If Walter Ong suggests that it is impossible for societies to function in the same way as literate ones, then would one also say that it is impossible for transliterate cultures to operate like pre-transliterate cultures? I'm thinking about this as a re-read Ong's thoughts on technology and learning:
"technology, properly interiorized, does not degrade human life but on the contrary enhances it”
and to understand the technology of writing means
"to understand it in relation to its past, to orality, the fact that it is a technology must be honestly faced” ( Ong).
It is with these thoughts in mind that my students and I began our final unit of the term: "Inanimate Alice and Transliteracy." Having spent time giving students an overview of online narratives and various examples (blog fiction, flickr stories, tweet narratives etc...), a background of narrative theories, and the current definition of transliteracy, we were ready to put our learning into practise.
As my students made their way through the episodes of Inanimate Alice their reading developed alongside Alice's own maturing. When eight years old Alice's thinking is abrupt and superficial, so too were our interpretations. But, as Alice grows and becomes critical of the world around her, so too did my students. They became transliterate readers.
When students finished reading "Episode One," responses focused on the textual narrative. "Alice seems to be independent since she moves a lot and does not have many friends. Her only friend is Brad and she gets lost in a world of technology" (Sara). "The story is from the POV of a young girl, so her views and story telling are also simplistic, so it adds to the theme" (Matt).
However, after several more lessons on transliteracy and multimodality and some teacher modeling (I *read* scenes of Inanimate Alice and then performed analyses of each of the modes and how they work with/against each other), the student responses deepened. Dana explains, "this piece requires the reader to think in depth about what they're watching. I felt overwhelmed at first but slowly got used to this new kind of narrative. Inanimate Alice entails you to listen, watch, read, and interact, which is different that the average person is used to when sitting down to read. I really liked how every so often you get to play a game; this made me be more alert. Another aspect of the story I thought was interesting was that we never get to see any of the characters, is there a deeper meaning to this?" One student, Scott, re-read the episodes in order to better understand and then analyse the role of sound, text, image and interaction:
It’s easy to note for a viewer how important the lighting effects are, and how they come into play. Until about episode four, everything seems to be dark and gloomy like. Backgrounds, imagery, and even the guard at the Russian toll booth all appear rather dark. The only images that tend to really pop out with vivid colour and brightness are Alice’s games. When Alice's games come onto the screen they’re colourful and bright, and seem to portray Alice's joy. Is this an indication of how Alice views the world during her younger years? Is it that she finds hope and mental shelter in her imaginative video game world because her world is dark around her? Moreover, do the Matryoshka dolls act as a symbol for money? Essentially, having the viewer search for them, and bribe the Russian guard makes it feel that way. Perhaps having the dolls take place of money might be a way to show how Alice’s vivid imagination plays a role in her child hood memories?"
Reading Inanimate Alice in this undergraduate English class emphasises for me the meaninglessness of terms like "digital natives." All of these students were born into a culture where digital technologies are ubiquitous. However, that very ubiquity and even use of technology (mobile 'phones, SNS, mp3 player) is not synonymous with critical thinking or an ability to be transliterate.
If learning is to be relevant to students it must align with students' "subjectivities, interests, intentions, commitments, and purposes that students bring to learning" (New London Group). One might also say then, that for transliteracy to be relevant to students (at least in my recent pedagogical experience) it must somehow align with the *work* in question. Some works won't require a transliterate reader (just like reading a novel won't require information or visual literacy). Transliteracy comes into play perhaps like Ong's "technologies," it is not merely an "exterior aid but also [an] interior transformation of consciousness..."
Some of the students' final transliterate thoughts: