“One should not follow in the footsteps of the masters, but seek what they sought.” – Basho
Which according to George Ulmer means, “My responsibility as a research humanist is not simply to pass along a tradition, but to help do for my society what the founders of my discipline did for theirs.” And this is the purpose of electracy and being electrate. But what exactly is electracy? According to Ulmer it is the “apparatus of the emerging digital epoch” with the “transition from literacy to electracy”. However, what is this “digital epoch” and why did electracy emerged from it?
This digital epoch is what’s currently happening in the world around us, it is the “digital interactive networked technologies” (Ulmer), which are constantly being developed and invented in today’s world. And with new technologies a new understanding or apparatus needs to be developed, which is why the term electracy was created. The term electracy was made in order “to disguise the emerging apparatus from the established one” (Ulmer). The current established apparatus is literacy, which had replaced the previous apparatus orality. It is the transition from orality to literacy that is often used as an analogy for the shift from literacy to electracy.
Ulmer uses the analogy from Ancient Greece about the emergence from literacy from orality along with grammatology, the history and theory of writing.
“When the Greeks invented alphabetic writing they were engaged in a civilizational shift from one apparatus to another (from orality to literacy). They invented not only alphabetic writing but also a new institution (School) within which the practices of writing were devised.”
In order to deal with shift from orality to literacy due to the invention of the alphabetic technology, a new understanding was need to be invented along with an institution to learn this new way of thinking. However, literacy wasn’t invented to replace orality, but was “designed to help individuals turn information into knowledge, to think within this enormous amount of data” (Ulmer).
But as Ulmer explains, “Eventually, as may be witnessed in our own time, this literate practice resulted in an information overload that revealed the limits of our apparatus”. So similarly electracy is “being invented, not to replace religion and science (orality and literacy), but to supplement them with a third dimension of thought, practice, and identity” (Ulmer). Because of all the new technologies that are being invented in this day and age, we are beginning to reach an information overload. So in order to coop with this we are developing a new apparatus, which Ulmer has called electracy.
For that reason, these apparatuses are created to allow us to become “capable, comfortable and familiar” (Susan Gorbet) with new technologies and understandings. It allows us to become “capable”, which allows us to gain knowledge from these technologies. Let’s take literacy for example, are you able you able to read to a book and understand it? If so, you are able to gain knowledge from this technology and are “capable”. To be “comfortable” means that you are able to produce knowledge, such as being able to reiterate the knowledge you gained from reading a book. Finally to be “familiar” means to have a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the technology by becoming “familiar” with how other people are using the technology. For instance, realising what books other people are reading.
Therefore, electracy is the apparatus that is emerging from our need to understand and become capable, comfortable and familiar with the new technologies that are being invented in this generation, which literacy is unable to unable to comprehend. But what exactly does it mean to become electrate? According to Ulmer,
“we are inventing electracy. Electracy does not already exist as such, but names an apparatus that is emerging ‘as we speak’, rising in many different spheres and areas, and converging in some unforeseeable yet malleable way”.
Therefore, even though we know that we need the new apparatus that is forming, we do not yet know what it truly is. Hence, being electrate is up for us to decide since it is still being invented.
By going back to Basho’s quote in the beginning, “One should not follow in the footsteps of the masters, but seek what they sough”, we can see what George Ulmer means
“In the same way that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle did not ask how writing might serve the needs of the institutions of orality – religion, ritual, magic – but instead invented a new institution – school – and new practices native to writing (method, dialogue), it is my responsibility (the responsibility of my discipline) to find an equivalent for electracy. The goal is not to adapt digital technology to literacy (anyway, that is happening as a matter of course), but to discover and create institution and its practices capable of supporting the full potential of the new technology”.
Thus we must not try to fit to our current digital technologies into literacy, which was created by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; but to create a new apparatus like these philosopher’s did in order to fit our own needs and drastically change our world and thought processes.
- Ulmer, Gregory. Internet Invention: from literacy to electracy. New York: Pearson education, Inc., 2003
- Rice, Jeff and Marcel O’Gorman. New Media / New Methods: the academic turn from literacy to electacy. West Lafayette: parlor Press, 2008
- Susan Gorbet