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Social Media & New Literacies

Chapter 2 Reflection

New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning

by Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobel

Have you ever spent a little more time than you intended on social media? Maybe it was Facebook, and after you fell down a rabbit hole of photos on your friend's friend's profile page you suddenly looked up and nearly an hour had passed. Why do we "watch" people on social media?

On StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson recently had an interview with Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, and explored the roles that art and technology have played on Stone's thinking, life, and future. In Stone's reflection on his intentions for Twitter, he outlined his process of considering how the technology would make people feel, and how those people would make others feel through engaging with it. Tyson eloquently processed these intentions into a job title, and suggested that Stone was a "designer and conceiver of what people seek and value". Again, the question of why we seek out and value social media interactions arises.

In connection to Lankshear & Knobel's concepts of social practices and how engaging in these practices can explore and evolve new literacies, participating or engaging in social media can be seen in the same respect. Summarizing Andreas Reckwitz, Lankshear & Knobel suggest that "humans share ways of making sense of or ascribing meaning to the world as the means for 'doing life together' (or 'being social')". Watching people on social media reflects our desire to understand, connect, and to be literate as a member of different communties. The practice of participating in social media is synonymous with engaging in literacy and literacy practices. Understanding the norms and socially recognized practices of participating in social media is a literacy. Lankshear & Knobel continue to refer to Reckwitz and say that "these 'mental patterns' are not the private "possession" of an individual "deep inside" but, rather, are 'part of the social practice' in the sense that Gee (James Paul Gee) refers to in terms of 'the social mind'. In other words, practicing literacy is engaging in the collective exercising of 'the social mind' or collective mind.

What does all of this mean for our understanding of literacy and social media? It means that engaging in the production and consumption of knowledge and information can be done through "encoded texts". Lankshear & Knobel define encoded texts as "texts that have been rendered in a form that allows them to be retrieved, worked with, and made available independently of the physical presence of another person". Social media does just this; it is a way to create and share a mental picture of experiences, emotions, and thoughts that contribute to the collective mind of society.

So, don't feel so bad when you spend a little more time than you intended on social media. Produce, create, share, consume, reflect and connect; we are exercizing our collective, creative mind.

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