Saturday, September 25, 2010

e-Literate or illiterate?

Definitions for literacy are many. The ability to read and write is the conventional definition. Most countries measure their literacy levels based on this aspect. But, with the advent of an electronic era, the convergence of new media, etc, contemporary and somewhat multifaceted meanings prevail. This is not to debate over the traditional and modern contexts but to assess where we are or for that matter our future generation could be heading vis-à-vis literacy.

I still remember how I was denied of using a calculator by my parents when I was very young, although I knew all the multiplication tables (up to 15) by heart, and there were a couple available at home. This somehow improved my mind maths skills and I’m still good at it (not bragging). We weren’t even provided with pens until grade four or five unless our writing had minimal erasures. In a way it may seem ineffective given the number of times I had to type and delete words of this article, but it certainly had its say on the score of my essays during school and university examinations. Nowadays kids do insist on using calculators and pens at a very early stage and if you’d deprive them, they still know where to get it. After all every computer OS has its calculator! Wait, I’m not being conservative but am concerned of the consequences. Just ask a random kid in his/her early teens (except the bright ones) what is 12*11+7 and you’ll figure out what I’m trying to say.

Another mind related diminution is caused by e-organisers. You get them everywhere; on the web, as PC apps and even in your mobile phone. Every little piece of work to do could be saved in them, which eventually eliminates the need to remember any, but also effects long-term memory, ultimately ending up with a short-term version. Our hectic lifestyles will always welcome these electronic solutions, but if the gravity of use is frequent and the level of use extends to the minute then there is an issue in the lurking to be addressed. Remember, the law of evolution advocates depreciation of idle organs!

Ok, now enough of mind boggling stuff (no pun). Let’s get into things which are further aligned towards the topic. Once I remember reading an article in a daily newspaper, which stated how a report disclosed that the quality of writing at the O/L exams had deteriorated. Many teachers had revealed that the handwriting was below satisfactory and hard to read while grammar plus spelling mistakes were on the rise. Now this situation cannot solely be attributed towards typing and texting alone which explains youngster’s preference for keys over pens, but the SMS & chatting lexis has a serious role to play in erroneous spellings (especially english as singlish is not considered or taught as a language). Imagine a student writing a sentence in a formal letter for an exam paper in the following manner: “... I hv noticed the situ, and there4 am fwding this 4 ur perusal ...”. This could very well happen more frequently and cause many a problem in the future unless of course it’s not considered an issue if authorities decide to absorb the said defiled lexicon into the prevailing one! Please note that how a language evolves is a separate topic of discussion for those who might want to spring up an argument in favour of the hypothesis I mentioned at the end of the previous sentence.

As stated earlier, reading is the other main component of the customary definition of literacy. Reading (hardcopies) too has lessened to some extent although you may read more on the World Wide Web. However the experience is very different. Apart from physical constraints added by when reading a softcopy, it always fails to deliver the character and essence a physical book may offer. And because of these issues, extensive reading of an electronic edition is a definite discourager. Hence, there are now books that offer you the audio to listen. Instead of reading the book you could sit down and listen to the entire thing! All these mean that the skill of reading is possibly on its way to extinction.

On a final note, I must emphasise that the purpose of this article is not to condemn or discredit anything contemporary or electronic as I myself use them to great effect, but to make you think of something hitherto unthought-of, that is whether we are on a path of hampering literacy or improving it, in this modern era.