Blog Post

Twenty-First Century Literacies

21st Century Literacies

What cognitive skills are crucial for educators to attend to in our digital age? Media theorist and practitioner Howard Rheingold has talked about four "Twenty-first Century Literacies"--attention, participation, collaboration, and network awareness--that must to be addressed, understood and cultivated in the digital age (see We all know the standard "literacies" of the 3 R's.  What else is required in our digital age?  Futurist Alvin Toffler argues that, in the 21st century, we need to know not only the three R's, but also how to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  Expanding on these, here are ten literacies that seem crucial for our digital age.   None of these are tested in the normal metrics of our educational system, yet all are crucial skills for our time.

Attention:  What are the new ways that we pay attention in a digital era?  How do we need to change our concepts and practices of attention for a new era?  How do we learn and practice new forms of attention in a digital age?

Participation:  Only a small percentage of those who use new "participatory" media really contribute.  How do we encourage meaningful interaction and participation?  What is its purpose on a cultural, social, or civic level?

Collaboration:   How do we encourage meaningful and innovative forms of collaboration?  Studies show that collaboration can simply reconfirm consensus, acting more as peer pressure than a lever to truly original thinking.  HASTAC has cultivated the methodology of "collaboration by difference" to address the most meaningful and effective way that disparate groups can contribute.

Network awareness:  What can we do to understand how we both thrive as creative individuals and understand our contribution within a network of others?   How do you gain a sense of what that extended network is and what it can do?

Design:   How is information conveyed differently in diverse digital forms?  How do we understand and practice the elements of good design as part of our communication and interactive practices?

Narrative, Storytelling:  How do narrative elements shape the information we wish to convey, helping it to have force in a world of competing information?

Critical consumption of information:  Without a filter (such as editors, experts, and professionals), much information on the Internet can be inaccurate, deceptive, or inadequate.  Old media, of course, share these faults that are exacerbated by digital dissemination.  How do we learn to be critical?  What are the standards of credibility?

Digital Divides, Digital Participation:  What divisions still remain in digital culture?  Who is included and who is excluded and how do basic aspects of economics, culture, and literacy levels dictate not only who participates in the digital age but how we participate?

Ethics and Advocacy:  What responsibilities and possibilities exist to move from participation, interchange, collaboration, and communication to actually working towards the greater good of society by digital means in an ethical and responsible manner?

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning:   Alvin Toffler has said that, in the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century, the most important skill anyone can have is the ability to stop in ones tracks, see what isn't working, and then find ways to unlearn old patterns and relearn how to learn.  This requires all of the other skills in this program but is perhaps the most important single skill we will teach.  It means that, whenever one thinks nostalgically, wondering if the "good old days" will ever return, that ones "unlearning" reflex kicks in to force us to think about what we really mean with such a comparison, what good it does us, and what good it does to reverse it.   What can the "good new days" bring?   Even as a thought experiment--gedanken experiment--trying to unlearn ones reflexive responses to change situation is the only way to become reflective about ones habits of resistance.




This morning Martha Nell Smith, founder of the legenday MITH at U of Maryland, wrote asking if "preservation" should be one of the literacies we need to teach.   We are so used to books and their remarkable longevity that we just assume that digital resources will last too.  They don't.   No one even quite knows how to archive a website.   Digital materials both have an annoying persistence that can haunt one later and an immateriality (and expense!) that makes large-scale projects expendable if they are not compatible with future systems.   Building in considerations of preservation is another important skill that humanists bring to our digital age.


And here's MN's book recommendation in this area:  Delete : the virtue of forgetting in the digital age Title-Request graphic

by Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. (Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2009.)

Appropriate use of deletion and forgetting is just as important, socially and culturally, as preserving/remembering.  There is a tendency to preserve... too much, collect too much data and save it, etc.  At a certain point, most of it should be deleted, and by most I mean 99.999%+ over time.  The really important things will make migrations into more documented and saved media, but most won't and shouldn't.  


Other than that, I think your big list above basically breaks down into 'learning and judgement', teach people how to learn on their own and manage their own learning, and then teach them to judge, use what aristotle called 'practical wisdom'.  


