Among the changes brought by the shift from print to digital literacy, the networked aspect of the later allows anyone to create content, publish it to the world, and then receive varying degrees of feedback from (potentially) millions of people. To be literate does not simply mean to have access, it means to have the ability to apply a broad knowledge “beyond skills and technologies” (Rheingold, Howard. 2010). In Howard Rheingold’s article, he breaks up ‘social media literacy’ into five separate literacies, including two that really resonated with me – participation and collaboration. Here, I will discuss how changes in technology and online networks have allowed digital publishing to become extremely participatory.
Democratization of creation
Digitization and online networks have knocked down many barriers to publishing content. Not all, certainly, especially considering that the digital divide is many-layered. However, for a large number of people (myself included) these technologies allow one to become a content creator extremely easily. Even better, the work you create can now exist on a medium that surpasses Harold Innis’ dichotomy between time and space-binding media, significantly streamlining the process of disseminating content. This characteristic is groundbreaking. Beyond the capabilities of the medium or the ability to create – or even the content- lies the aspect of digital publishing that really makes it come alive: networked content.
No longer is writing or publishing a one-way communication stream. While we’re still graduating from a transition to digital that was very much informed by the physical world of print (desktops, folders, documents, pages), digital publishing has had features (namely comments) built in from a young age that encourage feedback and further conversation in a way that was not possible before. To respond publicly to a work in the print-age, the reader could write a review, or submit their own work as a response. These avenues are prohibitive in the reach they could achieve, not to mention the success of this reach being completely dependent on the respondent’s writing and analysis skill.
A world of comments
One of the earliest, unique, examples of commenting online that I can personally remember is the early days of youtube, when it was popular to respond to other content creators in the form of ‘video responses’.
That’s how YouTube was in 2006 or 2007, if you made a video about something, someone would immediately chime and make a video response. And then the next day someone else would make a response. I mean it was hilarious to think that was what the structure, ’cause it’s so far removed from what it is today. (Buckley, Michael. 2013)
Though video responses have fallen into disuse, this example is indicative of the types of lively communities that can be formed online around user-generated content. On a smaller (and more contemporary) scale, comments allow someone to say as little or as much as they’d like and usually requires just a keyboard, username, and the ability to answer a captcha. As mentioned before, issues of the digital divide are still inherent in being digitally literate and allowing someone to participate. However, comments (and even more simplistic, the ‘like’ button) address what can be thought of as the lowest common denominator of online participation, allowing any digitally literate individual to communicate some form of response, commentary, even conversation.
Other forms of collaborative feedback
Mark Leslie¹ drew my attention to the idea of integrating commentary into digitally published texts. He described a potential system in which both readers and authors could leave notes and comments within the literature as they move through the book, using the ‘final cut’ as an inspiration and platform for reflective discussion. This could be a way to give the digitally printed word a degree of ‘real time’ networked commentary that is currently absent from the way this medium is and has been decoded. If popularized, this commentary system could resemble a meeting of very conversational footnotes, google docs, and the current purpose of hyperlinks within text. Digitally published texts would not only become more interactive, but also incredibly networked multimedia works of art.
Blogging represents the intersection of all the above topics: democratization of creation, hosting and encouragement of comments, and is a multi-media hot bed. Though journalistic outlets have traditionally looked down on the blogging style, they are coming more and more to emulate it. From the inclusion of multimedia content to the rising popularity of ‘listicals‘, there is a noticeable change in the way texts are being formatted online. This may not represent a change in literacies, maybe what it means to be digitally literate is simply evolving. It is safe to say that the internet has a long and versioned history ahead of it. At present, all we can do is describe the changes that have already taken place, and speculate to what is to come.
Rheingold, Howard. 2010. Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies. In EDUCAUSE Review 45(5) (September/October 2010): 14–24
Rogers, Everett M. 2001. The Digital Divide. In Convergence 7(4).
Library and Archives Canada. 2007. Innis: Time- and Space-Bias. In Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan. Archived webpage.
Erin Kissane. 2013. Contents May Have Shifted. In Contents Magazine issue 4.
Buckley, Michael. 2013. EXCLUSIVE! “SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS NATALIE TRAN” | Community Channel Interview. Youtube
¹Leslie, Mark. 2014. In-class guest speaker September 30, 2014.
Carlson, Matt. 2007. Blogs and Journalistic Authority: The role of blogs in US election day 2004 coverage. In Journalism Studies 8(2).
Carr, Nicholas. 2008. “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. In The Atlantic (July/August 2008).
Allen, Mathew. 2012. What was Web 2.0? Versions as the dominant mode of internet history. In New Media and Society 15(2).