There is a lot of talk today about "digital natives" and "digital brains." Some people use the phrase "digital literacy" for skills with digital tools. The word may be more appropriate than many people know.
Traditional literacy (reading and writing) has and still does come in two grades. One grade leads to working class jobs, once a good thing when there were unions and benefits, but now not such a good thing when it means low pay and no benefits, usually in service work. The other grade leads to more meaningful work and more financial success. What distinguishes these grades of literacy? The premium grade involves mastery of so-called "academic language," the forms of language used in research, empirical reasoning and logical argumentation. Now, I am well aware that nearly everyone hates "academic language" (things like "Hornworms exhibit a significant amount of variation," rather than "Hornworms sure vary a lot in how well they grow"), but when they are in good jobs, they are there because they got through their high school chemistry book and argued and debated their way out of a good college.
Does digital literacy come in two grades, as well? Are there ways with digital media (as there are ways with words) that lead to quite different results, despite the fact that everyone is participating and using digital media? I believe there are. Further, I believe that the premium grade involves mastery of "specialist/technical language," the forms of language used in specialist communities devoted to technological skills and reasoning. Such language is linguistically fully akin to "academic language"; indeed, it's a variety of it. Two kids may participate in playing World of Warcraft, but the one who can read and write such things as the following has the premium grade digital literacy: "Mitigation from armor class is the only non-linearly scaling stat (that is, each percent of mitigation granted by Armor Class requires more than the point before it)," which is a sentence from a "theory crafting" site, where World of Warcraft players analyze the underlying statistics and rules of the game.
Premium digital literacy is being able to use specialist/technical language connected to digital tools. Premium traditional literacy is being able to use academic language connected to institutional and public sphere knowledge-building and argumentation. At the premium level, the digital brain and digital natives are not a "new new thing," but an even higher octane version of an old thing, the literate brain. But now that brain has, for some young people, though not all, left the gardens of academe and the professions and is flourishing among young "pro-ams" (amateurs with professional skills), some of whom "don't need no stinkin' grades," but do need a highly literate brain.
Question: Are the same classes of people who got and didn't get premium traditional literacy the ones now getting premium digital literacy? Are we facing a social revolution or a deeper entrenchment?
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