I'm repeating here what I said on Cat's FB wall:  DELETE focuses on digital remainders that we may wish could be expunged but can't be. I'm concerned with the belief among many digital enthusiasts that materials canNOT be erased. That's simply not true. Much 1.0 and early 2.0 work has in effect been erased--written over (like the original recordings of the moon landing) or lost (through poor systems administration). I've been arguing for years that the most important software is the human software. . .and it's the human software that has deemed earlier work unimportant, or uninteresting, or too hard, or too easy, or too (in scholarship) political, or (again, in scholarship) not political enough. We need to go out of our ways to preserve even that which we think uninteresting or not of use--it may well be to others.  And we need to be mindful of what we're deeming forgettable. As I've been writing, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that digital humanities works (archives, e.g.) are comprehensive. Folks who argue that confuse scale with comprehensivity. They are not the same thing. As Derrida and Cvetkovich have made so clear (in their different ways), archives are remainders of what was, NOT full records of what was. And that is as true for digital work as for any other. Some digital humanities folks might not, for example, be reinventing the wheel, as it were, if more care had been taken with institutional memory and preserving more of the 1.0 world (hat tip to Julia Flanders, who 10 years ago stressed to me that institutional memory would be key to MITH, the institute I founded, if it was to survive long term; insitutional memory is important for all that we do). OK, enough soapbox from moi.

One bit I wrote about this can be found at, where I critique the notion of a "comprehensive" edition and/or archive.


I don't think we should actually go out of our way to preserve most things, that's my position.  It is a fairly traditionalist archivist sentiment.  I do think we need to preserve more of what we do not tend to preserve though, the inscriptions of everyday life, the digital ephemera.   In my terms of forgetting and deletion I'm thinking of the work on the necessities of organizational forgetting for organizational life, and as most of us live in organizations, it is somewhat central to some thoughts.  The other person I usually cite on here is Marc Auge who makes a compelling argument for deletion in scholarship and other places in Oblivion.  The idea of forgetting and deletion is important for me because it actually is what enables us to move our cultures and organizations forward.   I do think we should try to preserve some things, but the problem for me is that normally archives preserve the primary narratives, and leave out the micronarratives and alternatives, so we have in digital archives 10000 copies of bill gates letter to the home brew computer club and nothing about who actually read the letter at the time.  


I guess this is always the archivist's dilemma.  If there is Too Much Information/TMI, do we really want to save it all?  At the same time, what happens when tremendous energy goes into sites that, were they paper archives, would have lasted decades and maybe centuries and now might not last five years even without being inaccessible?  How do we decide what is worth saving?   This is a tricky question for me since I made something of a reputation by using marginalia to argue new concepts of literacy in the last great information, the age of mass printing in the post-Revolutionary era.  No one, at the time I wrote Revolution and the Word, thought readers, as tracked by their marginalia, had anything to say to us.   I showed them!  :)   Does anyone have guidelines about what is or isn't worth saving digitally for posterity?  


Yes, TMI can certainly be a problem. (Remember Gertrude Stein's "Everyone gets so much information all day long that no one knows what to think"?).  But as 2.0 accelerates into 3.0, much is being overwritten or otherwise plowed under because someone comes along, needs server space or whatever, and doesn't see the importance of or doesn't understand someone else's work.  When I was directing MITH, my mantra was, "Don't overwrite or erase anything that's not yours."  I meant that about servers, development and presentation, and about the smaller machines all throughout the institute.  CD has made a reputation out of her focus on marginalia, and I've made something of one analyzing the politics of erasure.  Forgetting and deleting does not necessarily move cultures and organizations foreward.  In fact, forgetting and deleting as often holds cultures and organizations back or results in someone doing "new" work that's already been done (instead of building on previous work).  Erasing Emily Dickinson's expressions of queer love did not help understanding her poetry, her prose, nor did it advance understandings of 19th century sexuality in the US.  In fact, those erasures retarded cultural and social understandings, both of her specifically and of a wide range of groups.  Various funding agencies seem to be re-examining some digital enthusiasms that resulted in funding for tools already developed in other fields (architecture, e.g., has had 3-D tools to offer that seem to be being invented all over again, and at great expense), and some are also turning their attention to worked plowed under, overwritten, "lost" through poor systems administration (it's there, somewhere, but who can find it).  I think those reexaminations are more than in order.  Guidlines about what is or isn't worth preserving would always be tricky--the best advice I can offer is to me very mindful of what one is doing when one erases, overwrites, or otherwise degrades another's work, and don't erase anything that isn't yours.  Also, don't ever believe an archive is a record of what was, however extensive it may be.  Archives are collections and curations of remainders. . . .



