Postliterate societies are still the stuff of science fiction. However, we are advancing towards one. These are societies where the skills of reading and writing are no longer required, or at least common. Where digital has become the norm.
Until very recently, everyone who had gone to school knew how to handwrite in a cursive script, no penlift, calligraphic. Then typographic-looking handwriting came along, and only a few could do a three-line calligraphic g with a double loop. They were regarded as magicians by the new generation. Then our thumbs and our fingers became the new pens. There are many today who feel more comfortable typing than writing.
We are making strides towards postliteralism. Here’s where we are:
- Writing is optional. There is always a screen within reach. And there is always that notes app on the smartphone. And when we do write, we imitate digital communication: typographic script, low spelling standards with an emphasis on pronunciation respelling, laconism. We’ve gone paperless and invented e-signing.
- Reading is becoming optional and avoidable. The New Yorker app can read back every article via Audm. Blinkist reduces non-fiction books to 15 minutes of ‘key lessons’ which may be listened to. Audible is booming.
- We are all transliterate and we love it. It means that we have the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. Since writing is still taught from a very early age, everyone is still literate in the strong sense. Yet, I suspect that it wouldn’t matter much to many of us if we suddenly lost the ability to use a writing instrument.