Sunday, March 13, 2011

Week 9: Transliteracy

The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.”

The word “transliteracy” is derived from the verb “to transliterate,” meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. 

The idea of transliteracy is really about promoting a unifying ecology. As Thomas explains, 
“The concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present.
 It is an opportunity to cross some hitherto quite difficult divides.” 
Transliteracy asks key questions about communication:
  1. How were people remembering and communicating for the thousands of years before writing?
  2. Where are the similarities with the way we communicate today?
  3. Has our addiction to print made us forget skills we had before?
  4. Can digital media reconnect us with those skills again?

Watch “Social Media Revolution” on YouTube:  

Literacy is not linear. ““Part of the confusion about media convergence stems from the fact that when people talk about it, they’re actually describing at least five processes” (Henry Jenkins, 2001). 
  • technological
  • economic
  • social or organic
  • cultural
  • global

Another term which has become widely used about these kinds of experiences, especially by the media and gaming worlds, is “convergence.” In 2001 when Henry Jenkins noted the confusion about media convergence actually is because of the various processes that are at play (it is not one single required literacy). For Jenkins, “these multiple forms of media convergence are leading us toward a digital renaissance - a period of transition and transformation that will affect all aspects of our lives” (Jenkins, 2001). 
Sue Thomas often refers to the Asheninka tribe as an example of a transliterate group. For them transliteracy imbues every aspect of their culture:
“Everything we use has a story. Each drawing which is passed from one generation to another is our writing; each little symbol has an immense story. As one learns a drawing, one learns its origin, who taught it, who brought it to us.”

Discussion Questions:

Q1. What is transliteracy? Give examples of how transliteracy appears in your daily life.

Q2. How does Coover’s “The End of Books” (originally written in 1992) align with a contemporary thinking of transliteracy and the development of the web into web 2.0?

Q3. According to Aarseth’s “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” “the text...entails a set of powerful metaphysics...the three most important ones are those of reading, writing and stability” (763).  Having read about and discussed the idea of transliteracy, would you suggest adding or changing any of the three elements that Aarseth notes as most important? Must “users” (readers) “learn to accept their position as agents of the text” or might they play a more decisive role (as in Andy Campbell’s works)?


  1. I think what I find fascinating about transliteracy is that it's very much about context, societal, cultural and individual.Sue Thomas talks about the 'lifeworld' which is a combination of the physical world and your subjective experience that create meaning. In many societies now,we would need to add the virtual world to Sue's definition. My 'lifeworld' is combined of my physical and virtual worlds combined with my subjective experience that is creating meaning. It appears that transliteracy is about how I make sense of the world around me from the physical environment, interpersonal cues and information and communication I use and seek to use. So on a daily basis I listen to the radio which is auditory for informati0n or relaxation, I follow road signs and traffic lights which is visual information, I search for research articles via platforms on a computer using the internet,manage employees and develop and monitor programs, I Blackberry my children, frequently (because of this class) am watching short videos, blog occasionally, participate in syncronous and asyncronous discussion groups on the web, manage my time on Outlook, have sent a few tweets today, and typically have chaired a meeting that requires printed material, and along the way I am interpreting non-verbal behavior of co-workers, friends and interpreting spoken communication. .. Oh ,and will probably go on Facebook to see what my kids have posted.And all of this is synthesized in my head and is the way I understand my world within my context.Am I transliterate , yes, getting there - but I was barely on the cusp of it two years ago when I decided I needed to understand and be able to learn the new social media.

  2. Transliteracy is a big part of my day-to-day activities. Twitter, Wordpress and Google is used regularly to obtain and share information. This information and content includes my educational work as well as my personal interests.

    AT first I thought my transliteracy developed only after I signed up for this MA program. But even years ago, I was using email, chat rooms and message boards online. Add this with the 'real world' communication tools such as telephone, mail and radio, I can say for certain that I have been transliterate for a while.

    I should note that my transliteracy has jumped up to super-human expert status after this course. Chatrooms, Zoho, Twitter HTML and Delicious are only a few of the many tools I have learned to use for interaction.

    Similar to Carolyn, what I found interesting was Sue's idea of 'lifeworld', and the importance of one's subjective experience. This was made apparent to me recently when a friend of mine sent an article about a new "pad" with all sorts of digital features, and a touch-screen interface. I replied back to him via email commenting on how important the touch-screen is to the tools success. He replied back and told me the reason he sent it was to tell me the price of it. The same article, two differnt lifeworlds, two very different perspectives about the content.

  3. Coover's article was primarily concerned with "hypertext fiction". He observed that these fictions could become "distended and slackly driven" and that the reader's desire for closure was at odds with text's desire for continuance. He also wondered how one could "avoid the trivial" and "duck the garbage".

    These legitimate questions are even more signficant in the age of Web 2.0, where the amount of available information has multiplied exponentially. The answers to Coover's concerns may lie in the transliterate and collaborative nature of Web 2.0 users. As the tools of collaboration become more sophisticated, it becomes easier to sort through the irrelevant by using the filters of our peers. Through tagging, polling and other data manipulation techniques, we will be better able to find those stories and informational nuggets that interest us. Different readers have different preferences for linearity or non-linearity, and collaborative technologies will help us identify those examples that engage us. As well, as people become more transliterate, their tolerance for more inventive structures may increase. This doesn't mean that older forms will be eliminated. On the contrary, existing narrative structures will still exist along side the more experimental forms, and readers will have the choice of how to entertain themselves by using the technologies to focus on their areas of interest.