‘Satiable Curiosity

Humans, like the Elephant’s Child, have a ‘satiable curiosity. I remember one of my Grade 9 students explaining the point. Human curiosity, she said, cannot be governed. Alan Kay may be right: some creations do amount to a reverse vandalism. But, we’re still here. We haven’t blown ourselves up, or cloned a conquering army. We haven’t done too badly. And so, she offered, the question we should ask is not whether we ought to pursue controversial or potentially dangerous ideas like cloning–or, looking for the crocodile; we need to ask: What will we do after we’ve found him?

I am not sure she is entirely right. At least, I want to believe we have some capacity for self-restraint. But neither is she entirely wrong. Hers is a perceptive and prudent question to ask. Here we are, as it turns out, at one of those after-the-fact moments. Says Christine Rosen in a great piece, in The New Atlantis:

We have already taken the first steps on our journey to a new form of literacy—“digital literacy.” The fact that we must now distinguish among different types of literacy hints at how far we have moved away from traditional notions of reading.

Conservatives, like me, worry that this digital literacy will become faddish, like constructivism or multiple intelligences or multiculturalism in teaching. Rosen worries, too.

But if enthusiasm for the new digital literacy runs high, it also runs to feverish extremes. Digital literacy’s boosters are not unlike the people who were swept up in the multiculturalism fad of the 1980s and 1990s. Intent on encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, they initially argued for supplementing the canon so that it acknowledged the intellectual contributions of women and minorities. But like multiculturalism, which soon changed its focus from broadening the canon to eviscerating it by purging the contributions of “dead white male,” digital literacy’s advocates increasingly speak of replacing, rather than supplementing, print literacy. What is “reading” anyway, they ask, in a multimedia world like ours?

As my former student would ask, What to do now?

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Rob January 19, 2009

    Your post here reminds me of a conversation I had recently about whether listening to an audiobook is reading. I guess the answer ultimately depends on what one defines as reading. If reading is obtaining meaning from another by is decifering symbols on a page, then listening to an audiobook is not reading. However, if reading is simply any method of obtaining ideas shared by another, then I would argue that listening to an audiobook is reading.With regards to your post, once again it is a question of definition. If what is most important is the medium on which the message is written, then digital literacy is a bad thing. However, if, as I believe, it is the message that is most important, then the medium is less important and learning to communicate using digital forms becomes more important.Also thinking about the following: do we limit thinking and expression if we limit the forms in which expression and ideas can be shared?

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