What the hell?
Postliteracy is basically the idea that there will soon come a time when text and writing will no longer be as dominant as they are now, and we will find other means to communicate.
While the technology of writing has been around for ages, even historically literate societies such as the Chinese only had a small percentage of their population actually literate. Mass literacy is a result of the Gutenberg press and movable type, and subsequent European colonisation.
Why the hell?
Reading and writing are too bloody hard. It takes most people at least 10 years of education to effectively read and write in their first language. Increasingly, 15 years of education is the standard.
Reading and writing are specially too hard for people who belong to pre-literate or recently literate cultures. This is pretty much most of the non-European world. While West, East and South Asian civilisations have had scripts for the longest time, even in these civilisations the ability to read and write was often restricted to a privileged few.
This means that people from these communities are severely disadvantaged with access to information. This is seen in negative health and economic statistics, among others. Examples of this are the comparative well-being of Māori and Pasifika people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Aboriginal peoples in Australia and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India.
A few people think that post-literate ways of communication would be closely related to pre-literate ways of communication. The Pacific islands are full of examples of the use of tattooing, woodwork, speech making, songs and stories as ways to communicate and record culture. So if post-literate strategies are similar to pre-literate strategies, maybe finding what those strategies are will also help communicate import information to people that need it most in the here and now.
Who the hell?
Mostly old white men, I’m sorry. At least they aren’t rich, I don’t think. Not very anyway.
- Marshall McLuhan, 1967, The Gutenberg Galaxy : Talks of the tyranny of the text, and how the electronic age would bring its end.
- Walter J. Ong, 1982, Orality and Literacy: Talks of how orality and literacy are very different cultures, and not variants of each other. Talks of the coming of a ‘secondary orality’ based on electronic technology, that will build on both pre-literate oral cultures as well as literate text based ones.
- Thomas Pettitt and Lars Sauerberg, 2010ish, Gutenberg Parenthesis and The Future is Medieval: Pettitt and Sauerberg see mass literacy as an anomaly that interrupted the development of oral culture, and our current electronic/internet age as a return to that orality.
- James C. Scott, 2009, The Art of Not Being Governed: Anarchist historian James Scott looks at upland South East Asia as a history of resistance to and evasion from Empire. The most controversial and least evidenced chapter deals with the idea of post-literacy as a strategy used by groups…deliberately losing their script to avoid empire.
- Michael Ridley, 2012, Beyond Literacy: Mike looks at a complete abandoning of visual language with improved technology. This is a bit different from Ong’s secondary orality, that would still depend in many ways on literacy.
Why do I care?
My mother belongs to a small tribal group in north east India called the Mizo, based (mostly) in the state of Mizoram. We were litericised and Christianised by Welsh missionaries in the late 1800s. Like everywhere else, this was a complex mix of welfare and destruction. I grew up watching my Mizo cousins wrestle with modern education and literacy, without the cultural underpinnings that highly educated Indians took for granted. Years later my wife and I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, where I see Māori and Pasifika people struggling with similar issues. Something crystallised, and I have been thinking/reading about postliteracy for a little over two years now.
I am currently studying postliteracy in the context of the Pacific, hoping to find strategies that can be used in the here and now to help societies that were recently made literate. I also hope/expect to specifically study the maker movement as a postliterate strategy, and as a way to engage and communicate with people from oral cultures. Maybe the whole thing is a pipe dream, but it is a good dream if it helps improve the world experience of people from recently literate cultures. We have rich oral cultures, but have been tricked and forced into believing that our cultures are inferior to literate ones. No more.
When not studying, I am a librarian with Auckland Libraries. Yeah, ironic, I know. Reachable on twitter @feddabonn, where I rant and swear a lot.
So following on from the last two posts (YA and Dystopias, YA and Technology), this post is about the human essence and how it’s “under threat” from technology (leading to possible dystopia), but also how that whole idea of ‘human nature’ is problematic anyway in posthuman studies.
“Nature itself, and in particular human nature, has a special role in defining for us what is right and wrong, just and unjust, important and unimportant.”
So the human essence argument goes back to ancient Greece (probably further), but the current mode of thinking in the West is of the Liberal Humanist Self. It is, as I understand it, individualism, a common human nature and human rationality as a superior characteristic. This has it’s problems, it assumes universality, its mostly ahistorical, and positions humans at the top of the living things pyramid. Some use human nature to justify innate morals, values, behaviour – sometimes because of a god, sometimes separate from one.
