Merriam-Webster defines literacy as the ability to read and write. The term may also refer to familiarity with literature and to a basic level of education obtained through the written word(Merriam-Webster, 2012). Most people have absolutely no idea what it means to be literate; what tribulations had to be endured in order for reading and writing to be extended to common individuals. Literacy was hoarded by priests, monks, and scholars during the Dark ages. It wasn’t until the invention of the Gutenberg press that written words were widely disseminated, ushering in the Reconnaissance Age. Two thousand years ago, a scholar would’ve been someone who could repeat history using the spoken word. So many transformations have taken place that the term literacy has followed suit. To read and write now encompasses the ability to operate a PC or Mac, use a word processor, and conduct internet searches. My past involves typical literacy education; pencils, pens, paper, chalkboards, etc. But it has crossed over into a newer technical form. My literacy journey started like any other American child born in 1983.
I began by seeing and hearing the English language used around me. We all learn some form of communication literacy prior to formal schooling. However, school is where the journey really begins, and mine all started inside the illustrious Missouri public school system. In pre-school and kindergarten, I learned words using flash cards and a chalkboard. The teacher would send me home with new words every week to learn. Not only did I have to know the word, I had to know how to use it appropriately by the end of the week. Early on, I was taught spelling, pronunciation, and how to read/write the English language. At that time, the most effective technology for school was the overhead projector; every classroom had one. Moreover, let’s not forget about the trusty chalkboard. My school utilized those as well. I often wonder if my literacy would be higher today if information technology had come around just ten years earlier. My elementary school did have some computers. We had the old IBM “green screens.” At that time, word processing hadn’t been released so about the only thing they were good for was Oregon Trail. I didn’t know it then, but those dinosaur computers we used would be the building blocks for education and learning all around the world in a very short time.
As a young person I conducted the majority of my research with encyclopedias. My school just loved essays and the only way to do the research from home was with the help of a trusty old encyclopedia. Currently, the use of encyclopedias is all but prohibited. It’s not that research couldn’t be done with an encyclopedia; however, the work isn’t citable. Encyclopedias are no longer credible sources of information. That seems a little daunting considering the majority of all the research I did was with encyclopedias. In fact, I still own a set. It is no longer current, but that doesn’t mean the information is wrong. Ironically, almost the only source which is considered substantial is the internet.
In eighth grade, my school required me to take a typing course. I learned proper typing technique; they even nursed me to 40 words per minute. At the time, I did not understand why I was learning such a remedial task as typing. Why would I? We still had plenty of pencils and paper; I had no clue we were going to enter into an age of technology. Looking back, I should have taken that class more seriously; hindsight is 20/20 I guess. I spent the majority of that class looking for ways to get onto the internet. The only thing I could accomplish was to gain access to a word processing game.
Once in high school, the only advancement in learning technology was the change from chalkboards to Whiteboards. We still used the overhead projectors, though. My high school did have more computers but they were all located in the library and you had to pay to use them. It is safe to say that the entirety of my adolescent education was achieved without the use of technology. I learned to read using hard-copy books, and I learned to write using the No. 2 pencil and paper. One of the main grading points then was penmanship. I used to lose points constantly because I had a hard time not smearing my work due to the fact that I’m left handed. And all those skills I worked so hard to perfect as a child have faded with time since virtually everything I write is digital.
The majority of writing I do currently is for work. I have to write my subordinates’ performance reports and awards packages; professional communication to other organizations; and the occasional Air Force Instruction. I will admit that I’m spoiled; if I write manually for too long my hand will start to cramp. Like when I write short stories for my children. Due to my child-at- heart syndrome and descriptive nature, I find it easy to write short stories for my children. When I do, I just sit for awhile and can knock out two or three in an evening. I don’t really do very much writing as it wasn’t something that was stressed to me as a child. I write when I have to and that’s it. I would argue that reading has not changed as much as writing with the advancement of technology. I remember the days when everyone had a library card, and used it. Now all you have to do is a web search for the information you need and your browser downloads it in a matter of seconds. I’ve never been much of a reader.
