The New Literacies: How Fanfiction, Vlogs, and Podcasts are changing our World.

Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobe write in the first chapter of this collection about how the idea literacy is actually such an expansive concept that is ever evolving in our digital age. The piece goes over the definitions of literacy and how they use it in the discussion, but was really summed up in this quote.

“There is no one singular phenomenon that is literacy” (Lankshear/Knobe 7)

Literacy as we know it is not about reading and writing, but the use of context and understanding the material from the author’s context. What the subject matter means to them and how they see it is just as much of a component of literacy as the content itself. We look at these models in history as well, since bias and context play such a heavy role in primary historical documents. Reading a newspaper from London in 1944 about a battle and reading a German article about the same event can have drastically different meanings. In even a more casual context, reading an imdb review from a comic book nerd about Suicide Squad and then reading another from someone who knows nothing about the comics would lead to entirely different opinions and complaints. If you don’t know the character development or the story arc components, then those aren’t going to be things that you’re looking for in the movie.

The two authors at one point bring up Machinima as a type of storytelling and narrative. I was first introduced to the concept of Machinima, the use of video game assests to animate stories, years ago by one of the most popular shows of its kind, Red vs Blue. In it, the content creators use the models from the popular game Halo to tell short episodic comedy stories. Before its mention in this article, I would never have considered this type of storytelling to be a form of literacy or that I would ever read a chapter in a real book that talked about not only Machinima, but also AMVs and Fanfiction in a scholarly context. I indulged in these practices as a teenager, ripping anime clips from dvds and setting certain scenes to music. It’s an artform in and of itself. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of AMVs that were cut better than some Hollywood movies, and these people are doing it for free. I even still occasionally will read a short Fanfiction or two. It’s a dialogue and culture so different for new people who come into it. They wouldn’t know the terminology. F/M, OTP, A/N are just abbreviations to them, just a couple of letters.  One could go onto a Fanfiction site, such as Archive of Our Own, and find millions upon millions of words written entirely for free by fans. These people aren’t getting paid, they perhaps will get comments and likes every so often, but thousands of those stories will never be noticed.

Lankshear and Knobe talk about this phenomenon and the general generosity of the internet throughout the paper.

“Much of the point behind remix practices, for example, is to be and feel connected to other people and to celebrate a fandom: to participate in an affinity, to make shared meanings, to brighten the day, share a laugh, share one’s passion for a product or a character, and so on.” (Lankshear/Knobe 13)

The use of technology and the rise in these sorts of forums of communication have created a space in the internet where the input is for everyone. People are sharing expertise and ideas from all over the world in just seconds. Literacy isn’t just reading and writing derived from classrooms anymore, students are now taking that knowledge and pushing it into their own interests. They are multitaskers at heart. A large portion of the population of younger folks will be on the computer communicating on social media, they will have their phone next to them, have a tv on in the background. They’re learning how to take in all of this information and process it in amazing ways. The way that we look at literacy should be changing, the traditional views aren’t enough anymore. Looking through the Discourse and the cultures of our digital age, we need to adapt if we are going to stay ahead of the curve.

Digital storytelling in this perspective is so much more important and can have a higher impact on all kinds of learners. Creating information and communicating that to people is not just a form of entertainment, but it extends to learning. We can adapt these new literacies into our stories, into our communication to better understand the people around us.




Knobel, Michele, and Colin Lankshear. A New Literacies Sampler. New York: P. Lang, 2007.


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