Wednesday, February 2, 2011

tech makes us dumb

The other day my mother-in-law was talking about how kids are smarter today -- that they seem so plugged in and aware. I commented that I don't think kids are necessarily smarter than earlier generations, but I do think they are clearly more comfortable with communication, instructional, and entertainment technologies.

A couple of days later I read a short article on the definition of modern literacy by Susan Metros. She claims that the skills necessary to successfully using technology (analyzing, visualizing, communicating, and innovating) will require everyone to be technologically literate (on a continuum that moves from stimulated to novice, novice to literate, and literate to fluent). This does not, however, equate to literate in the traditional sense. As Metros notes, "They know how to upload a movie to YouTube...they know how to text, and they are constantly connected to something digital. But my argument is they are not literate; they are just basically stimulated."

I find in these distinctions of literacy the same tension that exists in the technical writing classroom. How technically literate does a technical writer have to be? It's really more than the decades old debate about do we teach tools or do we teach writing. It has more to do with the technical writer's ability to comprehend complex topics and concepts, and to produce usable and original information products with an array of tools, technologies, and skills. In co-opting Metros' argument, the modern technical writer's "literacy" must be less about the tools and technologies and more about "ways of thinking and seeing, and of crafting narrative."

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