The Myth Of Digital Literacy

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In the old days, it was pretty simple: being able to read and write made you a literate individual. Now, with texting, Twitter, video production, etc… trying to define what it means to be "literate" in 2009 can be confusing and challenging.

Why does this matter to you, as a Marketer?

In order to grow your business (in terms of both new clients and bringing on the right team members), we have to be the leaders in education. These new channels and platforms are changing the way people communicate and connect, and this is changing the way we can introduce new products and services to them. How we communicate, learn and understand is an intrinsic part of this process. It’s a huge question that affects business, education and the very core of our society (if that sounds big and scary, it is supposed to).

Watch this video segment.

On Thursday night (October 1st, 2009), the TVO television show, The Agenda With Steve Paikin, attacked the topic in what was one of the most interesting pieces of television I’ve seen in a long while. Here’s how the show describes this segment: "Is technology destroying our ability to write or reviving it? The new age of digital communication." (it runs about 40 minutes long).

If the segment piques your interest, you should also check out: Stanford Study of Writing.

You can find the segment here: The Debate: The Myth of Digital Literacy or watch it here:


  1. I adore that this group of educators decimates the cynical, prevailing popular opinion about today’s young people and literacy. The panel implicitly agrees that literacy is not at all on the decline, not falling pray to insidious cultural and technological forces such as the text message and the Facebook wall.
    Literacy is not disintegrating as a result of technology; it is undergoing the most profound and rapid evolution since Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s.
    Most exciting about literacy today is that a much wider selection of individuals are contributing to the body of written content more than ever before. Email, Blogs, Twitter and instant-messaging call on us all to regularly author opinions and share ideas in the written form.

  2. Interesting – the tweet (140 characters) is the point you need to make clearly and quickly – which can and should lead to longer form supporting and explaining the point for those to whom the “quick point” isn’t complet enough, or don’t have the context to get it.

  3. I disagree with one of the points being made, regarding spelling and grammar. Students are not better spellers than they were three decades ago; they’re better spellers when they can rely on spell check as a crutch, but take it away and they’d be completely lost. Like doing math without a calculator. We have these tools but we get lazy because of these tools. I see examples of abysmal spelling all the time in the corporate world, in emails from senior people at times, and it looks unprofessional and amateurish. And for this, I blame not only technology, but the education system, in particular the “whole language” revolution and the de-emphasis on the basics. Sure, we can Tweet, txt and blog, but can we spell? Nope.

  4. When in the dawn of the information technology era there seemed to become a lesser emphasis on the need for reading hardcopy literary material, I should think that young people, with an increasing access to the internet at home, thought that what they could previously only find in books could from then on be found on the net.
    Beyond the fact that people today are likely to read online journals, blogs, Tweets, online encyclopedias and webpages, the language itself has changed to accommodate what I would like to refer to as our present day, past-paced world. Anachronymistic language (see my word net, for instance) is used to quicken the pace of literacy, to get a point across without having to put too much time/waste too many characters in a text message. The younger generations DO suffer as a consequence, yet we have seen in the statistics given (by looking at the line graph data shown in the above programme) that younger people’s literacy IS growing alongside this drastic change in spelling and grammar.
    I love it when the speaker from the University of Chicago pointed out that she was more conscious of her texting than she was of writing by hand, which is because of the fact that she needs to keep to a certain limit of characters allowed in a text. The cutting of words, to suit phonetic interpretations of dialects or slang is a phenomenal activity that shoud be encouraged in a modern world, rather than discouraged. After all, who is to make the younger generations in particular suffer because of our own ignorance to a change in arbatrary societal communication?
    It is true that text messaging appears to be hindering a young person’s development in terms of literacy but then it is also plain to see that the right awareness of the difference between correct and incorrect grammar or spelling is the key to a further advancement in modern day literacy.

  5. I agree with everything said about reading and writing in the age of the internet, but I don’t believe that should be considered “digital literacy.” That term means much more: the ability to create, understand and analyze the medium as well as the message. A lot of youth can find information on line, but many of them lack the ability to judge its credibility. They may also make foolish mistakes about how they use the internet to communicate. This Wikipedia article does a good job of explaining what I mean:

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