Blog Pile

Beyond Words (NMC Conference Closing Plenary)

Beyond Words -reality of reading and writing in the 21st Century (closing plenary)
Stephanie Barish

If you are reading these words on paper or in an inert form on a screen, you are participating in our most enduring written form of communication. We’ll call it “plain text,” and it’s been essentially the same since Mesopotamia, through the ages of the scribes, Gutenberg, the typewriter, and the word processor at the end of the last century. We have cleaned it up over time and improved distribution, but the act and the process of what we think of as writing have changed little since the innovation of papyrus transcended the communication arts of the cave walls, clay, and stone.

On the other hand, since the turn of the last century, the knowledge and the technological ability to communicate with media other than words has been dominated by the arts and entertainment industries. Now that we are in the digital era, image, moving image, sound, interactivity, mass distribution, and other advancements are readily available to the individual author, and if these new dynamic media are, in fact, emerging to challenge the primacy of plain text in our daily communications, we are witnessing the first true communications revolution in more than five thousand years. If “reading,” for instance, now includes “watching” and “hearing,” “waiting,” “responding,” and often “writing,” something truly has shifted in the foundation.

As the practice of what we have traditionally considered reading and writing quickly evolves, someone must step forward to inject the critical and practical skills needed by the individual to match this tectonic shift in the core. Is your institution prepared to address the basic literacy needs of the 21st century, or shall we leave the job to Hollywood?

Reference to George Lucas quote in NY Times “It’s a Multi-Media World” (showed video interview with Lucas) “Students need to know about editing, composition, minor chords- how those thing work” Problem that college graduates are not leaving with these critical skills.

Understanding the palette. Underlying principles of forms of media expression and their intersections. Think of it in terms of a language, a number of languages.

Word-based sentence: Diagramming the sentence. We are taught it but do not think about it.

Image Based Version: Diagramming the image. Formal properties of frame (cropping), composition (foreground, middle ground, background), perspective (where is the eye drawn), color (palette), texture (filters).

Sound: Diagramming a sound. Types of sound, properties, effects, uses of sound. While students are very adept at analyzing sound, but not used much in educational multimedia

Film: Frame, light, time & space, depth & movement, linear/non-linear movement

Many Languages of Multiple media: interactivity, movement, AI, sound, image, time, gameplay, performance, programming, navigation, space

Digital enables us to intersect media.

Intersection of image and text: words adjacent to image of beach — changes with romantic caption, sarcastic caption
Intersection of sound & image: hawaiian music with image of beach, or location cue with sound of train or galloping horses, vs sound of wild laughter
Juxtaposition of multiple images- create a simple story by choice of images

Many intersecting languages of multiple media- bowl of spaghetti– it is the basis for media literacy, not just literacy of individual media types.

Importance of participation (not just consumption of Hollywood content)

What does it take to become fluent in the 21st century?

Once we could merely watch, listen, and read, now we can author the whole breadth of tools that the bnig media companies have long used to define our culture

Expanding collaborative practices (“new media requires collaboration”). New potentials for audience and distribution. Heightened engagement, ownership, and accomplishment.

Example of expression- students from classics study at USC (not technical students) building a story of Troy, “Troy IV”. Related oral and written traditions. Created flash video of images, sound, text, 3D animation.

If this kind of stuff has any value, please support me monthly on Patreon or a one time PayPal kibble toss
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. You know, I don’t disagree with the conclusion, AT ALL, but I HATE the implication that this is a 21st century phenomenon. It is clearly equally a 20th century phenomenon. How can I take anyone seriously who talks about the preeminence of sound and video as if it is recent change?

  2. FYI, these are just some notes, certanly not the full gist of the presentation. I would agree that heralding the 21st century is not anything significant (it’s not fun talking about the future being done in the last century ;-)

    Between the lines was the notion of the powershift of where this media is being created, mixed, used- by individuals, not big conglomerates. Both speakers at this conference bookended with themes of multimedia literacy not being just about the media, and not just about stuff on the screen (social networks).

Comments are closed.