Whenever my English professor assigned us a project called a “Techno-Literacy Project,” I was immediately worried. Do I have to be technologically advanced? Am I able to think of enough good ideas to connect my literacy to technologies? How do literacy and technology even relate? Once I got over my initial concerns about the project, and learned how technologies have helped billions across the centuries to perfect their literacy, I was easily able to come up with many ways in which technologies have shaped my reading and writing skills from a very early age. From pens, pencils, and the Tupperware stencil set, all the way to Myspace and my late-night AIM sessions, technology has had a huge influence on my literacy.
Although I was able to jot down several technologies that have helped me with my reading and writing skills, the first and earliest memory that came to me was my experience with my dad’s workshop typewriter. In this blog post, I am going to tackle specific technologies that have had a significant impact on my literacy throughout my early development.
Though I had been an avid reader (listener) ever since I was born, one of the first times that I connected stories with words and letters, and then eventually print, was when I was about four years old. My dad, a computer repairman and my nightly book-reader, had recently built a connecting room to our house in order to store old computers, systems that he was fixing, or bric-a-brac that my mother would not allow in the main house. One of the many items stored there was a 1950s typewriter (a Smith-Corona) , an item which fascinated me. Since I had been recently learning about letters in Pre-K, I was amazed that hitting a button on the typewriter resulted in that letter appearing on a piece of paper. Not quite yet understanding how the letters formed words, or that they created specific sounds, I did not know what I was typing as I ferociously banged at the keys (and loved the clicking sound that each key made). However, I did realize that my beloved books had their own letters and words, and that I could potentially copy those words down by using the typewriter.
I had the perfect opportunity and reason to copy down one of my books (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer): my Granny was in the hospital for gall-bladder surgery. While this might make a few people giggle, as a four-year old I thought that my Granny would appreciate nothing more than to see that I had copied down, word for word, the Rudolph book just for her on the typewriter. From the recesses of my memory, I believe that I only typed down a couple of the first pages, took the paper out of the slot, and packed it with me on our way to see my Granny. When I was ready to tell her the story, I looked at the words and froze: “I don’t know how to read this!” However, as the family ham, I was not about to let that fact become public knowledge, so I winged it. I told my Granny the story of Rudolph, yet only from my memory of the story, and not from what was typed on the page.
Even though this anecdote shows a complete failure of my four year old self, I do recognize the impact that this typewriter had on my writing and reading skills. The typewriter allowed me to understand that letters formed words, that words created sentences, and that sentences told stories. This simple object could also print out these stories, just like the words that appeared in my favorite books. Once I had figured out this simple fact, it would open many more doors for me to sharpen my literacy. Eventually, the typewriter lost its appeal for me when something else replaced it: I had begun to learn how to write these letters myself (which then created a life-long dream to become an “arthur”). Though I had eschewed the “modern” technology for something a little more “archaic,” the typewriter will always exist as an early example of my reading and writing journey.
While I am positive that millions of people in my age group have grown up with a television in their homes, my memories of the television are a little more personal; therefore, I wanted to share an anecdote of how the television affected my literacy:
For this section of my blog, I wanted to get even more personal…about television. Now, I know that many people would not think that a person could draw some deep emotional connection or experience to a T.V., but I can.
Let me tell you a little bit about my dad, the television, and how both improved my literacy. My dad and his three brothers all have significant hearing loss. Growing up, I assumed that he and his brothers were born with this hearing loss, but come to find out it is much more complicated than that. Their dad was the only doctor in a tiny town, Elgin, Texas, so he saw everyone and every illness imaginable. The story goes that he brought home some kind of illness (flu, extreme cold, or virus) and it affected all four of his sons. Their sickness was so bad that they suffered significant hearing loss. Later, this made much more sense to me because each boy had different levels of hearing. For example, my youngest uncle, James, was very little when they were all sick, so he had not yet had as much hearing experience as the others. He is also the only one of the four boys who depends on American Sign Language.
