Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reading Response: Post-Modernity and a New Ethos

For this week’s response to Lankshear and Knoebel I would like to first contribute to the discussion on the transition from modern to post-modernity in regards to new literacies. Then I will comment on “new ethos”.

A Transition, Not A Break

Lankshear and Knoebel help set the stage for defining ‘new’ in terms of literacies by helping us understand that the transition from modernity to post-modernity is exactly that – a transition (Lankshear & Knoebel, p. 52).  They define postmodernity as “a transcendence, in which elements of an earlier state of affairs are carried over and reshaped to become parts of new configurations.” I wanted to share an experience that highlights this concept in a different way.

A couple years ago I decided to put together a family tree, realizing I couldn’t keep straight who my great-great grandparents were. So I registered with an online genealogy website and got to work. I was able to quickly find who my grandfather’s grandparents were including their birthdates, deathdates, and other relevant information. What I did not expect to find were some links to other “social” information about my ancestors. It turns out that the local newspaper for my great-great grandfather, The Mahoning Dispatch, used to print the social happenings of the residents of the various towns in the county. Luckily for me, the Library of Congress has a program for archiving local newspapers and the Mahoning Dispatch was one of them. Here is an example of one of the pages:

As you can see, the paper includes updates family ice cream socials, out-of-town guest visits, and even newborn announcements. This was like the Facebook of the 1920s - People reading about the trivial events of everyday citizens. To get that kind of information, people needed to volunteer it to the newspaper editor and then subscribe to the paper to read the results.  That newspaper clipping is almost 100 years old yet a century ago people still had interest in that kind of social information. What is different between then and now is the technology! According to Lankshear and Knoeble, “ideas and practices evolve rather than become displaced.” I think the emphasis is placed on the evolution of practice and the introduction of technology fuels that evolution.

A New Ethos

I enjoyed the reading of the text pertaining to new ethos with examples of Web 2.0. The internet has evolved from being just an information source to being a collaborative tool – a forum if you will. Today, users are a primary source of data. The example of Wikipedia is illustrates that notion completely. I remember college professors during my undergraduate degree cringing at the mere mention of Wikipedia in a classroom setting.

I believe there is an inherent danger that comes with such a high level of collaboration and that is the danger of the truth getting lost. I recall the last presidential election and the amount of rhetoric that was passed over social media. Facts, quotes, everything you can think of was thrown out into the cloud often without a tie to primary sources. When people mold their opinions based on knowledge that is unfounded the truth becomes subject to the majority or the sways of society. I think it’s important to recognize all of the factors that come with new and emerging technologies and how they contribute both positively and negatively to new literacies.


  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for sharing your story about finding the "Facebook of the 1920's". I find this really fascinating to the development of social media, and also from a heritage conservation perspective. Small happenings and stories posted in the paper truly enrich the historical information that we typically find in textbooks. The paper then becomes an artifact that demonstrates how society has always been interested in what other people are up to.

    In regards to your suggestion of the inherent danger in collaboration, if we have recognized that there are potential issues what are some ways that we can manage them? What are the essential skills for those will need to navigate this information successfully? How do we teach those skills?

  2. Hello Mike-

    Thank you for sharing your response. I thought that your comparison of today’s social media to social media of 100 years ago was interesting. I am also concerned about the accuracy of content that is contributed by anyone and edited/altered by anyone. It seems like the contributors of online content could be playing telephone with what we think is factual. 100 years ago the social information about dates and locations of ice cream socials had more credibility since the content was provided by one source. Today, I think it is better to assume that accuracy of content online is like that from a tabloid. Digital content must be thoroughly checked for accuracy. I believe that the information we share now is more critical than an ice cream social content events, yet we do know how it will be used or saved.

  3. Hi Mike, nice comparison to the local newspaper a century ago, it highlights what L&K said about "evolving not displacing" well. Have you read Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick? They have an early chapter that talks about the importance of small town news as well.