Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 11



by Nancy Kaplan

E-literacies: the knowledge and skill required to make marks in an electronic age with electronic devices. Such knowledge and skill generally includes alphabetic literacies as well as at least a rudimentary grasp of a computer's interface (what Cynthia Selfe terms "screen literacy") and some specialized knowledge for issuing computer-readable commands to save a document, print it, send it out over a network and the like.

Electronic literacy also means possessing the knowledge and skills to make sense of the marks one encounters in the world -- to decode them and also to render them meaningful and purposeful. An iconic and direct manipulation interface, for example, requires its user to understand its symbol system and to be able to predict reliably the consequences of certain actions the user might need to make -- how to scroll, for example, to bring additional text into view. Writing (making marks) precedes reading, as it did when the first human first wrote, then read, and finally saw that it was good.

Two distinct kinds of electronic literacy need to be acknowledged: one kind entails making a mark -- being able to record language or pictures or whatever in some form or other, to store and to retrieve the records, perhaps even to combine these records in meaningful ways; the other entails making one's mark -- in print's terms, being published, authorized to speak on a given subject. What the electronic equivalent may be remains to be seen but it will any case be largely contingent on what I am calling "other cultural formations."

There is a pun here too, on elites, what we might think of as literacy elites: those who now have and will struggle to maintain the power to structure the ideological zones within which it is possible to make and replicate and disseminate meanings. It seems likely that those shaping operating systems, word processing programs, networking protocols, interfaces for all of the above, and all the other tools and techniques of electronic literacy may have an edge in the race to become electronic literacy elites. And those who have helped shape and safeguard traditional or print literacies may have a good deal to lose. But more of this anon.

Here are some other key terms I use in this argument:

Politexts and Politics
Other Cultural Formations

And in case you're wondering what you've stumbled into, here's a brief statement of the argument.

This page is part of the article, "E-literacies: Politexts, Hypertexts and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print."

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