My dad recalled to me the moment he remembers that he lost his hearing. He was a ten-year old student, sitting in his school classroom one day, when “the world seemed to shut off.” I cannot even begin to imagine how that must have felt for a ten-year old boy, to go from hearing perfectly to wearing a hearing aid in elementary school.
Since my siblings and I have always grown up with my dad’s hearing loss, we grew up a little differently and in my opinion, a little more empathetic than most. We were very protective of my dad, even defensive, if anyone said anything negative about his hearing. We also never questioned why we had to do some things differently, such as watching television and movies with the Closed Captioning option on constantly. We wanted to enjoy T.V. shows and movies together as a family, with my dad.
This, Closed Captioning, was what greatly improved my literacy. Every show, every movie, and every commercial was captioned for us. We could read and listen at the same time, building our vocabulary and improving our spelling as well. I distinctly remember learning how to spell specific words: the word “recently” from the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and the word “virgin” from the movie Hocus Pocus. The “virgin” part probably was not the best for an 8-year old to know, but we didn’t know exactly what it meant anyhow.
The other significant part of Closed Captioning is that my parents inundated us with old films, such as Shirley Temple, Hans Christian Andersen, The Red Shoes, and Our Gang. Not only did we enjoy watching these movies but also we learned more difficult and old-fashioned words this way, seeing them on the screen and listening at the same time.
My dad may never know that a sickness he had when he was ten-years old would have any sort of impact on his children’s reading, writing, spelling, and listening skills. But dad, if you are reading this, I promise it did.
Computer Games & Grammar Songs
Initially, I did not really think that computer games would have been a technology that helped to develop my literacy; however, once I started to remember the games that I loved most in the 1990s, I was able to think of several examples of games that were entertaining and educational. I’ve also listed Grammar jingles within this section because I had the complete opposite reaction to them: they were one of the first memories I thought of to include in this techno-literacy project.
When I think of my beloved 1990s computer games, there are several ones that come to mind immediately: The Oregon Trail, Gizmos & Gadgets, Treasure Mountain, and Reader Rabbit. These are the games that make me wish I still had the old MS-DOS system, not only so that I could play them again but also so I could see now how they helped with my literacy. However, I remember enough about the games to come up with several ways in which they helped to improve my reading and writing skills. For example, “The Oregon Trail” was the game that taught me the word “dysentery.” (In case you are not familiar with the game, this is the word you want your travelers to avoid). This is just one example of how the computer game taught me a new word, and that dysentery was a bad result. The game heavily relied on its users to know how to read: you had to select your family’s pace along the Trail, you had to spend your money on specific items to take in your wagon, and you had several significant choices to make (do you pay an Indian guide to cross the river, or choose to ford it yourself?). If you were successful in your selections, then your family made it to Oregon without any mishap (I never made it all the way with everyone alive).
There are countless examples that I could give regarding the other computer games I listed and how they also helped me with reading and writing skills: games like Reader Rabbit made its players use the mouse to draw in letters and shapes, and Treasure Mountain led its users through a series of clues and hints to figure out the end puzzle. Although these computer games definitely contributed to my literacy, there is another very significant part of my childhood that affected my reading and writing skills: Grammar songs (click the link to get hooked!).
At the elementary school that I attended, our curriculum stated that we must have a separate grammar class using the Shurley Grammar method. The Shurley Grammar method required students to complete countless numbers of worksheets regarding grammar, sentence structure, and spelling (which is why I am a “Grammar Nazi” today), and to memorize Grammar jingles as well. For example:
“Preposition, preposition starting with an A: aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, around, at…preposition, preposition starting with a B: beyond, but, by…”
Songs like this went on and on (and on), but we as young students absolutely loved them. Not only were we to memorize these jingles, sing them out loud, and were expected to write them down for quizzes and homework. This was a fun and interesting way to get kids to understand basic grammar rules and to practice writing and spelling. Most of the teachers had the grammar jingles listed out on large rolls of paper, allowing the students to read the jingles as well.
