Contrast (part 2/2)>> What Distraction Assembles

<< Digital Nation and other texts that mediate between academic and public views of digital culture’s effects on our thinking and communicating (e.g., Carr’s The Shallows; Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation) offer starting points for understanding where we stand with respect to a key component of Trimbur’s historicizing of literacy crisis rhetoric: that literacy has been rhetorically shifted from the public practices of community life into measurable, cognitive status markers maintained in school. Our new felt sense of the powerful, agentive nature of digital literacy practices throws the schooling of literacy into a bit of a tailspin. Literacy is increasingly portrayed as re-embedded in the mundane operations of everyday life: people are writing to each other all the time for self-expression, to connect to one another, and to participate in activities that are meaningful to them. Especially in comparison to Johnny, Eliza's image emblemizes this move toward literacy as a self-sponsored daily practice. However, her version of literacy does not always adhere to the standards literacy professionals have set: to use Richard Lanham’s phrasing, it’s seen as “fluff” rather than “stuff” at its best or cognitively damaging at its worst.

The words “literacy crisis” are never uttered in Digital Nation. However, much like Trimbur described when he analyzed “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” we hear parental anxieties, professor complaints, and see student images. Though Digital Nation draws on similar anecdotal evidence, students’ perceived failures are not limited to grammar, punctuation, and spelling – those typical markers of class status. Instead, the layered vignettes lead to the idea that cognitive functions and embodied practices are changing for the worse because individuals are growing up digital. >>