Network Literacy: The New Path To Knowledge
“Network literacy means recognizing that there are no longer canonical sources and having the skills to find what it is you think you want, being able to judge it, and then of being able to incorporate this, in turn into your knowledge flows.” (Miles 2007 p. 24 – 30)
Network literacy refers to the skill set required to participate in a networked society, such as the Internet. To be network literate is to understand the framework for the production and consumption of content and be able to engage in these systems, while actively seeking and interpreting information. (Miles 2007) The internet is not separate to reality but a part of it. As a media producer in this age I need to become network literate. I need to understand how my audience reads and interprets media texts as well as the technologies that define this. I must understand the way the internet is changing audience perception of reality and driving them to seek their own truths. To understand this one must not only observe but participate in the system.
The advancement of the Internet has allowed a breeding ground for interactive media; completely reconstructing the way we interrelate with information and changing the relationship between producer and consumer. Traditionally producers had almost total power of what was produced, while the consumer remained passive with very little means for feedback and assessment. (Bruns 2008) A quote from the Ford Motor Company illustrates this point, “you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black.” Applied to mass media this suggests that the media producer, for example a newspaper, would print the information and the media consumer, a person reading the newspaper, would read this information and take it to be of truth. As Nietzsche quotes “There are no facts, only interpretations.” There is no longer a holy book, a holy doctrine or a single truth speaking body.
With the introduction of the Internet and its increasing availability to more and more people this distribution of power and control was greatly upheaved. A new model was formed, illustrating interconnecting nodes, rather then a production line. The concept of a central authority began to dissolve. (Bruns 2008)This structure is mimicked in the comparison of traditional text and hypertext. Holm Nelson (1981) defines hypertext as a “non-sequential piece of writing”, in contrast to the traditional text, which is perceived as linear. The sheer function of hypertext allows readers to follow their own line of thought rather than one created for them, imposing less restriction of the reader to engage with the text in the specific way. (Holm Nelson 1981) As the nature of text changes, so does the society that engages with it. Is it that the non-lineal nature of hypertext encourages non-lineal thinking? Or is it that lineal thinking is in fact not instinctual to humans but rather a product of language and grammar and thus degenerating the human mind? Streitz (1990) suggests that hypertext more closely mimics the human thought patterns than traditional linear texts while Manovich suggests that a culture is mimicking the logic of computers. (2007)
Shields writes, “Plots are for dead people … when we read traditional novels, we get to pretend that life is still coherent.” (Shields 2010) This quote captures the rebellion against being spoon-fed not only information, but also a framework to read and understand the information within. Life isn’t a line stretched out before us at all. Things have no meaning, but the meaning that we assign them. We pay little attention to the artefact itself, rather to the context in which we perceive it. This is what is interesting. To employ this understanding, I must conjure ways of rejecting the traditional cause and effect narrative structure as a way to regulate audience engagement and emotion. I am dealing with an audience familiar with a world of hypermedia, able to make their own choices and unresponsive to being told in what manner to think.
“If you want to write serious books, you must be ready to break the forms; it’s a commonplace that every book needs to find its own form, but how many really do?” (Shields 2010)
“Imagine a new liberation literature with alternative explanations so anyone can choose the pathway or approach that best suits him or her; with ideas accessible and interesting to everyone, so that a new richness and freedom can come to the human experience; imagine a rebirth of literacy.” – Holm Nelson, Literary Machines (1981)
Hypertext is often related to the concept of montage. Meaning is derived from relationship between the parts rather than the parts themselves. By letting your audience make choices, by giving them some control of how they interpret what is presented to them, engagement is maximised. This aligns with the age-old “show, don’t tell” comment on how to construct a character or setting. “The question isn’t what do you look at? But what do you see?” (Shields 2011) Understanding this in relation to montage, and framing is of particular interest to me because of my love of film and photography. It is important for me to be conscious of the varied meanings my work can take on and that although you may produce a media text to mean one thing, your audience may read it completely differently. It is about understanding that this is not a problem but an advantage and that and “incorrect” reading of your work does not demean it, but rather consolidates and enriches it.
The platform through which I launch my work is of as much relevance as the work itself. Manovich (2007) suggests that “the new media object consists of one or more interfaces to a database of multimedia material. If only one interface is constructed, the result will be similar to a traditional art object.” We no longer hang our photos alone in a gallery building with one controlled point of entry, but rather the audience comes across the images though a number of different “doors”, each altering the way they approach the work. I may be linked to a photo from a close friends personal blog, from the Facebook page of my photography class, from a catalogue of work by the artist.
I have used he following two images to explore what I understand about context in relation hypertext, montage and interfacing.
By placing these two images together I am inviting the audience to draw links between the two. For example is the girl underwater symbolically/literally stuck inside the glowing canister? Is that an oxygen tank, if so do both images combine to represent an inability to breath/entrapment? How might we perceive the image of the girl if a different image such as a sunset had been placed adjacent to it? We instinctively seek correlation between side-by-side images and derive meaning from this relationship.
The internet challenged prior production and distribution because it provided access to information on a information pull basis rather than a production push basis. (Bruns 2008) Instead of opening the newspaper or turning on the television I type into Google what if of interest to me at a specific time. I am likely to read numerous articles online, including reading the comments section, follow related links and hash tags. Control has switched from producer to consumer, over when, where and how an audience receives information. Allowing the audience greater control over the context of their information and exactly what information they were exposed to. I believe that we seek the answers that we want. Thus I am marketing to an audience with prior interest in my media product. With the internet we have the capacity to find a source that aligns with our views and if we can not find one we can create it ourselves. “Take a source, extract what appeals, discard the rest. Such an act of editorship is bound to reflect something of the individual doing the editing …” (Shields 2011) Information is no longer static or isolated, but rather flows as part of a greater whole.
As an aspiring media producer I must no longer accept truth in one presentation of information and rather rely on my own collection and reassessment of multiple sources of. Furthermore, I must allow revision of my own interpretations and thus, the cycle to continues. We no longer take what is handed to us; we seek it out for ourselves from a plethora of sources. We compare, we take, we alter and we give back. We operate as produsers, not as consumers. We are actively shaping the truth we receive.
Bruns, A. (2008) Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond, ‘The Key Characteristics of Produsage’, Chapter 2
Holm Nelson, T. (1981) Literary Machines
Manovich, L. (2007) “Database as Symbolic Form”. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Vesna, Victoria, ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, Print. 39-60
Sheilds, D. (2010) Long Live the Anti-Novel, Built from Scraps
Shields, D. (2011) Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. New York: Vintage
Streitz, N.A. (1990) A cognitive approach for the design of authoring tools in hypertext environments. In D.H. Jonassen and H. Mandl (eds.) Designing Hypermedia for Learning. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.