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Sunday
Nov112012

Visual Literacy is Digital Literacy

Visual literacy isn't something that should just be pursued by academics in order that they can express complex ideas (i.e. the value of their research) to regular people -- Visual Literacy is Digital Literacy.

With respect to new initiatives to make a new generation of digitally-turned on, 'Web-Makers',

Digital Literacy doesn't start at making the web. It starts at participating (digitally). (digitally) is in parenthesis because you can't participate in society without being digital. You just can't. We're past that.

Digital Literacy doesn't actually start with participating, it starts with growing your own self-awareness around your own voice and how your 'self' is represented and manifests digitally.

I spend a lot of time in my research (I'm writing this post without quoting or diving down academic holes, for those, see my PhD blog) looking at how the brain structures memory and communication, and why and how we think the way we do and process information.*

It's curious that the Web, a medium fundamentally about people communicating started with text, a medium we have to re-wire our brains to understand. 

What's even more interesting is that we are now seeing the birth of the visual Web -- as fundamentally people existing in a digital medium, we are now coming to re (?) - integrate, re-learn, re-comprehend the need for affective means of communication.

Very quickly and simplistically we 'trust' visual communication more because of the way our brains evolved. We have emotive responses to visual messages that we don't have with text. It's just different. That's why a website or a document can have a lot of relevant information on it but if it's not structured well or is done with garish colours or funky text no one will comprehend a word of it.

We respond to visual and also (importantly, let's not leave out) auditory signals fundamentally differently than we respond to text.

Over the course of history (much glossying over and generalisations occuring here) we have come to believe --very broadly -- as a society that emotion is bad. Being emotional and relating emotionally -- visually--  are weak positions. Relating through reason -- text-- is right and true and sensible.

And now we are re-integrating(?) visual, emotive communication into our interactions. Not that it was ever gone, but there are glaring differences between interfaces from the 1990's, the 2000's, and the 2010's.

And that is very very interesting.

Technology shapes behaviour and visaversa, digital behaviour bleeds offline.  The early Web limited communication to text for varied reasons. A more visual Web emerges because technology (and code) have caught up with our technical capability and our needs as a society to fundamentally change the way we relate to each other.

What am I talking about? Shifts not only in communication and infrastructure but economic systems, too.

The point is this: Visual Literacy, the ability to communicate emotively, at a very basic human level, and do so both effectively and affectively is Digital Literacy.*

I disagree that coding constitutes Digital Literacy. Digital Literacy starts at self-expression.

Yes, there are and will be people who will jump right in to coding with no pathway in between. But to say simply that code is Digital Literacy I fear will drive people away.

But I don't think the path to learning to code is direct. I think for most people it will come through interacting and making media as a (now almost mandatory) means to interact. 

The way a society becomes Digitally Literate is through expression -- communicating online (instagram, YouTube, Viddy, Tumblr, Pintrest), self-discovery that what we as individuals have to say matters and how what we say as individuals fits with(in) others.

This is one of the most important promises of digital 'social media'-- it allows us the opportunity to re-examine our own thoughts and interactions in a way that perhaps we haven't had before, especially as we watch our thoughts (tweets, posts) and emotions (audio, video, images) travel around the Web and interact with others' interactions. 

The more we interact, the more we learn how to craft those interactions, those 'messages' via media through which behaviourally we have learned that we must use to be socially acceptable, the more I believe we will want to 'make' things that fit ourselves and our own expression. 

There is something to be said for enabling people to make digital media. Coding will follow. 

'To Code' therefore is perhaps not the best starting point for Digital Literacy. It's more complex than that.

Visual Literacy is a very basic form of self-awareness. Visual Literacy isn't just necessary for academics or large companies or entrepreneurs. Visual Literacy is Digital Literacy.

 

I think what necessarily follows from Visual Literacy as Digital Literacy is non-linear storytelling. But that is for my next post. 

 

* I've spent the last eight months working on a startup of my own that deals with emotive communication, focusing on the transfer of Visual Literacy as Digital Literacy, looking at how we internalise 'story' and how we feed that back to others and then again into ourselves -- story as reflexive process. The startup concept and design is based on my PhD research

(We are seeking investment, if you're interested and have £250k-£500k to throw around please do use that contact link at the top of the page!)

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