Critical Comedy Against Computer Literacy

Posted by nicholaspelafas on July 26, 2011

Comedy has always been an important avenue for expressing criticism and showcasing the redonkulousness of our society, and I can’t tell you how much I have missed Bill Hicks especially during 9/11, the Bush years, and the economic meltdown.  In this clip from our boy ‘The Big Yin’ Billy Connolly, he rejects computer literacy and technology in general, and laments the day when your address was written with a pen on paper, tickets for airlines were assigned manually, and encyclopedias were straight-forward books.

Clearly Connolly comes from a time period when these things did not even exist, and when there was significantly less people, business, and available information out there in the world.  This simply makes me think of how odd it is that children growing up today might not even know what a fountain pen is (let alone how to write their address in cursive with it), have seen a paper seating chart, or heard of Encyclopedia Brittannica.  In fact, I remember how I was floored when I was 17 years old and met a girl my own age and had never learned how to read a non-digital clock. 

It is interesting to think about with regards to multiliteracies, whether what we are talking about here is simply a generational disconnect or if the world has possibly become unnecessarily more complex.  I think the last part of Connolly’s bit about needed thousands of pounds worth of equipment to use the ‘pocket encyclopedia’ is interesting here.  On the one hand we may interpret it be referring to needing money to have access.  But, as paper encyclopedias and pens/paper, work their way out of out lives by losing relevance, I think we must also be concerned about dependency.  It used to be that you could nearly construct/find all of the things you needed to live a contemporary normal life, from your house, to tools, and even your car.  Now without technology, expertise, electricity, computers, cell phones, it would be very difficult to participate in society or be successful in any manner.  We basically need computers to fix our computers these days.

If the purpose of literacy is to enable critical thinking, communication, and expression, our growing dependency on technological literacies could indeed be harmful when we find ourselves in situations where those technologies are unavailable, inappropriate, dysfunctional, or overly complicated.  Clearly the benefits of new literacies out-weigh the fears of over-dependency on technology, but perhaps the time has come to think about whether human capacity is about more than being proficient in the newest literacies.  I think people need to be able to critically combine literacies and technologies, if we are to evolve in a way that takes into account how our present reality has been constituted and the diversity of human experience.  Otherwise I think we very clearly run the risk of becoming overly independent (and therefore disconnected from each other), and forcefully universalizing our expectations with regards our literacy capacities and applications.  This risk would, however, conform to the capitalist/imperialist paradigm that has been predominant up to this point, meaning that a break from this tradition would constitute a very serious global reordering of literacy priorities.


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