I'm not actually sure that knowing Emily Dickinson's predilections would have changed anything culturally, and it is impossible to know.  It is true that we do have many accounts of other people's queer love from that time that have become public here and there and while it has changed the hermeneutics of the reading, and the scholarship, it is very hard to say that it has changed the culture or organization in any way.  Could something like this have a profound effect?  perhaps...  

Here I think we run into the old conundrum of the elite opinion vs the mass opinion and the plurality of knowledges and cultures that makes up a society.  It is a bias of elites within a field to think that the field itself needs preserved, that their work should be preserved.  I tend to think more of the non-elite, minoritarian works should be preserved.  I'm not convinced it should be, I think we can make claims about how it would have been nice to have x or y, and that it would have changed x or y, but we can't really know its effect because it didn't happen.  Thus I cannot say that deleting x or y held back scholarship, it seems like it could, but I cannot soundly make that argument. 

As to whether forgetting aids progress, I'd just ask you to turn to your own writing and look at what you leave out.  We have to leave things out to finish them, and this is important, some facts are forgotten, and rediscovered by someone else, it is part of our mode of discourse, the forgetting and remembering, and good memory, great archives can change that discourse, though that might not be a bad thing, though it may not be a good thing either.  Borges taught us something about memory and forgetting as have many other writers, and that is it forgetting and deleting is what allows action, and that is what i was referring to above in terms of moving forward.  If you have great archives, then you will end up in those archives, researching them and mining them, which is a fine pursuit, but there is a worry that culture gets bound by history that way, and that is what happens in corporations and organizations with good memory is that they tend to replicate what they have done in the past, and while that is perfectly fine for a period of time, eventually it will cause disadvantages to your particular culture in comparisons to cultures who do not have such archives.   We do forget to move forward, but I agree with you to the extent that sometimes forward might appear to others to be a regression toward the past.

Granted I'm a big fan of the past and the plurality of innovations that have happened there, I agree they should be mined if they are available, but I do not think we need to ensure that those innovations are preserved in any necessary way, instead I'd rather us help here and there were dominant narratives are overwriting things, and then to get on with the work we need to do in our scholarship today.  As scholars, we have the expertise to preserve particular aspects of interest to us, and through doing that, we likely preserve enough.  

I tend to agree with your 'do not erase what is not yours?' sentiment in some respects, but then many people are custodians for large amounts of data that isn't theirs, and much of that data should probably be deleted too.  I for instance have around 18+ hard drives in my office that I have to delete.  There are certainly things on them worth preserving, and some of those perhaps are preserved by the owners, but some have not.   My responsibility is to delete them.  Most of what on those hard drives is faculty and student work, and again I'd say that 99.999% of the data on them can be deleted.   I have responsibilities to preserve certain collections, but that data isn't part of my responsibility.   Much like we delete/forget/remove facts from our papers, we in our professional lives save some things to be archived, forget other things, and actively delete some other things.  

In addition to archives being collections of remainders, they are also the collections of their curators, who make decisions on accession and de-accession, what is preserved, and what is not preserved in the archive.  My position is not 'don't delete what is not yours', but 'don't delete what you are not responsible for deleting' combined with 'don't delete what you do not know about', which is a guideline I've taught to archivists entering an archive..


A few weeks ago I wrote a deliberately provocative manifesto -- The Archive or The Trace -- about just this issue: our tendency in the humanities to want to archive everything. I argued (taking a more aesthetically oriented tack than Mayer-Schönberger does in Delete) that we need more cultural material that reminds us what it means to disappear forever. We need more texts and cultural objects that are unarchivable, unpreservable. We need what I called "fugitive texts."

Judging from the comments left on that post, I irritated a lot of archivists, what with my implicit suggestion that the will to preserve everything is nearly fascistic. Yet I still stand by my artistic and literary stance, which is that if there's one thing we must preserve, it's the fine art of disappearance.


Over on Twitter, Paul Jones reminds me of the excellent work that UNC archivist Helen Tibbo is doing on this matter of archives.   Check out this site:    The specific topic here:  "Preserving Access to Our Digital Future: Building an International Digital Curation Curriculum"


And there's even a link to two upcoming Institutes on this topic:


DigCCurr Professional Institute: Curation Practices for the Digital Object Lifecycle

Save the Date for 2010/2011!

May 16-21, 2010 & January 6-7, 2011 (One price for two sessions)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Click here to view the flier for the DigCCurr 2010 Institute.