Technology threatens the human essence, for some like Habermas and Fukuyama, by changing the very nature (genetics) of humanity. Fukuyama criticises drugs that regulate how we feel and our personalities, stem cell research that can lead to massive life expectancy (even as many countries birth rates are in free fall), and the future of selective genetics (for the wealthy, at least). These technologies, he argues, will also affect liberal democracy and politics itself. In one section where he questions whether there is a gene to determine sexuality, he asks if there was a pill to make a baby heterosexual, who would take it? He supposes that many people would, even those who today support GLBTIQ rights, just as they would for removing a trait for baldness or shortness.
What it means to be human finally is not so much about intelligent machines as it is about how to create just societies in a transnational global world that may include in its purview both carbon and silicon citizens.
What is human, what is defined as human, and what it means to be human are all concepts at the mercy of space and time. As with everything else in our world, what something means is not consistent over different cultures and different eras. It separates us even from the very cultures, by assuming that humans are unique and unchangeable. As much as I’m barely beginning to tread into the waters of Foucault, his arguments make more sense to me that people are not free from social forces and institutions*. Foucault’s subject is not natural, but is a product of time and space.
Feminist theorists also criticise this understanding of the ‘self’ for constructing a universal subject that is white, European and male, and thus suppresses and oppresses anyone who is ‘Other’. We know the injustices of the past (and those continuing in the present) when blacks were considered lesser beings, and women not considered smart enough for the vote. The Indigenous people of Australia were even classified under the Flora and Fauna Act (GRR!)! What is human, what is moral, what is valued, is socially constructed. We are not totally controlled by society, obviously, but we do not have an innate or unchangeable nature.
There is the fear, in life and in fiction, that technological progression will lead to to loss of human nature/essence/self. For some, the posthuman is already here. The posthuman is creative evolution at work. The boundaries of what is human itself, separate from animals and machines, is (and some might argue, has for a long time) crumbling. These borders are breached by hybrid creatures – cyborgs. Haraway is credited with shifting the debate from the inhuman and ‘bad’ technologies, to a more positive view. We are shaped and changed by our relationship with technology, and it’s not entirely for the negative. The cyborg disrupts the “natural order”, which has only worked before to make exclusions of who is capable, intelligent, or human.
So this mini-series of blog posts is what I’m working on at the moment. Analysing narrative strategies and subjectivity of Young Adult novels, as they are perpetuating a Liberal Humanist Self, at threat from technology, and then critique the problems that come with that. It’s not really procrastinating from actually writing it, if I’m blogging my research, right?
* as a side anecdote: one of my friends in the US and I can’t see eye-to-eye on gun rights or mandatory voting. In my part of the world, guns are rare and mandatory voting is the responsibility and duty of every citizen. His country has a very different history on both topics.
- Habermas, Jurgen. The Future of Human Nature. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2003. Print.
- Fukuyama, Francis. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. London: Profile books. 2003.
- Haraway, Donna. Simians , Cyborgs , and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.
- Hayles, N Katherine. How We Became Posthuman. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1999.
- Onishi, Bradley B. “Information, Bodies, and Heidegger: Tracing Visions of the Posthuman.” Sophia 50.1 (2010): 101–112.
- Gane, N. “Posthuman.” Theory, Culture & Society 23.2-3 (2006): 431–434. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
Following on from my previous post, technology in YA is a bit weird to me.
The fear of technology is definitely not new in science fiction or Western culture. Look at the Matrix, look at Terminator, look at all the billions of books that I couldn’t possibly name them all. Technology is scary! It will rise up against us, or cause our destruction in some way (some zombies are caused because of bio-chemical weapons, testing of new plagues or even for cures). Technology seems to be a pretty persistent social anxiety in modern times, that it will irrevocably change our society and our very nature in some way, Technology is a threat to humanness.
Technology has a great lot to offer us, but in science fiction there’s a decidedly sinister undercurrent. In Technophobia, Dinello demonstrates how science fiction shows technology as subverting human values, changing human behaviour, and doesn’t provide us with the utopia as it promises, “we end up oppressed by our own inventions”. I really enjoyed The End Specialist by Drew Magary, a world where there is a cure for old-age, disease, and most types of deaths. Great huh? Immortality! But then as it gets used and legalised, the real societal and personal problems emerge. No matter how benign the technology may seem at first, it has long reaching consequences that will make us all suffer eventually.
