Selfe: Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century

Selfe, Cynthia L. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. 1999. Print.

Bright Shiny Objects

Selfe explores the intersection of technology and literacy, primarily through the rapid rise of computer use in the late Twentieth century. Selfe argues that prevailing social, economic, and political inequities and myths about literacy are perpetuated in the widespread call for increasing levels of computer literacy: “I try to identify the effects of this new literacy agenda, focusing specifically on the serious and shameful inequities it continues to generate within our coultre and the public education system” (xix). Selfe analyzes how the Clinton Administration’s Technology Literacy Challenge, as a national literacy project, perpetuates and extends to computers literacy myths such as the positivist notion of inevitable individual progress through literacy. Such myths are exasperated through soundbites and pop science that misdirect attention: “our cultural tendency to sketch complex technology issues and the technology-literacy link along the lines of a reductive binary–technology as boon or technology as bane–encourages a widespread lack of attention to the complexities and nuances of the issues with which we are now faced” (39).

Selfe traces the roles of government, education, ideology, and families (i.e., parents) in the construction and maintenance of literacy myths and the legacy inequities that such myths afford. In a time when computers were relatively novel to scholars in the humanities, composition, and language studies in general, Selfe finishes with a call for engagement and awareness: “By paying attention to the unfamiliar subject of technology–in sustained and critical ways, and from our own perspectives as humanists–we may learn some important lessons about how to go about making change in literacy instruction” (134). Selfe advocates action through situated knowledge and practice in local, institutional contexts (from pedagogy to committee work, programs, and in departments), in professional organizations, through scholarship and research, through networked infrastructure, wider political and civic efforts, and through teacher education and coalitions.

technology, literacy, computers


Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction

James Paul Gee, Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses

Bruno Latour, ARAMIS or the Love of Technology


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