The age of new literacies

I’d like to think I can describe myself as literate. I’m a regular reader of books, newspaper articles, not to mention magazines (fashion is reading, right?). I watch the news, I interact with friends online. Yet in an age where ‘literacy’ is defined by the new, constantly evolving, and no longer bound inside set ideas – is it actually possible to be ‘literate’?

Houtman (2013, p. 3) writes that to become literate is to take part in a cognitive process, an accumulation of skills that can be tested; simply put, to be able to read and write. Such is the dominate paradigm of pedagogical thinking. Yet the creation and cultivation of new technologies has shifted these ideas and changed the way we perceive what these skills (should) look like. ‘New literacies’ is a concept that has emerged with the evolution of technology, as texts have evolved into the multimodal. The flow of ideas and information has transcended traditional print media, in an age where nation-state borders no longer constrict this flow, and the globalisation phenomenon creates a ‘global village’. Lankshear and Knobel (2012, p. 45) suggest that in order to understand the concept of ‘new literacies’, these literacies need to be viewed within a historical context which spans both into the future and back into the past. A meeting of changing technologies and changing values.

New literacies are subject to ever shifting paradigms of technologies and values, and thus its definition is subject to change. Houtman refers to it as “deictic” – changing in meaning from day to day (2013, p. 7). Being literate today may not be the same tomorrow, as newer technologies appear. But it is also important to see these new technologies as a consequence of changing social needs and practices; something that Lankshear and Knobel (2012, p. 58-59) refer to as the ‘new ethos’. Technology also emerges as a means to meeting constantly evolving needs of society; the need for faster, more efficient and effective ways to send our ideas/thoughts/images out into the internet stratosphere; to connect with people who share, or challenge, our views and knowledge. Contemporary literacies now constitute themselves around the idea of ‘social learning’; digital spaces that attract cultures of ‘learners’ with common interests and ideas, as well as an interest in sharing knowledge and resources. By tapping into these kinds of learning spaces, participants may find that their views and understanding are being constantly shaped, challenged, and altered by the steady flow of knowledge and ideas. It’s easy to feel overpowered by so much information.

So we return to our original question – in the face of consistent change, is it possible to identify yourself as ‘literate’? Arguably, attempting to maintain a grasp on every new piece of communicative technology is futile, and quite frankly, impossible. Instead, perhaps we should define our level of ‘literacy’ not from the quantity of learning spaces we engage in, but the quality of the spaces we connect and contribute to.



Houtman, E. (2013). New literacies, learning, and libraries: How can frameworks from other fields help us think about the issues? In the Library with the Lead Pipe.  Retrieved from, accessed March 2014

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2012). ‘New’literacies: technologies and values. Teknokultura. Revista de Cultura Digital y Movimientos Sociales, 9(1), 45-71.  Retrieved from, accessed March 2014