I know that things such as computer games and grammar jingles helped to improve my literacy because it’s so obvious now what our teachers were doing back then: getting us interested in reading and writing through a fun way. My sisters and I, to this day, still compete with each other to see if we remember the old jingles (my older sister always wins!).
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) has gotten me in trouble, but it has also been one of the greatest tools in improving my literacy. What I remember most about my introduction to AIM is that my family had just recently gotten internet access at home (2001). I still was not quite sure what exactly the internet was, as an eleven-year old, but I had heard about this little thing called AIM, by which you could chat with your friends through the computer. My family only had one computer for all five kids to share, so we either only got a few minutes each or none at all.
My best friends at the time, Regina and Rebecca, and I were then obsessed with the fact that all of our names started with the letter “R,” and we gave ourselves the monikers of “Queen,” “Princess,” and “Duchess” to make things more creative. Since this was most recently on my mind, my very first “ScreenName” became “princessren11” (Princess Renee, eleven years old). The few times that I was able to access AIM, I only sent messages to my closest friends (Regina, Rebecca, and other classmates) and did not really talk about anything significant, seeing as we saw each other every day at school. What this introduction to AIM did create, however, was a years-long process in which I sharpened not only my computer skills, but also my reading and writing skills. Of course, we never really realize at the time how much of an impact a certain technology is going to have on our lives, but AIM had a very significant part to play for me.
I could go into all the nitty-gritty details of how AIM has gotten me in trouble from the age of eleven to sixteen (chatting with people I did not know, staying up until 2 a.m., or re-downloading the program after my parents deleted it), but what I am just cognizant of now is how influential AIM has been for my literacy. My computer classes at school had prepared me for the typing part, but AIM broadened my vocabulary and helped me to practice sentence structure and grammar in an interesting and fun format. If anyone I chatted with used a word that I did not understand, the internet was right there for me to look up the definition (without the person knowing). The way that AIM worked by allowing its users to perfect a message before sending it (and letting the person know that you were typing), was an ingenious way for middle school kids to practice forming sentences in a grammatically-correct fashion (we hope!).
If you wanted to be cool, you also had to learn the lingo: LOL=laugh out loud; BTW=by the way; BRB=be right back; ASL=age? sex? location? While it is frowned upon to use these acronyms in an professional essay, it was completely normal and expected for AIM users to learn and know this language. We could look at this as broadening our vocabulary in one way or another, even if we do not use these words in typed school papers or in spoken word (though I am guilty of using “BRB” out loud). One of the other ways in which AIM helped with a person’s reading and writing skills was through the opportunity to chat with people from all parts of the world (whether it was just another state, or an entirely different country). This provided greater opportunities for learning about other cultures, which could then snowball into other results: wanting to know more about the person’s country, what their national history is, what sort of similarities or differences exist, what books are on their reading lists.
AIM, though it was the #1 reason why I was in trouble during my teenage angst years, actually provided me with greater writing and reading skills than any other technology I utilized in my early development. It was a program that I used constantly and one that I was most interested in using every day after school.
It almost seems impossible to conclude this techno-literacy project, seeing as I am now cognizant of how many different technologies affected my early development with literacy. We may think of the word “technology” and automatically think that it only pertains to computerized or electronic devices, but there were tons of more examples that I could have used to describe my learning process, and none of them would have counted as “modern” technologies (pens, pencils, and stencils). This fact shows us that “technology” has been with humans much longer than we can imagine, and it has affected how we process information and how we improve our reading and writing skills. What I can definitely state at the end of this project is that humans and technologies are inseparable, and we will always rely on some form of technology to help guide us in our intellectual advancement. We may use different technologies than others (Closed Captioning or The Oregon Trail computer game), but we all have the same experience of using technology to improve our literacy.