In the 2004 publication Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition , authors Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, and Sirc challenge teachers of composition to not only recognize the changing shape of literacy as a result of technological advances, but to be “active, reflective, responsible composers” and to facilitate similar responsibility in students. Wysocki suggests that “writing teachers can thus fill a large gap in current scholarship on new media; they can bring to new media texts a humane and thoughtful attention to materiality, production, and consumption, which is currently missing” (p. 7). In light of this challenge, this text will explore how the juxtaposition of literacy from various cultural backgrounds alongside a study of the material aspects of literacy can aid students as they create their own new media texts.
Various cultural studies genres commonly explore autobiographic, fictional, and academic accounts of the development of literacy—defined by me as simply the ability to communicate and “know” in some communally understood format. An appropriate example I will explore are the quilters of Gee's Bend , who have used their quilts—a material necessity—to express themselves and develop community. I will further the discussion with Richard Rodriguez's literacy autobiography The Hunger of Memory (1982). In this text, Rodriguez explores his use of language during his childhood involving both Spanish and English and his decision to pursue an academic career, which he contends may have been a betrayal of his Mexican heritage for the sake of his personal success. To further illuminate this, I will discuss Wendell Berry's “Why I Do Not Own a Computer” (1990), which is an overtly aware and contentious discussion of the materiality of literacy in a technological age. These are my chosen exhibits, but other examples exist that could provide historical expressions of how humanity, as individuals and communities, develops literacy in various ways as a result of the material conditions around us and how they provide examples of “active, reflective, responsible composers.”
Further, I will suggest that by reading and discussing the literacies of people from differing cultures, such as these examples, and instigating their own understandings of daily multimedia interactions, students can develop a deeper understanding of their own literacies and create reflective new media texts. As William A. Covino (2001) explains, the idea that “reality is constructed by language has raised the question whether the material reality is indeed subject to and changed by the ways in which we describe it” (p. 47). Students can and should be able to express this new understanding by creating literacy narratives using any and all media available to them—whatever they feel shows most accurately and fully their own literacy as a way to understand and communicate with the world(s) around them: from various cultural backgrounds, presented in various formats, and using multiple media sources.