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.