About the Institute

  • Join other digital curation practitioners in a week-long intensive institute taught by international digital curation experts
  • Learn about the digital object lifecycle and practical tools for managing your digital collection over time
  • Engage in collaborative discussions with classmates and instructors
  • Reconvene in January to report on and share strategies for application of the Institute's lessons, tools and content

This professional institute consists of one five-day session in May 2010 and a two-day follow-up session in January 2011. Each day of the May session will include lectures, discussion and an interactive component. A course pack and a private, online discussion space will be provided to supplement learning and application of the material. An opening reception, break-time snacks and drinks, and a dinner will also be included.

See the institute's agenda page to view the June 21-26, 2009 course structure and course subjects.


Online registration is open! Click here to register for the 2010 institute.


Mmm. . .I've been away, taking a break for a terrific basketball game.  I must begin by saying that calling ED's sexuality a "predilection" in many ways proves part of my point -- what has been lost to critical understandings of sexualities by the still-relentless compulsion to erase (on the part of some).  It seems that "buridan" doesn't know my work and that of many, many others both on ED but more importantly on the history of sexualities and the ways in which erasure has distorted and confused and continues to do so.

Also, as director of an institute and also of two different major digital projects, I do not consider the directive, "do not erase what is not yours" a sentiment.  Recently I have been trying to help scholars with whom I worked who have had substantial portions of their own work erased (in that it is at best "lost," irretrievable).  They are not elites trying to save everything, trust me.  They left their work on servers of which others had custodial care, and the work has now been put out of reach.  'tis different than a book going out of print.  I very much like the "don't delete what you are not responsible for deleting" combined with "don't delete what you do not know about" and would mindfully combine those with "do not erase what is not yours."  I don't consider any of those instructions sentiments.

What's interesting to me about this exchange is how quickly things seem to be framed so that positions are polarized.  I have no interest in saying "save everything" nor do I have an interest in urging a "save only what you deem important."  We need to think about these issues more nimbly, and more complexly. What I'm concerned about now is that we are not far away enough from much terrific work that was done in 1.0 and early 2.0 to say with certainty what's important and what's not and gleefully go on our way.  We have the storage capacities NOT to write over that material, and until we have a bit more clarity, I don't see why we need to resist hard-headed analysis about the politics of erasure.  We also need to be very clear-eyed about the fact that there's no such thing as comprehensivity or comprehensiveness, something I find some digital humanities scholars claiming.  So you might keep that in mind when you think about what I'm saying--I don't believe comprehensivity and "saving everything" is possible.  I do believe that some of us are writing over or jettisoning early work too quickly and that those acts of erasure are not being done self-consciously enough.  Again, you might check out my essay at, which I hope makes clear that I don't think a single curator can make a fully informed decision either.

Cathy, thanks so much for reminding Helen Tibbo's work -- very important and great work, work which recognizes that thinking in either/or terms will not get us very far.

Good discussion, one which I hope will continue in many arenas.  Oh, and I think humanities suffers from a naïve belief that everything can be archived.  I've never said that, and didn't in my first post here.  I like the stance, "if there's one thing we must preserve, it's the fine art of disappearance."  Yes, disappearance should be an art, but that's not what's being practiced by much overwriting of earlier digital work.






What a fascinating conversation!   And I'm interested in the LBGT argument that is a subtext here.   Of course, if our metaphors are appearance and disappearance, what is hidden away, we're not far from the metaphor of the closet and outing, what is revealed, what is exposed, and what is hidden or repressed.    That's a not terribly sophisticated seque since our next HASTAC Scholars Forum will be on LGBT issues and the digital.  I hope, in that Forum, that we might return to this relationship of the digital disappearance and the closet.


I also agree with Martha Nell Smith that a polarized argument about preservation isn't very useful.   Nor is it realistic.  The history of history is that what you preserve represents the moment's assessment of "what will last" and what is important to make last.   The flux of history means that importance never stays in one place.   So you can, with all good intentions, be saving what is important in one moment and then, fifty years later, something else is considered more important and the evidence for that is no longer apparaent.   That is why we will always need historians.  


But the difference is that, in a paper-based world, even the most corrupt, chemical-ridden, acidy nineteenth-century newspaper (with ink that burns its way right through the page), there are still documents, however fragile, to be found an understood, that allow us to reconsider, reassess, and learn from the past.   In a digital age, where whole platforms change, and where the pipes and tools are one and the same, history can disappear without a trace.  This is why Library of Congress still has people print out websites on archival paper.   You lose interactivity but there is still some trace of what work has been done, of what existed.  


