What is literacy?
What the definition of literacy is is different for each and every generation. In a constantly changing socio-cultural environment it is difficult to necessarily pin down exactly what literacy is.
The his white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins et al., 2006) identifies the kinds of participatory practices youth are engaged in today, and draws up a provisionary list of the skills these practices demonstrate. Is this literacy?
Some of the skills that are identified include play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgement, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation, visualization. You can check out extensive definitions of what these entail here.
For my grandparents generation it was merely being able to read and write, perhaps they had to deal with some imagery but that was not necessarily a part of literacy in the 1930's. Play was a significant part of growing up and multitasking was something that didn't exist. Because it didn't need to.
My parents had to deal with imagery, video and text. The introduction of technology such as the television (though there was only one television set on my grandmother's block when Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1952) forced people to develop new literacies. Play was still an important part of literacy but the definition of what it is was beginning to change.
Fast-forward to the present generation, or even generation x, to which I belong and there is a huge increase in what constitutes literacy. Primarily this is because of the increase in new media and mediums. The medium has changed what constitutes literacy. Kind of like what McLuhan was talking about with his theories on media. Rather than being content with being presented with content, students now need to be able to create and construct content, and disect the messages in the content that is delivered to them.
And the content is being delivered faster and in a more constant stream (thanks to smart phones, ipads and the like) than ever before. The definition of literacy is changing just as fast as the content that is being delivered.
Sadly though, with all of this new media the importance of play is increasingly diminished. You can see this in many different ways. Recently in my school the time alotted for lunch and nutrition break was cut back to increase instructional time. As technology increasingly pervades teaching I expect this to be increasingly the case, though it is invariably detrimental to the overall make-up of our students.