Fluid Definitions of Identity and Literacy

There seems to be a divide in the approach to New Media in “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” (BLIA) and “Introducing Identity” (II). Both approach the idea of identity fluidity as it relates to literacy in New Media within classrooms, though II provides us with a cautionary message – that the “exaggerated romanticism” of New Media in the classroom is something to be aware of. Bundled with this is II’s observation that, for most students, the everyday uses of technology usually are in mundane communications and basic information retrieval. BLIA does note issues surrounding New Media, but the overall attitude seems to me to be more hopeful for New Media in the classroom. It seems to embrace the social qualities that New Media brings – even if they note that literacies of any type are not fixed. This begs the question for me: how do we include New Media in classrooms in ways that are not gimmicky, and even push students to interact with New Media more intellectually outside of the classroom than they otherwise would?

I personally appreciated that both readings keyed into the constantly changing nature of digital world controlled by literacy and identity navigation through digital environments. Both note access and outside influences shape and are shaped by users of New Media. In many ways, the image they paint makes New Media in classrooms seem daunting – how can we academics situate ourselves in world swirling with commercial interests and socially transmitted literacy values and practices? But in my mind, it is worthwhile to try. Instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities New Media brings, I would propose that as scholars and teachers, we target New Media technologies that are effective in learning and literacy practice – and then concentrate our definitions, efforts, understandings, and pedagogies around those particular platforms (and equivalent platforms). BLIA points out that literacies have lifespans; our pedagogy may need to shift in answer to that, but like reading and writing approaches that cross genres, I think we can develop strategies that allow us access into new and emerging New Media.

The fluidity issues above make me think of my reading from last week, Chapter 9 of A New Literacies Sampler. In that chapter, authors Lankshear and Knobel define “memes” as audio bytes, video clips, jingles, images, small pieces of text, and other small snippits from popular technology.


In my last post, I noted that the most common definition of memes in current, everyday life refers to pictures with snippy words overlaid on them. They have rules and structure. I can’t speak to that time – perhaps Lankshear and Knobel presented a definition of meme current to them – but I can say that moving forward in New Media scholarship might mean abandoning articles, or large pieces of articles, that have become outdated. This is scary for scholars. As discussed in class, we often perceive academic writings as more timeless and lasting. But again, I want to reiterate BLIA’s point that literacies have lifespans. If we are to make substantial strides in teaching with New Media, we should of course strive for lasting definitions and pedagogies, but I believe we need to be aware that our words may eventually be buried in the changing New Media landscape. II looks at identity as slippery, and states that, especially within technological platforms, identity becomes more fragmented, more uncertain, and more highly contextualized. I think that this definition of identity needs to push past an examination of students, but also recognize that “scholarship identity” is just as slippery, and will continue to be more so. I don’t know if scholars are willing to “let go” of dated scholarship, but I feel that as academics, we need to do more than acknowledge changes in New Media, and instead allow ourselves to shape and be shaped by them, even if that means letting our work have shorter lifespans.


2 comments on “Fluid Definitions of Identity and Literacy

  1. Yes, Zach, I agree. New Media and technology are always changing, evolving — but we are as well! we can adapt. We can discern what trends work for us in the classroom at a given moment, we can discern what technologies are more than trends (like computers, the internet, etc). I am one of those teachers who felt “daunted” by all this new tech and how to use it fruitfully in the classroom. But, thanks to the readings in part (and to your post), I feel I can relax. I don’t have to use the latest technologies all the time. I can choose one or two or a few tech things to use. I can’t remember which article it was, but someone said something about Using technology “rhetorically” – often times using a device for a purpose it may not have been intended in the first place. This makes perfect sense; if we are teaching students to learn to read and write rhetorically, why should the rhetoric exclude technology?! It should include it, I think. But here’s the beautiful thing: it’s up to the teacher – will be powerpoint, blog or wiki?

  2. I had a tough time with the definition that they presented of memes. You mentioned in your post that “Lankshear and Knobel define ‘memes’ as audio bytes, video clips, jingles, images, small pieces of text, and other small snippits from popular technology.” However, I have only seen “memes” in the form of a static image with optional accompanying text. Perhaps the definition was different for them during that time. In addition, I would define a meme as some sort of glorified global-wide running-joke. Perhaps an inside-joke that only a portion of people would “get” if they happened to know the image/text context. A meme reader would have to know certain meme origins or references to popular culture to fully understand the meme’s purpose or humor.

    I think a meme is most successful when you can hear the text in your head without it actually being on the image. For example, if I look at a certain “Rage” meme, I might see one of the images and automatically implant the text – “fffffffffuuuuuuuuuu” or “mother of god” – that commonly occupies that image’s space. Once a meme is used over and over again, with the same text on the same image, the text portion becomes unnecessary, because at that point we know what the meaning or message is just by seeing the visual.

    I’m now thinking of a meme as an abbreviation or some sort of short-hand for a message, haha. For example, if I got a text message that just says, “omw ttys,” I know it’s an abbreviation for “on my way, talk to you soon.” Similarly, if I see just a text-less meme, I know that it is representing a larger global message or text – I say “global” here because each meme has it’s own text unique to it’s image…there’s really only one way to read most of these.

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