Returning to Mark Sample's point, there is something importance about disappearance but that will happen.  I'm not sure you need to plan for it on the largest scale since there is no way to archive everything and anomalies happen. 


One area that has concerned me from the beginning of the digital age is the fact that we will want persistence for some digital objects and we do not factor the cost of that persistence into our estimates of how much more expensive it is to now live in the world than it once was.  The apparatus of everything in everyday life is far more energy dependent.   


We live at more kilowatts per hours than ever humanly before.  When we address sustainability, we rarely factor in our basic wattage as part of the sustainability of everyday life.   This erasure of how much it costs us and our world to be plugged in extends to the archive.  


If all publishing is digital, what is the cost--to our libraries, our institutions, and so forth--of sustaining those digital platforms so that they are always and ever accessible.  If our metric for access is decades, not months, how much does digital publishing cost?  These are profound questions and my special thanks to Martha Nell Smith for raising them.



Thanks to Cathy for this very thoughtful response to the exchange over archiving and preservation.  All of our comments have given much to think about and make me more fascinated than I was 25 years ago in the politics of erasures.  Some erasures are very self-consciously enacted while most are a result of a more passive "that could not possibly be important" or "people don't really want to see or remember THAT" ilk.  What you write history's flux is so very crucial for us to keep in mind.  Though it can seem so clear in the present, we don't really know what will be meaningful to the next generation. . .or perhaps even next year or next month.  Does this mean "save everything"?  I don't think so. For one thing, even if we resolved to do that, 'twd be impossible.  But we must, I think, do a much better job and be much, much more mindful (I've repeated that term a couple of times for a reason) than we have about writing over 1.0 and early 2.0 work.  Our behaviors suggest that our narrative of progress (we are always improving the digital and so digital scholarly exchange and publishing) is overriding our common sense--not always, but too often.  

And I'll be keenly interested in the next HASTAC Scholarly Forum on LGBT issues and the digital and would love to hear more about that.  Eve Sedgwick's THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF THE CLOSET continues to have more than resonance, that's for sure.  And Cvetkovich's AN ARCHIVE OF FEELINGS makes some acute observations that will surely inform the discussions.

These issues will be with us for quite some time.  For now I'd like to see some slowing down in writing over or deleting 1.0, early 2.0 work.  We have, after all, the storage capacity at least to take a breath and think about it a bit more carefully.



Actually... I used predilections to lead you into assumptions about my reference. It is a change of the terms of discourse, that strategically was aimed to get you to test the frame of analysis, is your case for sexuality, equally applicable to other narratives about the subject.  What I was referring to was all the other things we've surely lost about her and isn't the focus of your primary narrative, all the minoritarian stories that might again change the interpretation. That was then tied to a quick argument about how we cannot know what the effects of unknown knowledge is.  Hermeneutics and the truths that come from it are not simple, as you know, and archives, as we agree, only provide some access to some things that may be evidence for a varieties of interpretation.  

Preservation provides the same problem for hermeneutics in archives as erasure though, when you preserve too much, and you preserve the primary narratives, which is the tendency of preserving too much, then you provide so much evidence for the primary interpretation that the rest of the insights non-canonical, we've seen that happen before across a wide variety of historically generated fields. We just have to find some balance and my balance tends toward letting more things be excluded from preservation activities than not.

The idea that I am supporting is that forgetting and deletion creates the spaces for scholarship and organizational progress, and large preservation and institutional memory projects removes some of that space.  

I did not say elites were trying to save everything, I said that might be one tactic for preserving things of scholarly interest.   As for your recovery efforts, I would tend to characterize both your efforts as efforts of elites.   As would I characterize the things I preserve.  

I use the word 'sentiment' there because sentiments/passions/emotions drive reason in my cognitive model, and I think that there is a sentiment embedded in 'do not delete what is not yours'  as there are sentiments embedded in almost all preservation directives and their discourses.

I agree there is no need to polarize.  

In the end, I suspect we have more in common in regards to this field than not, I think we are primarily likely split over the basis of generation of our individual narratives for either deletion or preservation.

