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Internet Literacy

Research by Natalya Sinitskaya

Internet Change: For Better or For Worse?

The Internet has brought irreversible change to the domain of literacy. This change has been hailed by some and cursed by others.

The voices from both camps have been abundant as to the positive and negative effects that the Internet has had on literacy.

Benefits

Challenges

· Internet resources assist in extending literacy skills by promoting associative logic, visual rhetoric, interactivity, nonsequential reading skills (Sorapure et al., 1998; Landow and Delany, 1991).

· The Internet allows multivocality and representation of different points of view in the same hypertextual document. This provides a more diverse information on the topic (Barnes, 1994).

· Participation in new discourses created in the Internet space promotes creativity, invention and engagement in practices of social transformation (Peters, 1996).

· Accessibility and interactive nature of the text  provide  the power to inform and to be informed (Peters, 1996).

· Internet space provides students with opportunities to focus their research on questions that are relevant to them, and construct their own path through the information (Burbules and Callister, 1996).

· The hyperlinked nature of text on the Internet frees the reader from the necessity to search for the cross-references and maintains high level of interest in the process of interacting with the text (Barnes, 1994). The same effect can be attributed to a certain degree of mystification and unpredictability of Internet domain.

· Educational value of the web lies in its potential to bring about an experience of active meaning construction and cognitive engagement (see Cummins, 2001).

· The Internet replaces ambiguous choices with predictable ones, when hyperlinks provide access to the relevant information sources and limit the scope of accessible information (Barnes, 1994).

· The Internet blurs the boundaries of the subject matter, linking texts on multiple levels of meaning and bringing together information from various fields of knowledge (Landow and Delany, 1991).

· The sheer number of information that is available on the Internet makes it almost impossible to stay informed about all the relevant facts (Jungwirth and Bruce, 2002).

· Readers suffer the phenomenon of ‘being lost in cyberspace’ (Burbules and Callister, 1996), when they are unable to retrace their path or have no overall understanding of the information they have accessed.

· The Internet offers a space for cultural imperialism and manipulation (Peters, 1996), for deception and fraud (Piper, 2002).

· The ‘digital divide’ (Katz and Aspden, 1997) separates those who have access to the Internet from those who do not, and polarizes the world of informed and the world of uniformed.

· Literary practices on the web are incoherent and interrupted, when the texts are rarely read from the beginning to the end (Birkerts, 1994; Jungwirth and Bruce, 2002).

· Reading is no longer done in depth, since having a profound and private experience with text interpretation has been replaced by the lateral dimension of getting information about the text (Tuman, 1992).

· The Internet will bring about language erosion, when the complexity of written expression will yield to the dynamic interactive nature of the new space and turn into telegraphic ‘plainspeak’ (Birkerts, 1994).

· The Internet brings the private experiences of interactions with the text into the realm of public (Tuman, 1992; Birkerts, 1994).

· Information is streamed at the readers at enormous volume, speed and various purposes, which makes it a form of garbage. This phenomenon was defined by Postman (1992) as ‘cultural AIDS (Anti-Information Deficiency Syndrome)’  (p.63).

· The Internet is vulnerable and suffers from viruses, breakdowns, hacker attacks and other technical difficulties that can negatively affect its efficiency (Peters, 1996).

 

As we can see, the Internet holds  promise, as well as danger for the future of literacy. I believe that electronic literacy can hardly  jeopardize the future of the print-based literacy, and those two separate practice can peacefully co-exist.

The Internet opened new avenues for information access and distribution, and its benefits should not be overlooked. As every innovation, it offers some doubtful fruit as well, but through critical assessment of its values and awareness of its potential dangers we can work out a balanced approach to the development of Internet literacy.