Usually if I’m reading it’s the Sunday newspaper, a music magazine, or an AFI. To be quite honest, the first time I’ve ever been able to get into a fictional story was when I read An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. I could not put that story down; and that would be a first for me. I’ve never been one to read “literature.” When I saw that assignment in Module 1 I thought to myself, “Great, another Canterbury Tales.” Usually when I read fiction, it’s because it is part of an assignment. I find myself having to read the stories two and three times to gain a basic understanding of what it is about. For years I thought I needed help with reading comprehension. I used the “kinesthetic learner” excuse; but that’s not it at all.
Since I joined the military in 2001 I’ve had to read all sorts of publications. There are literally thousands of AFIs out there and many of them apply to me. Of course I cannot stay focused when I’m reading the responsibilities of the President of the United States, but if I’m reading something that directly affects me I can go all day. All I need is to be remotely interested. I honestly could not care less what kind of day William Shakespeare was having when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. Those things have no appeal to me. I do see the value of analyzing a piece of literature for educational purposes. But honestly, it’s not going to make me a better Nuclear Weapons technician or military member. Admittedly though, I read Bierce’s piece at least seven times before I’d finally had enough. So maybe my age and level of maturity has something to do with it.
I can think of no more tedious task than filling out envelopes for paying bills. I’m sure a sailor confined to peeling potatoes would call me a
complainer but I can’t relate. In my classes I have a maximum of seven students at a time. I always ask them if they know how to address an envelope and I at least five of the seven do not. I know the United Stated Postal System is a valid means of communication. However, I have a hard time seeing how digital communication has overshadowed mail to the point where schools would stop teaching students how to use it. The advancements in telephone systems and e-mail are effectively removing the need for the USPS.
Even the telephone network is beginning to be phased out. With the advancements in cellular phones, video chat, texting, and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), i.e. Vonage, the LAN line technology is all but necessary. The only demands that really exist for LAN line telephones are individuals who get no cell reception and businesses. Many businesses are even resorting to VOIP. Utilizing a phone service which works through the internet is cheaper than phone lines. My LAN line costs me over $60.00/month. If I received great cell reception at my residence I wouldn’t have one. In ten years, when cell towers are able to cover every last inch of the U.S., residencies will no longer have a need for LAN lines.
Growing up in a small town in Missouri, everyone had their trusty rotary dial phones. If your family was well off, you had more than one in your house. If not, your dad put a really long cord on it so you could walk to any room in the house. Where I’m from no one really had a need for touch tone phones because you only had to dial the last four digits of the phone number; everyone’s prefix was the same so the phone company made it where we only had to dial the last four, like an extension. I didn’t see a touch tone telephone until my father got remarried and we moved into his wife’s house. She had a touch tone phone in the kitchen and a rotary dial in every other room in the house. Cellular phones started to get large in the mid 90’s but they really blew up in around 2007 when smart phones started coming out. I came back from four years in Europe and was culture shocked to find that you couldn’t have a face to face conversation with someone without them getting their phone out to text someone. I’ll bet Samuel F.B. Morse didn’t see that coming when he turned down Alexander Graham Bell’s offer to sell him the patent to the telephone(Baron, 2010). He’d be rolling in his grave right now if he knew what he missed.
I have experienced literacy in many different forms, some more than others. Additionally I tend to prefer certain forms of literacy over others. I have not, however, been exposed to the oldest, most archaic forms of literacy. Pencils, pens, paper, typewriters, and word processors all have their place in the world, and match them at what they do best. Again, telephones, cellular service, mail, and e-mail also have their place. The world wouldn’t be where it today politically, scientifically, or economically without these advancements. I’ve riveted to learn about the next method of delivering information.
Baron, D. (2010, September 19). Essays. Retrieved December 9, 2012, from English.Illinois.edu: http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/essays/pencils.htm Merriam-Webster. (2012). Dictionary. Retrieved December 9, 2012, from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literacy