So where I don’t get it is that the recent generations are growing up in a world of ever-increasing technological advancement, a world of wonders with a tablet and smartphone in the hands of every toddler (yes, I’m super-generalising here), and yet there is this imposing of the view that technology is a negative thing into fiction for them. I’m not the first to find it odd, Noga Applebaum has already written a book on this (which I purchased a few days ago and am eagerly awaiting). She states that “young readers, internalising this technophobic message, are in danger of learning to fear the future”. Ball calls YA scifi a socially conservative genre, as it clings to these older traditions that are not the lived experience of the intended readership. These negative attitudes are not so dominant in adult science fiction, so why here? Why now? Why does society produce an overall negative perception of technology for young adult readers?
We think of technology as changing and taking away from human ‘essence’. We cling to these historical perceptions of what is human, without considering that the human essence, and even what it means to be human, is itself a product of cultural context. This firmly sets humans at the top of the hierarchy, but it also assumes universality and denies the ‘Other’, making a certain type of person as the ‘default’ model of human, and thus privileged.
This is what I’ll explore into next, the argument about the future of humanity and posthumanity from both sides.
- Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.
- Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge, 2010.
- Mendlesohn, Farah. The Intergalactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009.
- Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2007. Print.
- Fletcher, David-jack. “Recalibrating the ‘ Human ’.” Neo 5 (2012)
- Dinello, Daniel. Technophobia: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2005. Print.
I’m currently working on a few assignments and thought, hey, why not just write up some thoughts here on it for easy access.
One of my projects this semester is YA science fiction, and the depictions of technology in those texts, and how the texts perpetuate the liberal humanist self and why that’s problematic. I’m trying to work it into one cohesive idea and a real question. This will be looked at mostly with Feed by M T Anderson and Uglies (book 1) by Scott Westerfeld (great books! Go buy them from your local indie store).
Firstly, I need a reason as to why I was choosing these books in particular:
- Both texts establish the technological world and future dystopian society as completely ordinary. For the narrators, there are no memories of how society or humanity used to be.
- The dominant institutions do not offer ways in which to resist. To be without this technology is equivalent to not existing. Rejecting the mainstream is not just alienating, but dangerous.
- The main characters are faced with the challenge of freeing themselves from a repressive system and thus isolating themselves from the majority, or to continue in a world in which they know to be a mere illusion.
Of course, after my proposal, I read Braithwaite’s article, which examines the narrative functions of post-disaster fiction, and defines three main sub-genres (of which a text can have one or combine all three styles). The texts I’m looking at are very much social order texts. As with my above criteria, the narrator has no personal experience of pre-disaster life. The perceived disaster is brought about by attempts at improving life, and the struggle is against restrictive and controlling societies.
One of the things I love about these books is how the world to Titus and Tally in the beginning isn’t dystopian at all. There’s a whole technological paradise awaiting them. The thing that marks these stories as disaster is how the technology has transformed and undermined humanity, from our perspective. Their past is our present, and our present is stupid, wasteful and limited to their present. In Uglies, you have the decaying Rusty Ruins: “On school trips, the teachers always made the Rusties out to be so stupid. You almost couldn’t believe people lived like this, burning trees to clear land, burning oil for heat and power, setting the atmosphere on fire with their weapons”. In Feed, you have the character of Violet’s dad who still holds to proper English and ‘old’ languages, unlike Titus and his friends (think about the outrage of internet speak, or whatever you want to call it, where it’s all ‘totes’ and ‘adorbs’ and ‘OMG’). One of the more startling points for me was when Titus is describing School (TM) as to how it didn’t teach anything before, but now it’s run by corporations which is “pretty brag”.
In these social order texts, the power structures of the dystopian society are called into question by the narrator (and/or friends). The idea of the young adult rebelling against authority isn’t unique to this subgenre of course, although it might be more extreme in these situations. The young adult, of course, is the hero, a hope for societal wide change. The thing that strikes me as weird is that technology itself is almost an enemy, particularly in Feed. Again, nothing new in science fiction (or horror!), but it’s strange that, for books aiming at an audience of ‘digital natives’, technology is demonised. This is what I will explore further in the next blog, and then after that I’ll bring it all together with a post on posthumanity.
- Braithwaite, Elizabeth. “Post-disaster Fiction for Young Adults : Some Trends and Variations.” Papers 20.1 (2010): 5–19. Print.
- Kennon, Patricia. “‘ Belonging ’ in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction : New Communities Created by Children.” Papers 15:2 (2005) 40-49. Print.
- Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.
