Electracy is a reference to the information age and our growing requirement to be competent in this environment. From the 1980s onwards we see what seems to be an exponential leap in information technologies. The way we communicate has changed. We’re experiencing what might be akin to the revolution of the printing press, but on a far grander scale. Digital forms of media have saturated our life. It would not be hard to argue that digital media has become as important as if not more important than print in modern day communication.
“ Electracy is to digital media what literacy is to print.” – Ulmer Gregory
It’s very important to draw focus on this parallel. Literacy is extremely important. Students in Ontario can not graduate from high school unless they pass a literacy test. Literacy represents your ability to understand and communicate with the rest of society. To be depraved of literacy is to be socially crippled. Imagine not being able to read or write: this would make existing in our world rather difficult. Without literacy higher education is not an option; opportunities for decent jobs become scarce; even basic tasks like cooking become difficult because one can not follow instructions unless explicitly instructed by someone else. Literacy represents the ability to be independent, it is a defence against those who would take advantage of you and it is simply crucial in the sharing of information. If we have been living for the past 6 centuries in a world dominated by print, what does it mean to us when that dominant method of communication changes?
Electric literacy, digital literacy, information literacy: all these terms in essence represent the same notions that literacy do, the only difference is the medium has changed. If one is not fluent with digital media that is to say they are disadvantaged and limited in a world dominated by such an environment.
I conducted a small experiment with two family members to illustrate this point. The participants include my sister and my grandmother. The goal was to have them both send me an email. My sister who is younger than me grew up just around the time the information age was starting to take off. My grandmother in comparison had immigrated to Canada from Guyana, a small country in South America and had all her life been immersed in print. The experiment proceeded as follows:
My sister sat down at the computer and simply sent me an email. She said to me with a bored look on her face, “I’m done. Why did I have to do this again?”
My grandmother on the other hand does not have a computer. She had a vague idea of what email was. Our conversation goes as follows:
Jonathan – “Hi Granny I’m doing an assignment for school I was hoping you could help out.”
Grandmother – “Oh sure. How do I help?”
Jonathan – ”Well I need you to send me an email”
Grandmother – “Is that the thing you do with the computers?”
I had to explain to my grandmother what email was. Not only does she not have a computer, she does not have an email address. Just moving the mouse along the screen was a difficult task for her. These ideas were foreign to my Grandmother. The concept of electric mail was absurd to her. However email has become a rather common and universally understood term in our society. It’s interesting to note that those raised in this new “information age” automatically have the skills and knowledge required to survive in this new environment and those who were born before it need to adapt. While taken slightly out of context there are a series of commercials by Microsoft advocating their products as “so easy a child can do it.”
In the video above a four year old girl named Kylie proceeds to do basic tasks on a laptop. Microsoft has tried to compel those who might not have much knowledge of digital media into learning how to use computers by showing them anyone can do it.
I argue that electracy and literacy may compete in certain areas but one will never truly leave the other obsolete. That being said there is still a shift towards electracy. This map represents the countries that have literacy rates of 97% or greater in blue. Most of these countries we recognize as first world nations, leaders in commerce, and possessors of a high quality of life. I believe in the future that electrate education will play a heavy role in our socio-economic statuses as well as forming our own culture and identity.
Grandmother – Lynnette
Sister – Chiya
Printing Press, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press>
Information Age, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_age>
Microsoft, The Rookies: Kylie, Age 4 ½, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rhre2C4THT4>
Ichwan Palongengi, World Literacy Map, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World_Literacy_Map_UNHD_07-08.svg>
Richard MacManus, Electracy Comes From Other Planets, <http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/electracy_comes.php>
Lila Pine, What is Electracy?, <https://mpm17fall2009friday.wordpress.com/>
Jackie Marsh, Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood, Routledge Falmer, 2004