Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 27



by Nancy Kaplan

Myron Tuman, in his recent book Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age, and Neil Postman, in his recent book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, agree with Jay David Bolter (Writing Space) and Richard Lanham (The Electronic Word) when they argue that the reign of print is or soon will be over. But while Bolter and Lanham glory in the coming transformation, Tuman and Postman look on the future with thinly disguised despair.

Tuman sees the coming of a post-industrial sensibility in what he describes as a widespread attack on print literacy, an attack most cogent and powerful when it champions electronic literacy. Those who attack print literacy, Tuman claims, no longer respect "the symbolic, transformative power of the literate text." Those who attack print literacy reject "the status of texts as higher or more logical expressions of symbolic knowledge, texts as the embodiment of history, philosophy, literature, science, and other ways of understanding the world not immediately supported by the traditions, often the prejudices, of the group" (p. 43) Context. According to Tuman,

For the literate mind prior to the advent of computers, the central problem of human knowledge had to do, not with finding one's way through a forest of information, but with achieving genuine insight, usually expressed in terms of vertical movement. The original thinker gains a deeper (or higher) understanding mainly through undertaking a more intense analysis of a single given situation or creative work in literary study, for example, a reader undertakes successively more intense readings of a poem or short story, just as a writer in turn works more intensely at producing poems and short stories that reward such readings. (p. 53) Context

For Tuman, the logic, the stability, and the authority of the printed word guaranteed a culture (a high culture, really) characterized by "a serious, introspective, relentlessly psychological ... hermeneutic tradition of interpretation" (p. 62) Context. Online literacy, by contrast, favors a kind of hit-and-run mentality: readers who will cruise the information highway looking for and seizing upon the least they need to know. Comparing such reading to Americans' oft-derided habit of channel surfing, or zapping, with their remote control devices, Tuman laments what he predicts will be a loss of close attention to the text: "Our ability or willingness to attend closely and for prolonged periods of time to the narrative experiences of others ... is intimately connected to our broader experience of print culture and the inner consciousness that it both demanded and rewarded. A new cultural landscape, one grounded in computer technology,

OK, so these guys just generally don't see things the same way. What's at stake in this dispute, anyway?

This page is part of the article, "E-literacies: Politexts, Hypertexts and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print."

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