We finished discussing Literacy in the New Media Age on the 15th, but I’ve just now had a chance to post about it.
We wrestled, at the meeting, with the question of what Kress’ ideasparticularly the teaching of design/digital rhetoric instead of more traditional kinds of writing assignmentswould get us. I came from the “Of course we should be teaching this stuff” side of things, while another person at the meeting played the “I don’t see what all this gets us” role.
The most interesting objection, for me, was that electrate communication has yet to develop the kind of analytical significance/power that literate argument has. My response was that argument is the literate thingthe electrate is something else, something that plays more on affect. I suggested that the power of news media to determine political candidates was one such use of affect.
To return to Kress, I found chapter 10 particularly enlightening. He says a couple neat things (excerpted here for your convenience):
The notion of competence in use will give way to that of interested design. Competence in use starts with that which exists, shaped in the social history of the group in which the user acts. Hence competence in use is oriented to the past. It is also oriented to allegiance to the conventions of the group. Design, by contrast, starts from the interest and the intent of the designer to act in a specific way in a specific environment, to act with a set of available resources and to act with an understanding of what the task at hand is, in relationship to a specific audience. Design is prospective, future-oriented: in this environment, with these (multiple) resources, and out of my interests now to act newly I will shape a message. (169)
Kress, here, seems quite relevant to the recent discussion on WPA. The argument (mostly between Rice and Gordon), seems to rumble down the same old lines. What Kress brings to this discussion is a reasoned assertion (one of many, of course) about what/why we should change what we do. His use of the term design intrigues me. I like the idea of having students consider design (and have done so) because it seems to be an integral part of electrate rhetoric.
Another point he makes in this chapter again reminds me of things I’ve heard Ulmer say. Kress writes
The new forms of reading by contrast require action on the world: to impose the order of a reading path on that which is to be read, arising out of my interests. Ordering a message entity in the world in this manner is a different form of actionnot contemplative but actional, not inner-directed but directed outwardly”(172).
So how do we teach students to write for these readers? I think one of Rice’s many points on WPA continues to be that students are already this kind of reader. We need to learn to teach writing for these readers.
One final point. As I write this, I’m reminded of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, in which Toffler suggests that as technology speeds up, we have less and less time to deal with it, something that affects us psychologically and bodily. He suggests that, like a tourist who is “culture shocked” when s/he enters a foreign country and can find no familiar cultural hooks on which to hang her/his mental hat, we will all become victims of “future shock,” people living in a world changing so fast that it constantly seems like another world. One answer to Toffler’s proposed problem might be that our students, people raised in an electrate world, might feel the sense of change as inevitable, their culture is one that must work at its pace. As such, their communicative strategies will have to be different.