As for my nickname 'buridan'  here's the identifying picture that unites the nickname with the person.  from there, you can google and see that i'm a co-director of a center in this field also, and I am not a Dickinson scholar, nor did I ever make that claim.  But then I wouldn't expect you to be familiar with my writing either, as we are in vastly different research areas:)  As for the origin of the nick, which I have used almost everywhere since '92, though other people have it other places, it is a reference to Jean Buridan, the French ethicist.   



"I used predilections to lead you into assumptions about my reference."  Mmm. . .and I thought we were having a real conversation.  Your next sentences--"It is a change of the terms of discourse, that strategically was aimed to get you to test the frame of analysis, is your case for sexuality, equally applicable to other narratives about the subject.  What I was referring to was all the other things we've surely lost about her and isn't the focus of your primary narrative, all the minoritarian stories that might again change the interpretation."--indicate that you did not understand what I said, and again prove my point about deletions and erasures in the history of sexuality. Human sexualities, minoritarian--really? 

To repeat, my primary points are "But we must, I think, do a much better job and be much, much more mindful (I've repeated that term a couple of times for a reason) than we have about writing over 1.0 and early 2.0 work.  Our behaviors suggest that our narrative of progress (we are always improving the digital and so digital scholarly exchange and publishing) is overriding our common sense--not always, but too often."  I don't believe a coherent discussion can be conducted about deleting and forgetting in the abstract.  But you seem to be continuing arguments that you've already had with others about "preserving too much."  That's not what I'm saying, Jeremy, so you're not arguing with me.  My concern is, as I've now stated several times, with an overwriting and deletion of others' work that has not been carefully enough considered.  It is happening, and at a rapid pace, and being done by some who are in other venues working on preservation.

Like your nick, by the way.



MN and "Buridan" (and, of course I know your work as Jeremy-- and I bet MN does too!)---thank you both for this marvelously interesting and important conversation.  Mark, thank you too.  I hope we can keep this going as it is very productive.


I don't think that i portray sexualities as minoritarian above, there are many other things in the category of predilection, though that are minoritarian discourses...  I'm not even sure i wanted to include sexualities in predilections, but that is the way it reads looking back on it.  I think that is because i appropriated your term, should have just left the whole area alone. 

In terms of sexuality, I don't really write about it in my work, so here's the thought i'd say on minoritarian discourses and sexuality, when we get past heteronormative/homonormative sexual discourses which are clearly majoritarian and start getting into various far ends of the spectrum which, I think then minoritarian is a possible description.  Representations of minoritarian sexual discourses exist on the internet and I do not think anyone is going to try to preserve them for the most part, though there are likely examples of preservation.  

As for strategies and tactics, even rhetorical tools, in this discourse, we all do that, what i was trying to get you to agree was that we don't know how any given interpretable object will affect the future of a discourse when it enters, and we cannot predict what would have happened if a fact were found.  That is I wanted to say that if there had been complete erasure of the facts of Dickinsons sexuality, we could not actually predict what the scholarship would look like today, though it would likely leave out those facts as they would not have existed. This is part of being in STS and our historiography actually, which is that we try to understand situations like 'and fact arose' in context of all the likely possibilities, and we try to treat all the possibilities as strongly as we can.  It is the empirical program of relativism, we do not privilege the facts that exist, but we try to understand and describe how any of the facts could have existed and thus by describing those possibilities, we can come to some understanding as to how x does actually have effects in scholarship.  Anyway that is just the logic of analysis that I was presenting and pushing there.  If the knowledge didn't exist, could we say the scholarship would be different, and what assumptions are we making about the scholarly community based on that.  My assumption would be that in terms of Dickinson someone would be reading it as a narrative of sexuality even if the facts of her sexuality did not exist.  However, since that never happened, i cannot know.  

There is an assumption that seems to be that if we preserve the fact, that the fact will end up as a good thing in scholarship, but I hold that given the system of scholarship and knowledge production that we have, that we discard facts all the time, and actually the discarding of them is what allows the plurality of knowledge to exist, and that is a good thing.  There are implicit normative structures that i'm trying to uncover here.  What exactly is the good of preserving any given arti/fact?  for me, preserving minor facts is good because it supports plurality, same with objects.   

