The detailed “Working Definition” that I see to the right of the latest post every time I visit Transliteracy.com only goes some way towards answering this question for me, but raises many more questions along that way. Of course, I’m not the first to ask these and some transliterate gurus have provided some pretty good answers to some of them… but the discussion isn’t over yet, so raising them again may elicit some useful perspectives.
Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.
Perhaps it’s because this comprehensive statement uses so many words that signify more than one thing; suggesting so many required skills that I wonder if anyone can ever be truly transliterate. It seems to start off simply….
Read? Yes. Write? Yes. Interact? Yes. Across a range of
platforms? Er… ye-es…. Wait,… how many platforms? All of them? All the time?
Some of them? Some of the time? Which ones? Simultaneously? Consecutively?
Transformatively? All of the above?
Full of these thoughts, I tweeted on Mon 26 Oct 2009 … “Is
multiliteracy different from transliteracy?” Toby
Is transliteracy partly an attitude then, rather than an accumulation of a minimum number of skills? Is it the willingness and desire to transition between media, learning what one needs to know as one goes, to create or interpret content that is as close as possible in form to the original content in the original medium, while accepting that it must inevitably be different and differently apprehended in its new form?
I say “form” deliberately. The article notes that “the word ‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language.” This does not mean to “translate”. For example, one might transliterate the Hebrew word “רוח” as “ruwach”. This would enable those who use Latin rather than Hebrew script to say the word, but not to understand it.
Is understanding a different thing entirely? As the article points out, we are all multiliterate to some extent. But are any basic skills which enable comprehension common to all the literacies? Do they precede the technical skills required by each literacy? How about focus, concentration, patience, memory, logic, analysis, synthesis, expressiveness, empathy… or just the ability to hold a conversation? If people have these in a few media, why is it so hard to port them to other media? Is confidence the missing ingredient? In particular, why is it difficult for many to transition from Old Media to New Media and vice versa?
In this discussion, the “vice versa” should not be overlooked. Many who currently study transliteracy can remember, some only dimly, the slower pace of life before the mobile phone and fax machine, the pleasures of losing ourselves in a good book and not looking up until we’d finished it, the safe intimacy of singing and storytelling at home or around a campfire, of amateur dramatics, musical evenings or games of charades intended only for a home or very local audience, and the satisfactions of eye contact and body language, of knowing how to greet, introduce and engage strangers of different ages and backgrounds at different physical events such as seminars, cocktail parties, live debates or job interviews. These experiences continue to inform the way we relate online, the way we imagine those with whom we relate.
We may therefore assume that those “born digital” can also
read and write offline and initiate and hold meaningful face-to-face
conversations. In fact, they may struggle with listening well, with following a
verbal or written train of thought for an extended period of time, with
becoming deeply and exclusively focused on a single task when necessary, or
with the basic courtesies that lubricate offline social interaction. Why is
this, despite the aforementioned article’s assertion that “transliteracy deliberately refuses to
presuppose any kind of offline/online divide”?
For instance, I found Frances Gibb’s article in The Times Online on the Lord Judge’s views re a modern jury’s limited capacity for concentration somewhat alarming: New jury system for multimedia age. I can see lots of advantages to screen and internet access for a jury, but shouldn’t true transliteracy include the ability to listen to speeches and interpret orality? Can the global community afford to lose those communication skills that are not mediated through fragile, resource-hungry, energy-dependent, non-ubiquitous bits and bytes?
Transliteracy: Crossing Divides bravely envisions a world where everyone communicates via the medium/media most appropriate for their particular content and context, happily switching modes when necessary, and delights in the new types of art, interaction and thought that arise “in the places where different things meet, mix, and rub together”.
At present, though, we glimpse it imperfectly, in the same way that we hear imperfectly the tantalisingly recognisable but not yet truly interpretable message of Peter Ablinger’s Talking Piano: