Stuart A. Selber and P.M. Forni: Digital Literacy as A Juggling Act

Selber’s five-point characterization of a functionally literate student includes the parameter management activities, along with its corresponding qualities: “A functionally literate student effectively manages his or her online world” (45). I want to apply this category to myself as a student in English 6540 by briefly discussing my rationale for choosing not to “follow” the blog postings of my classmates. P. M. Forni’s popular book, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, provides the context for this reflection. Forni  founded The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, where he is a professor of literature and language. In The Thinking Life, Forni argues that in order for us to have a better life in this age of almost-constant mental buzz, we must set aside time every day to (learn to) think deeply about what matters in our lives.

Forni encourages people to engage in a thinking life by encouraging readers to

Think first, and then speak or act (or blog).

Make paying attention one’s default modus operandi.

Reduce time spent on trivial distractions (this includes much of what we do with the Web, and with Web 2.0-and-beyond technology).

“Invest time in serious, uninterrupted introspection and reflection.” (Forni 7)

There is nothing earth-shattering or stunning in Forni’s argument. Yet he predicates his conservative thesis (take the time you know yourself) on reducing the amount of time spent online. Forni believes that “we are losing more than our power of concentration to our addiction to the Internet” as our time spent online restructures our thinking and memories (5).

Is it possible to take Forni’s cautions to heart and to simultaneously develop one’s digital literacy? Selber does not recommend that students waste time online; rather, his model of digital literacy provides a theoretical platform for functional, critical, and rhetorical literacy. Addressing one small point at the intersection of Selber and Forni, let me consider the addition of the blog to this course. We are required to post about fifteen times this semester and encouraged to learn to use the features of WordPress, and I have chosen to use my blog for posts related to the course. This seems to be an enjoyable and worthwhile assignment with lots of room for individuality and creativity.

Yet the temptation (optional, as I understand it) to “follow” other bloggers and be alerted by email whenever they post adds time to one’s digital management activities. It may not seem like much, but following the posts of one, several, or all of my classmates, puts me into a passive position of receiving notifications alerting me to check in and spend time reading the new post and perhaps respond with a comment. This mechanism presents an avenue for getting to know my colleagues and reading more of their wonderful writing, so I regret that in order to manage my time and give myself the power to choose, I will not be following any class blogs. Instead, I plan to go back and click on the links provided in the current unit and read the blogs as I have time. Even though Dr. Reynolds has included no requirement to follow any of the blogs, I wish I could grant each of my fellow students the sense of approval and connection that comes with knowing there is someone out who is paying attention. I enjoy seeing messages in my email that others are following me, and I want to share the joy.

But my intense schedule dictates that I protect my time. Part of that ongoing battle is learning to recognize when I can—without blatantly violating social or educational norms or expectations—obstruct systems that make me a passive recipient of information to which I “should” respond. If anyone in English 6540 does read this post, please know that I am not avoiding your blog, or choosing some but not others in some sort of popularity contest! I am heeding the advice of Professor Forni and applying the system of Selber. I will read blogs as I can this semester, I hope with greater focus from a more centered mind than would be possible by rotely checking every time I receive an email alert.

Works Cited

Forni, P. M. The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in an Age of Distraction. New York: St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.

Selber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.

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