I'm not really that concerned, I guess, with the case of 1.0,2.0,3.0 as I am with the more general problems and the general debate.  I fully hope that most of the 1.0,2.0,3.0 materials are overwritten and deleted.  Though I hope that some people do preserve some of what they are interested in preserving.  Do we need to do a better job at preserving these things?  Perhaps, but also perhaps not, I'd argue that most of it would be preservation of things that are probably already preserved in some form and that the current form, narrative, etc. is interesting, preserving that wouldn't necessary do anything but enforce a set of norms about what we thing is 'good' to preserve, and that debate is the problematic one.  I would claim also... some ephemera shouldn't be preserve, and some should be preserved.  I also think that the method of accession/preserving is always a political choice that reflects the curator and their milieu more than not.   I am generally not supportive of massive efforts because having been involved with them in the past, I have seen that they tend to forgo plurality, which is perhaps the center of my issue here.  So then the question is about how we are to do a 'better job' and my answer is to let the interested parties, preserve as they wish, but also delete as they wish.

My main point has been that deletion/forgetting provides opportunities, opens spaces, and shouldn't just be a non-option, not that anyone here disagrees with that.  The disagreement seems to be one of degree, form, etc.

I think my estimate of 99.999% of things should be deleted is a fair estimate of the rate of preservation, and that .001% might actually cover everything that you think should be preserved also, that is still a huge amount of information.  

And yes, I think i actually have several ongoing arguments in this space that i probably need to disentangle, but i'm treating this as a fairly informal thinking space and that always means some amount of play and testing of ideas.  


Thanks for the comments on my nick.  


What I think is interesting about this discussion is the almost immediate jump from "is preservation literacy important?" to "What should we preserve?" without really touching on "What is preservation literacy?" in between. Buridan summed it up fairly well, I think, in saying that we need to "teach people how to learn on their own and manage their own learning, and then teach them to judge, use what aristotle called 'practical wisdom'." But I think there's an important precursor to that kind of 'practical wisdom,' and that's where preservation literacy comes in.

In the physical realm, scholars know, more or less, how to manage preservation. ("I'm putting this thing in the recycling bin. This other thing goes in the file cabinet.") With digital materials, the situation is very different. As MN noted, the perception that digital materials are impossible to really get rid of, that anything digital (especially anything on the web) exists in so many places and in so many forms that it won't go away no matter how much you want it to, is both common and problematic. Many people seem to think that digital materials -- or at least the important ones -- will be preserved by default, in much the same way that physical objects survive. The problem is, though, that the digital world moves on so quickly that even if something avoids being overwritten or carelessly deleted, it may very well be inaccessible within a few years of its creation. Even if the bits are there, the meaning is lost.

Certainly, we can't and shouldn't preserve everything. But if something is deleted, if we lose access to a document, it should be because it doesn't have significant scholarly value, not because we don't know what to do with the file format. The crucial component of preservation literacy, in my view, and the reason it should be included in a list of 21st century literacies, is the knowledge that for a huge range of objects (those in proprietary formats, or those that exist on a server you don't control, for example), if you don't plan for their preservation, they will not preserved.


Actually I don't think literacy comes before practical wisdom.  Literacy is merely the capability to read and and write, and historically in my understanding of it,  it was only the ability to do that to the minimal level required to be contracted manual labor.  I am somewhat against the concept of literacy in some of my writings, especially in terms of their being 'literacies' but that's not this argument:)   Judgement in my model derives from practice and performance, you develop it in terms of writing and reading while you are becoming literate, but also about other activities that do not even require literacy.  In the recent Digital Nation documentary which is available on the web they had a nice discussion of information literacy/digital literacy as built on netiquette, and to me netiquette is judgement, so you teach people how to be good users of the internet, then you would teach them to be literate.  That's my take on it at least.  

Preservation literacy is an interesting concept though, but I don't think we need it so much as we need a more general practical wisdom/learning to learn model.  Though I fully expect to see many more papers on the concept of digital literacy, preservation literacy soon.  


I was having a debate with someone else about this idea of a cognitive skill, or more precisely what cognitive skills are embedded in we might call the 'hidden curriculum' of the highly secured, fairly closed off, computer lab.  I've argued that using highly controlled environments create a hidden curriculum that implies an impoverished capacity to act, to act only in ways that are 'allowable' in the lab, instead of having the full creative control of your own computer/computing environment.  There is a hidden curriculum I'd argue that acts against fluency in most literacy also, but I'm only just developing those thoughts, i'm wondering if other people see this?  In cognitive skills... I think the idea of a skill... might have similarly a meaning that undermines the richness of cognition.


Thanks for the ongoing, excellent discussion everyone. I tend to think and write about these ideas from the point of view of a merry prankster, more informed by Dada than Derrida (though the end result looks the same).

