Manual Literacy in the New Media Age (Literacies)

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Words are essentially empty when we are first introduced to them, and it is only as we engage with them that they become increasingly filled with meaning. So, words are relatively empty containers and images are relatively full. Words also need to come at us, in English at least, following a relatively strict grammar determining the word order.

Word order is very important. The cat ate the mouse and the mouse ate the cat may have all the same elements, but they hardly mean the same thing. The subject-verb-object order of words in English implies causality between these elements in the very structure of the grammar of the language. Written language is temporal — you need to read it in a particular order and that order needs to be read in time. And time is how cause and effect play out too.

But think of an image now.

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Book Review: Literacy in the New Media Age

I feel fairly confident in saying that we never do that with any image we look at and understand. What it does mean is that the kinds of meanings we are likely to get from images are going to be different from the kinds of meanings we will get from written texts. If written texts are temporal, it seems fair to assume that images will be spatial. If written texts are sequential, images are a gestalt something that you understand as a whole. These are really quite fundamental differences — and this means that you can use each to explain various types of information.

That is, written texts and images are simply better at conveying different kinds of information. So, to make this boringly obvious — if I want to tell you about my new car, pulling out a photograph of it really will be worth a thousand words, probably even more. So what, you say. Well, this is where we need to come back to the fact that we are at a time of change. It appears, however, at a moment in the long history of writing when four momentous changes are taking place simultaneously: So much so that we could be forgiven for believing that images were virtually devalued in the Western canon — mostly reserved for the illiterate.

However, what do you notice about this little piece of high art? In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.

We are having images slammed at us here at 30 letters a second. As Kress says in this book and elsewhere, all modes of communication are and have always been multimodal.

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The difference today is that we are moving from mostly written texts, texts that come in genres that follow the natural order, the temporality of written texts, to texts that are mostly represented on screens. Think of your average webpage. A webpage is often a gestalt rather than a strict sequence.

The New Media Literacies

And like a painting you need to see it as a whole before you can understand how its elements all work together. And only then can you look in detail at some of the elements, even if you will ignore others. If there are both words and images — the words will tend to play a secondary role. And they will be simpler sentences than they might otherwise have been on a page of a book. But what is most interesting about this is that this fundamental change in how we construct communicative texts, this movement towards images based texts over word based ones, is happening at a time of substantial change in our society.

And this movement to image based texts is anything but settled. Like in all new genres, the hand of the old texts, the old ways of doing things, rests heavily on the new. And so there is room for different groups — perhaps groups who are relatively powerless in the world that is currently passing away — to have a greater say in this new world. The old strictures, the old ways of saying things, ways of saying things that required a wealth of knowledge so as to be able to understand and to show distinction and good taste, are becoming increasingly anachronistic.


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Out of their time, they seem somehow both old fashioned and cumbersome beside the clearer and easier to assimilate new texts. I would love to think that there will always be space for a well constructed sentence — and, part of me does believe there always will be. Just as with radio not being killed off by television — there is room for all genres and all modes and all media. But the centre of gravity is shifting. There is no going back — we need to understand how image based texts work — understand the semiotic and semantic possibilities of such texts, understand the grammar of reading such texts, or we leave ourselves open to being manipulated by those who create these new texts, people who understanding precisely how these texts can be used to manipulate us.

As an introduction to coming to understand multimodal texts and how they work to communicate meaning, this book serves an essential purpose.

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A good and simply written book about an incredibly important topic. View all 6 comments. Jun 01, Michael rated it really liked it Shelves: In Literacy in the New Media Age , Gunther Kress argues that we need to understand literacy differently now that the image dominates communication instead of writing, and that the screen has come to dominate instead of the page 1. Writing is now more frequently on the screen, where it is "subject to the logic of the image" 10 , and this logic of the image and screen have now carried over to print material as well.

Kress wants to keep literacy, as a term, limited to In Literacy in the New Media Age , Gunther Kress argues that we need to understand literacy differently now that the image dominates communication instead of writing, and that the screen has come to dominate instead of the page 1. Kress wants to keep literacy, as a term, limited to concerning alphabetic writing, so as to not water it down and keep the term robust [ Kress takes a semiotic approach, understanding communication as meaning-making He understands that the logic of the image, which dominates the screen, allows for readers to now understand the screen as a " visual entity " rather than simply words, and that placement of an image with words matters Additionally, entry matters, because on a page, the entry point is clear, but on a screen, there are various entry points Kress takes an approach to genre similar to Carolyn Miller's, understanding genre as "a category that orients attention to the social world" 87 , "a response to social givens" Now, however, we need to understand genres as not simply literate, but, if we are to understand modern communication, as also and predominantly visual Kress closes with some important agenda points: Kress writes in the preface that we have come to a moment in the long history of writing when four momentous changes are taking place simultaneously: He goes so far as to state that: Kress claims that new spaces and new strategies will be needed.

Equally, in reading, we need to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in a text, and new principles of reading will be at work.

Literacy in the New Media Age by Gunther Kress

Kress delves deeply into the changing nature of word and image—in order to show that human engagement with the world is changing. I believe this is where a useful theory of aesthetic experience can fit. Aesthetic experience does not favor the visual over anything else. Does not favor print over anything else.

It is more or less an unhierarchical model of experience. Toward the end of this book Kress explains what is needed is a requisite theory of meaning: It will not assume language as its foundation. Also, he comments on the shift to design: Aug 12, Karen rated it really liked it. IThis is an important book.

Literacy in the New Media Age

It's also really hard reading. If you're not into theories about literacy or semiotics but you want an overview, you'd be well advised to find some of his articles instead. Sep 14, Sara rated it really liked it. Another "work" text - but one that strongly is influencing how I'm seeing literacy, learning 2. Kress considers the likely larger-level social and cultural effects of that future, arguing that the effects of the move to the screen as the dominant medium of communication will produce far-reaching shifts in terms of power - and not just in the sphere of communication.

The democratic potentials and effects of the new information and communication technologies will, Kress contends, have the widest imaginable consequences. Literacy in the New Media Age is suitable for anyone fascinated by literacy and its wider political and cultural implications.


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  8. It will be of particular interest to those studying education, communication studies, media studies or linguistics. In this groundbreaking book, Gunther Kress considers the effects of a revolution that has radically altered the relationship Psychology Press Bolero Ozon.