Sunday, July 19, 2015


Observational studies of children working on desktop computers sometimes drew our attention to how those particular material conditions established a new sort of physical discipline. In schools early digital literacy was predominantly a sedentary desk work with the textual display on the vertical axis. In contrast navigation, control and transcription was on the horizontal plane. As in traditional reading and writing students were seat bound but what had changed was the direction of the gaze as well as the work of the hands. So the move from page to screen involved, amongst many other things, new bodily engagements. The most challenging of these often turned out to be the keyboard and mouse operations. Young hands had to learn how to do new things - yet, perhaps unsurprising these new forms of dexterity were quickly mastered. The more recent adoption of tablet computers shifts this yet again. As always literacy practices have an embodied dimension, but now new literacies are more like the old ones in the sense that the text is portable. More or less the same weight as a print book, or notebook, the tablet has portability in its favour. And touchscreen control involves a close physical interweaving of production and consumption. In common with earlier practices this literacy involves the work of the hands, but those movements are new all over again. New for young hands, but quickly learnt. And as with other technological innovations the name of the inventor or the brand has become interchangeable with the thing itself. We tended to prefer to use the name of the Hungarian inventor 'Biro' to refer to the ballpoint pen, and like substituting the verb 'google' for looking something up, 'iPad' has come to stand for all things tablet - even though tablet computers preceded this particular product. It's as if literacies have become mobile all over again. This just could mean something new in learning situations. iPads are unlikely to blow away in a breeze, writing on them is free from blots, but you can still drop them, crack the screen or run out of power. Same same, different different!

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