But on a more pragmatic level, one thing that's been bothering me since the beginning of this discussion is the idea that these different skills are "literacies" -- the term used by Howard Rheingold, which we've imported into the discussion. Buridan seems to be bothered by the term too, so I'm piggybacking somewhat on his comments.

To me, "literacies" evokes a high/low divide, a kind of privileging of literacy over other essential and no less valid activities. "Literacy" in this cultural hierarchy is a domain reserved for academics and educators. Furthermore, these 21st Century "literacies" are actually quite cognitively different than reading and visual literacy. I would prefer the term "practices" over "literacies" for several reasons. Practices is less exclusionary and neutrally coded, whereas literacy is implicitly privileged. Practices emphasizes activity and cultural production, whereas literacy suggests consumption. Finally, practices recalls Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's notions of apprenticeship and communities of practice. I don't think it's merely a semantic difference to argue that these 21st century skills -- whatever we decide they are -- need to be situated within communities of practice (rather than simply thought of and taught as "literacies").

On another point, I agree with Kathleen that we shouldn't delete or not archive data simply "because we don't know what to do with the file format." I'd take an opposite position on the first part of her statement though: "If we lose access to a document, it should be because it doesn't have significant scholarly value." Again, this evokes a high/low cultural divide that presumes that we academics know better than others what will eventually constitute significant scholarly value. As someone quite interested in society's trash -- both its literal garbage but also what's commonly assumed to be cultural dregs -- I have to say that everything has significant scholarly value.

And finally, this brings me back around to my first idea, that "practices" offers a better framework than "literacy." Practices are highly contingent upon context, so much so that it is possible to embody and enact two seemingly opposite practices at once. This is why I can simultaneously systematically preserve much of my online activity (I archive my Twitter stream three different ways) yet advocate artistic and aesthetic endeavors that resist preservation.


I like the UNESCO definition of "literacies":  the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society."


What Howard suggests--and I am augmenting--is that certain key terms change and are changed by digital means and we need to understand them anew because of this changed context.   To me, these are skills and practices to be honed, but I like the "literacies" precisely in that Dada way that it defamiliarizes what we think we have mastered.  If a new digital context makes us attentionally illiterate, what does that mean?  I like the force of that more than the "21st century skills" which, I think, underestimates how big the changes are.   We have adjusted to them so thoroughly that we underestimate how much our everyday habits and cognitive reflexes have changed.  


Plus, I like having to define why I think "literacy" is the right term!   The conversation itself shapes the conversation, and, to my mind, that is a good thing.


Thanks so much for sharing your pov.  This is an unusually frank conversation.  I hope others join us. 


Maybe these should be "21st Century Skilz" we're talking about? ;-)

Joking aside, I do like that the idea of literacy suggests its counterpart, illiteracy. And also the idea that new digital contexts can render old ways of reading and doing inadequate.

One of my main concerns about "literacy" as a guiding concept -- and the otherwise thorough UNESCO definition highlights this -- is that it focuses on "printed and written materials." Texts. The notion of literacy is too bound up in the idea of texts.

Even if we're well-intentioned when we use the words "literacy" and "text," meaning to extend and apply those ideas to just about any semiotic or performative domain, it seems to me that in the end, the printed word always underwrites what we're talking about. It always comes down to words. And if whatever cultural phenomenon we're looking at has no printed words to study, then we'll write some ourselves, to act as mounting pins, affixing the phenonemon forever under our collector's gaze.

Much of my wariness of "literacy" and "text" is informed (though not necessarily endorsed) by critics like Alexander Galloway and Ian Bogost, who are challenging the ways we think about one of the dominant cultural forms of the contemporary age, videogames. Most relevant here, I'm thinking of Ian's notion of procedural rhetoric. Developing the skills in our students to understand the procedural rhetoric of videogames -- how games express meaning using actions and algorithms rather than words or images -- couldn't really be called literacy in any traditional sense of the word. At best, we might think of "proceduracy," the word coined by Annette Vee to describe a kind of procedural literacy (see Annette's interview right here on HASTAC).

In any case, whatever we call these practices, skills, or literacies, I think some form of procedural understanding ought to join attention, participation, collaboration, etc. on the 21st century list.


I'm a huge fan of Ian Bogost and Alex Galloway----and definitely think procedural literacy is crucial.    I'm adding it to the list!


Many thanks,  Cathy