The new literacy is not literacy at all. It is about being informed about what's changing.
The new literacy is not for you and I. For we grew up in a time when most people believed in meritocracy and progress. We expect that hard work and concentrated thinking will generate benefits that have multiplier effects. We believed that sowing led to reaping. But now we are living at the end of those times, and the value of understanding the natural world is diminishing while the value of understanding the new cultural semiotic swamp that is global literacy is increasing.
In other words, if it's not in Google, it might be worth knowing, but you'll never profit from it.
The new literacy is like the first publication of the Bible. It will threaten the hierarchical Papists, make them defensive. Today's literate Papists are not merely mainstream media, but mainstream education and all the ways that people have come to know what they know during the 20th Century. We forget that the 20th Century invented mass communications, and mass communications has always been propaganda. Now we have alternative propaganda - and we choose which dogfood we eat. Now we decide whose koolaid we drink.
Let's not forget the origin of drinking the koolaid was Jonestown. There's a need to get a grip on the reality that lies beneath all of the new symbology. I expect that my children will get it. More than any other generation and more than most of their peers, my own children have every cyber advantage. They deeply know the value of real face to face relationships, they cannot be fooled by virtual reality. But there are still masses yet to come.
Through the 80s we used to joke about the price of Levi's jeans in Russia, and in the 90s we saw men in Mogadishu wearing Air Jordans. The masses of people who are moving from the rural areas into cities around the world will next signify their emergence with cell phones and access to the Internet. As false as the status of jeans and sneakers may have seemed to upscale Yanks, it was enough for them. But the sorts of MTVified info-gloop many Americans still are fooled by, say the wit of Tina Fey, the sagacity of Alec Baldwin or the humor of Tracy Morgan, that entire enterprise can become the mental shackles of the next global middle class. It's so appealing.
America has developed a way to monetize the surplus time, attention and dollars of the Baby Boom. That is what we have created. And to the extent that the 60s showed us the most muscular muscle cars ever, and the 70s and 80s showed us what crap cars we could put up with - the industrial revolution is mostly a done deal for the planet. We are living in that surplus period and settling back to an era of infrastructrual Pinto Pony MPGs. Basic transportation. When the world cannot afford and doesn't look forward to living in the architectural standards of Dubai and the industrial revolution slows down to Pinto quality infrastructure, the quality of life will become less material and more mental.
I think we in California understand this fairly well. We all have, under the influence of Hollywood and other romantic notions, carved out extra space in our imaginations for meaningless intellectual luxuries. We're attuned to the status that accrues from knowing Bruce Willis' mechanic or Jada Pinkett Smith's hairdresser. Look at the info in the graphic video in this essay. That is intellectual fashion - the fashion of knowing something that is completely beyond our ability to influence (or sometimes even beyond our ability to comprehend), and yet take pride in knowing the narrative. That is the new literacy.
And it's little brother and enabler is the new growing international language of graphics and glyphs. Everybody understands Charlie's bite. And we will all soon understand the new standards of post-industrial light and magic.
Right Here, Right Now. You know it. It's Little Brother.