So the past few weeks I’ve been working on one of my final essays for this semester. The course was Charisma, Fame and Celebrity and I chose to look at how the role of the leader in politics has changed due to the rise of televised media. I was going to look at polling and Twitter/blogs of amateur journalists, but couldn’t fit it in ><.
So first up, what charisma is isn’t very clearly defined. It’s more a case of you have it or you don’t have it, but there seems to be very little doubt (particularly in journalism) that is does in fact exist. Most of the modern work on charisma is based on Max Weber (although charisma was first a Greek word, which was then widely used in Christianity until quite recently when the meaning became more secular). Weber predicted the fall of the charismatic leader due to the ‘bureaucratic political party machines’ (although, clearly has not made it impossible, just very difficult for a charismatic leader to rise above). They usually arise in times of crisis, and can better survive poor performance or avert blame during such times.
In Australia, there appears to be a growing ‘personalisation of politics’ – also referred to as ‘presidentialisation of politics’ – where we single out a leader as the One whom all policies and ideas come from, rather than a whole party or cabinet voting on them (I saw more studies for this than against it, though both exist). In America this might not seem such a big deal, but in Australia it is the parties themselves who decide on a leader. They might choose a new leader because the old one has been ineffective (either in policy-making or failure to win government) for so long, doesn’t represent the party’s ideals, has received poor polling, things like that. While looking at some stats, it seems like leaders have a shorter life span than they used to – but I didn’t look at this in much detail and didn’t have the word count to go into it in any meaningful way.
The blame for less charismatic leaders is squarely put on televised media – although the politicians are complicit in this process as well. Joshua Meyrowitz has a great chapter in his book No Sense of Place on the history of American Presidents and how before tv, any ‘ugliness’, disability or health issue, and presidential scandals were able to be confined from the public. The way they manipulated – or perhaps, worked with – the media to establish a certain image was much more in their control. But no longer! Now we pretty much all have tvs, access to 24 hour news, and news can spread wide and very fast. It seemed to be that the appearance of a charismatic leader partly relied on the distance between the leader and the people, which is now almost impossible as the media will endlessly go on about a leaders personal life, their hair colour, their shoes etc. There also seems to be evidence that politicians have gone along with the media to try and get the attention they need (after all, you can’t vote for someone if you don’t know they exist!).
Barrack Obama is generally considered to be an exception to this, particularly in his first election. Remember how damn excited everyone was?! Although it was quite a bit lesser, people were like that for Kevin Rudd before he got in. While Tony Abbott has been called a ‘charmer’, neither he nor Julia Gillard are gifted with charisma. Part of being charismatic depends on being recognised by followers that one IS charismatic.
In Tanner’s Sideshow, he says “a short-term focus, extreme risk aversion, and minor announcements are all symptoms of the permanent campaign” (111), and I think we’re getting that quite clearly in Australia at the moment.
And now for the fun bit, a video by the Chaser boys from their series The Hamster Wheel. Enjoy! XD
- Julia 2010: The Caretaker Election. Ed. Marian Simms & John Wanna. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2012.
- Ginsborg, Paul. Democracy: Crisis and Renewal. London: Profile Books. 2008. Print.
- Farnsworth, Stephen J & Lichter, S Robert. The Mediated Presidency: Television News and Presidential Governance. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2006. Print.
- McAllister, Ian. The Australian Vote: 50 Years of Change. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing. 2011.
- McKew, Maxine. Tales from the Political Trenches. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. 2012.
- Megalogenis, George. Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era. Collingwood: Black Inc. 2010.
- Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1986.
- Potts, John. A History of Charisma. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. 2009.
- Tanner, Lindsay. Sideshow: dumbing down democracy. Melbourne: Scribe. 2011.
The aim for this Kickstarter is to create a curriculum for the JFK Middle School that combines video games and learning. The learning aspect will include essays, reviews, and creative writing.
I don’t have the words to say how incredible this looks! I want it for myself <.< But I’m all grown up (and looking into games at university level). I grew up on Word Rescue, Maths Rescue, Treasure Mountain – all educational DOS games. Actually, I just downloaded them recently onto my tablet (DOSBOX FTW) and started playing them again, just for fun.
There are always reports floating about of schools removing creative practice or classic texts for “functional” works. I hate the idea of the school as a factory, or the point of school to create mindless worker drones. This kickstarter, I hope, is just the beginning of a fascinating exploration of learning. Learning is about the funnest thing I can think of (I can also make up words, if I want to …) and one of the best things is to give others the opportunity to learn!
(The below video is an example of learning through video games, not the actual kickstarter)