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Internet Librarian 2013 – Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Future

Mike Ridley

[Sarah's note: No, I was not doing LSD or taking mushrooms before or during this talk, believe it or not.]

Ridley said he was here to talk about “the welcome demise of literacy.” Reading and writing are doomed. Literacy as we know it is over.  Welcome to the post-literate future.  He’s talking about alphabet systems and writing systems when he says “literacy.”  The premise is that just as the powerful capability of literacy displaced primary orality, it is inevitable that literacy will be replaced by a more powerful tool, capacity, or capability.

He’s been on sabbatical and published an eBook-like-thing called Beyond Literacy that came out as a series of blog posts originally.  He wanted U Toronto iSchool students to be co-creators of this.  The irony that a discussion of the death of literacy   is in a book format does not escape him.  They set up a Pinterest site for the bibliography.

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

The literacy/writing box limits us.  What is beyond that box, that tool, that could open up new ideas?  The alphabet warps us and limits us.  So we should get rid of it and move beyond it.

He makes a distinction between written language and spoken language.  There are very few written languages.  Most languages (97%) don’t have a written equivalent.

We have too much information.  Our environment has lots of stuff and it’s reached a point where we can’t deal with it.  We face this “too much information” problem regularly as a culture.  At these iterations we develop new tools.  The writing systems we have are not that good—it takes a long time to learn.  It’s addictive too.

So what’s post-literacy look like?  Cognitive neural implants, perhaps.  To him, though, he thinks that’s hyperliteracy—it wouldn’t change the undercurrent of our literary selves.  Telepathy? What if we all were telepathic, that it’s a capability we all have that’s just suppressed?  Collective unconscious? If we elevate ourselves to a higher level, do we become the Borg?  Could pharmacology replace writing? People have been taking drugs to understand the universe for centuries.

Technologically we are closer to creating computers that are way smarter than we are, using a concept of computing intelligence in the abstract.  Machine code is going to take over.

Or maybe it’s not about us at all.  We like to put ourselves at the center of history. Maybe it’s really about “that next evolution,” the next species that’s coming along.  Maybe the new toolset/change is the post-human species.

Can you maintain the self in a collective unconscious or a post-human species?

We’ll go through this phase and it will take a while to get this next iteration right.  We’ll have to go through this transition and that’s fine.

What about the physiology of information?  This is a tremendously interesting time for neurology. Where will this science take us?  The brain is a soup of proteins, neurons, synapses, redundancies, and chemicals.  Connectivity is a huge piece of it.  Information is stored in this soup…it’s not an alphabetic component but a biological structure.

What about cognitive pharmacology?  What if we could create a drug that would grown in your mind a particular understanding or idea?  Take a pill, learn French.  This would be the end of learning.

Mind-melding is powerful. There’s a philosopher who has written a book on mind-melding.  It’s part philosophy and part neurology.  It’s achievable.

Some of his students theorized that aliens would bring us a post-literate culture.

There is a radio station about this research—Beyond Literacy Radio.

“Internet Librarian 2013 – Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Future”

  1. John Says:

    Seriously, no shrooms? Ridley really should have shared them with the audience before he started to talk.

  2. McGhiever Says:

    I’d love to know your opinion of this presentation. I think it’s fine as a thought experiment, but if your possible successors—telepathy, neural implants, post-humans—are at present essentially fantastical, it is EXTREMELY PREMATURE to be claiming that “literacy has run its course.”

  3. Sarah Houghton Says:

    I think it’s an interesting thought exercise, but nothing more. I do not think that literacy has run its course. I do not think reading and writing are doomed.

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