and familial. It’s never just educational. Most of this study is discussion of two cases from their larger Literate Lives in the Information Age study, particulary identifying five themes out of those cases:

  • Literacies have life spans: they can accumulate and deteriorate rapidly, emerging, competing, accumulating, and fading away (665). Variable and local and cultural.
  • People can exert agency in, around, and through digital literacies: people shape systems even as they are shaped by technology (see Feenburg and Stiegler, 666). Not always, and sometimes constrained, but technological literacies can work for potent agency.
  • Schools are not the only gateway to digital literacy: they are not uniform and often behind, due to generational/institutional reasons and the long dominance of a culture of print (671) for parents and educators. But workplaces, communities, and families are important factors contributing to digital literacy.
  • The “specific conditions of access” have important effects on digital literacy: access does not equal literacy. It’s much more specific and conditional.
  • Families transmit literacy values and practices in multiple directions: there is no one map for value/skill/practice transmission.

The basic lesson here (the basic lesson everywhere) is that there are no monoliths…

writing instructors […] face the danger of teaching in ways that ignore the considerable strengths in technological literacies that some students bring to our classes. As a result, we fail to build on the literacies that students already have–and we fail to learn about these literacies or why they seem so important to so many students. We also fail, as we deny the value of these new literacies, to recognize ourselves as illiterate in some spheres. And in this intellectual arrogance, we neglect to open ourselves to learning new literacies that could teach us more about human discursive practices. (676)

They hit one of my favorite notes–I wonder if it’s such because I’m in such an essayistically-dominated department: technologies quickly become invisible in their ubiquity (645). Because our “radar” is so carefully tuned to print /alphabetic literacy, we can’t even see what’s of value in non-school-based media activities. Our values and their values become invisible (676).

Finally, What about those who are not computer-savvy? (671).


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