By Alex Jordan
An overall decline in adolescent and even adult literacy rates has baffled researches for years now. Even graduates of universities are adding to the declining trend—but why? These people are still able to function in society and are obviously well-educated in a system that has worked for years. There must be an answer for why this formerly effective system of learning is no longer effective.
The answer is simple: literacy is not declining; it is simply evolving. Mark S. Schneider, a commissioner for education statistics, says that, students of this generation “who learned to read on the computer and who watch more TV” practice “a different kind of literacy.” Researchers have to adjust accordingly to study this new evolved form of literacy, but if it is not exactly ‘literacy,’ then what is it?
This new form of literacy has been christened as ‘electracy’ by George Ulmer, a self-proclaimed expert and creator of the word itself. Ulmer describes electracy as an apparatus, a word he admittedly borrowed from media studies to “name the matrix of a language machine, partly social and partly technological, that operates in a given epoch (or time period).” Ulmer emphasizes that an apparatus is not only technology, but a set of practices and institutions developed alongside to work in tandem with that technology.
C. S. Farah and T. Maybury, researchers at the University of Queensland, describe electracy as a migration from current concepts of literacy, calling electracy the evolutionary successor of now obsolete learning methodologies. In their words, the current (and now passing) textual and visual method of conveying information is moving from the “print-literate tradition to the electronic one,” meaning that a shift in the “material base of learning and teaching” is changing from an “analogue, print based tradition to a digital artefact, sometimes even to a virtual reality experience as a pedagogical maneuver.”
So, we know what electracy is, but what does it mean to be ‘electrate?’ It simply means to be able to use these digital equivalents of traditionally analogue informative media. These can take the forms of blogs, e-books, social networking sites, cinema, and advertising. To be electrate means to be immersed and well-versed in the way of the internet, and use it not only as a tool to exploring information, but as an institution. As Ulmer puts it, a school is to literacy as the internet is to electracy, and is therefore essential to the whole concept of being electrate.
Overall, electracy is an evolution of literacy, and to be electrate is to have knowledge of and ability to realize the complete functionality of electronic and interactive media. Ulmer visualizes a Utopian society wherein all citizens are electrate, and take full advantage of this more social, creative, and ecological form of information sharing.
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Farah, C. S., and T. Maybury. “Implementing Digital Technology to Enhance Student Learning of Pathology.” (2009).
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