The End of Literacy

In a comment on my post Does Reading Really Matter?, bowerbird challenged me to name names on who’s arguing the position that “the end of literacy is nigh, and that’s OK”.
Well William Crossman for one is practically exuberant about post-literacy:

By 2020, electronically-developed countries will be well on their way to becoming oral cultures… Reading, writing, spelling, alphabets, pictographic written languages, written grammar rules, and all other written notational systems will be rapidly exiting the scene

Crossman’s carrying the torch for speech-recognition; another group of techno-enthusiasts who are down with post-literacy are found among those who are pushing to institutionalize the concept of multimedia literacy. Straight from Wikipedia:

The concept of Literacy emerged as a measure of the ability to read and write. In modern context, the word means reading and writing at a level adequate for written communication. A more fundamental meaning is now needed to cope with the numerous media in use, perhaps meaning a level that enables one to successfully function at certain levels of a society.

Some related skepticism about the written word iis found in constructivist learning theory . The increasinlgy trendy Waldorf education philoosphy delays teaching reading until 3rd grade or later. On a broader plane, the debate about the relative merits of the spoken and written word is as old as Socrates and Plato.
Personally, I envision the future of content as a cornucopia of entertainment and learning options. Multimedia training beats “read the instruction manual” nearly every time. I also see merit in the experiential Waldorf model. Certainly speech recognition will drastically reshape our interactions with computers and devices, as digital photography, podcasting, VOIP, Second Life, and YouTube are already transforming how we communicate and interact over distances with each other. But I still believe that in the future mix, the written word will have continued centrality. Symbolic text is by far the most effective means of recording and transmitting complex ideas and information that humans have come up with. Indeed the most powerful aspect of “Publishing 2.0”, in terms of delivering incremental value, may be to give text – liberated from paper – the ability to freely combine with other forms of media and interactivity. The traditional schoolbook may ultimately evolve into an entirely new kind of Illustrated Primer – but I still believe it will have words at its core, and that traditional publishers will have a path from the present to this future that leverages the value of their words, and the continued importance of reading and literacy to an informed and empowered citizenry.

2 Responses to The End of Literacy

  1. Talking Points from William Crossman’s book VIVO [Voice-In/Voice-Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers. (For a more complete list of talking points, see the FAQ section at the end of the book, or view it on his website
    1. Finally, there is a technology—voice-recognition technology—that can erase the “digital divide,” democratize the flow of information worldwide, and create a truly “global conversation.” Access to the world’s storehouse of information is a human right.
    2. Voice-in/voice-out talking computers (VIVOs) will make text/written language obsolete, replace all writing and reading with speech and graphics/video, and recreate an oral culture by 2050. This will be a positive development.
    3. The obituary for text/written language won’t be written; it will be spoken by someone talking to their VIVO in 2050. That is because no one in Year 2050, except some academic specialists, will know or remember how to write or read.
    4. Text is a technology—an ancient technology for storing and retrieving information. We store information by writing it; we retrieve information by reading it. As with all technologies, text will be replaced by a newer technology that does the same job more quickly, efficiently, and universally.
    5. Text/written language isn’t a necessity of life; it’s just a technology. Just as the car replaced the horse and wagon, speech and graphics/video will replace text, and talking computers will replace text-driven computers.
    6. The three great potential opportunities carried by VIVOs:
    * 80% of the world’s people are functionally nonliterate; VIVOs will allow them to access the world’s storehouse of information.
    * VIVO’s instantaneous language–translation function will allow everyone in the world to speak with everyone else, and with any information source, in their own native language. Language barriers will melt away.
    * VIVOs will allow people whose disabilities prevent them from writing and/or reading to access all information by speaking, listening, looking, and/or signing.
    7. The four “engines” driving us into an oral culture by 2050:
    * Humans are genetically, evolutionarily hard-wired to access information by speaking, listening, and using our other senses. We just start speaking or signing at age 1 or 2—we don’t just start writing.
    * We seek to develop information technology that uses our biogenetic hard-wiring: our innate ability to speak. Also, we replace older technology with newer technology that does the same overall job better. These explain why VIVO R&D is surging today.
    * Young people are rejecting text/written language as their technology of choice for accessing information. As they rely more on oral, aural, tactile, and non-text visual information technologies, their IQ’s and visuality are increasing.
    * The 80% of the world’s people who are functionally nonliterate are demanding access to all information without needing to learn to write and read.
    8. VIVOs will drastically change education, business and commerce, international relations, the arts—in short, the ways we do everything.
    9. VIVOs will end the school literacy crisis. By2050, there will be no reason to require young people to learn to read and write, and therefore no reason to require schools to teach it. Instead of the “3 R’s”—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic—K-12 education will be based on the “4 C’s”—critical thinking, creative thinking, compspeak (accessing information using VIVOs), and calculators. Students will learn eight presently-neglected VIVOlutionary skills for accessing information using talking computers.

  2. ashley says:

    I hope the future is that bright for edjucational learning, but I just see the divide getting greater and even countries like America that will have great technology in the future, only the richer schools will have it and not the public schools in poor or middle class nieghborhoods.