Is Social Media Helping with Literacy?

America's Most Literate Cities
There are a lot of ideas coming to life right now thanks to social media and networks. A year or so ago, I asked — Has Web 2.0 has made you happier? Are
your online relationships as productive or satisfying as your real
ones? And if the answer here is "yes," do you have many real

Has Web 2.0 empowered your customer service people
— or just thinned out traditional marketing and personnel budgets? Are email, Twitter, and IM services helping you to communicate
better — or just flooding you with noise? 

Have all the social bookmarking services brought you closer to great
content, or has it just added to your workload? Has greater access to information about everything created more opportunity for learning and enriching thought — or has it just created a bigger divide between those who can think critically and those who can't?

Two of the main cultural threads coming together are:

  • the concern that the real time Web is destroying our ability to contemplate and process information thus impoverishing our critical thinking — if you're reading this post on your iPad, while tweeting and IMing, bookmarking and sharing, you may see only the bolded words in the post
  • the enormous potential of connecting readers with authors, artists and collectors, thinkers and doers, learners and knowledge, directly; the opportunity to collaborate, co-create, and crowdsource that comes from seeing what other people are working on

What prevents someone from developing their potential, aside from choice?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
defines literacy as the "ability to identify, understand, interpret,
create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials
associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of
learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop
their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their
community and wider society."

Get there early

I believe that every child at birth has the potential of Leonardo da Vinci.

Literacy is my passion cause, the reason why I buy tons of copies of How to Teach Your Baby to Read (Amazon affiliate link) so I can give the book to every expecting parent. Reading is the beginning of the gift of literacy, the gateway that opens up the world to a child. Parents are the first teachers.

Buy the book, enjoy the experience with your child, get there early.

Getting connected

There are many other worthy organizations that help children, from the global to the very local. Here are a couple:

  • Room to Read, founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, collaborates with local communities, partner organizations
    and governments, to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among
    primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school
    with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond

  • Donors Choose is an online charity that grew out of a Bronx high school where teachers experienced first-hand
    the scarcity of learning materials in our public schools and wanted to connect donations directly to the schools/projects [hat tip RaynaNyc]

The Web is helping us connect with those organizations and follow the progress of their mission. 

What about staying connected?

Top Tend Cities on Twitter Does TV help with literacy? You don't have to answer that, just think about it.

Linda Odell shared one of her favorite
moments with Literacy Kansas City
, an agency focusing on teaching
adults to read, from a different student. On Facebook, she wrote about a middle-aged
man who spoke proudly of having progressed the the point of being able
to read "Little House on the Prairie." "I was really surprised," he
said, "to find out how much better the book was than the tv show."

There may or may not be a loose correspondence in the list of most literary cities and that of top cities on Twitter.

At TED, Ethan Zuckerman highlighted the issue that cripples social media and ultimately
potentially the power of the internet to really connect humanity — the
fact that we have increasingly segregated conversations online
imprisoned in filter bubbles and what he rather brilliantly called
'imaginary cosmopolitanism'
. [hat tip Richard Huntington]

Indeed, in the words of a Sufi, "Knowledge that takes us not beyond ourselves is worse than ignorance." [hat tip Elik Şafak, TED]

Are we on board with the world of connection and possibility, are we looking beyond our own ideas, statistics, and world and using our gifts to reach out to others and share what we know? Or are we merely gravitating towards what we think we know?

Choose to make a difference today.

Buy How to Teach Your Baby to Read (Amazon
affiliate link) for a colleague, a friend, yourself, or a stranger who is beginning the wonderful adventure of parenthood. Go find an organization that supports literacy. Or broaden your horizons in social media beyond the circle that follows you and agrees/disagrees with your every word. Stay connected.

[charts from the yearly Central Connecticut State U study, and WeFollow]

PS: there are rumors today it's my birthday 🙂

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0 responses to “Is Social Media Helping with Literacy?”

  1. whisper… happy birthday.
    To your point, social media in general I believe has helped encourage people to write more often than they would otherwise. Letters were at one time (most often beautifully written with care by hand), were a highly respected form of communication. Blogs in many ways I think have re-kindled people’s desire to write and share. Sites like yours, take it to another level — inspiring people to converse, share and learn. More people are likely becoming more literate as result.

  2. Very thankful that you would broach the subject of literacy. I see literacy as a much larger issue. I actually serve on the Board of Directors of the National Center for Family Literacy. Literacy to us is not just about reading, it’s about life skills … math, technology, parenting and more. Yes, reading is FUNdamental, to borrow a line, but you would be amazed at the number of people – children and adults – who lack the basic life literacy skills to raise children to compete in today’s environment.
    Yes, we should focus on teaching literacy as you have outlined it here and YES YES YES, social media is making strides in funneling people toward the need to read. But there is so much more we can use social media for.
    I would encourage you, Valeria, and anyone interested, to consider NCFL ( and its multi-generational and family literacy approach. But also thank you for putting this out there for people to chew on.

  3. @Peter – thank you for noticing. My quest for liberating us to have our own thoughts is often met by resistance — much easier to go with the flow and the Masters of the Obvious (I can feel a wake-up post forming :). We’re all the richer for welcoming diversity and depth of thought.
    @Jason – having had direct experience with teaching babies, I know that’s a great place to start. I’m never afraid that someone is going to jump out of a dark alley at night and say something incredibly smart. Ignorance, however, is not synonymous with lack of instruction… it’s more of an attitude, often of entitlement. And its truly scary. Literacy is indeed broader than just acquiring the skills, it’s about developing a mindset and approach to lifelong learning. Thank you for sharing this resource with us.

  4. Valeria-
    Literacy has always been an evolving concept;one that is defined by context and culture. What social media has brought to the forefront is a global need to consider literacy beyond traditional assumptions.
    As you stated in your comment to Jason, literacy is much more than a skill set. It is a mindset; an approach to life and learning.
    The ability to read and write, to share our voices with the world, and to rally others around those messages, is now an honor and privilege accessible to every human being-regardless of age, race, background,and experience.
    Social media has evened the playing field by introducing new rules to the game. Those who play by the rules;who understand the power of privileges of being literate celebrate every day in this space. Those who hang onto “tradition”; fighting for how things used to be, will be left behind.
    Thanks for this post, and for spreading the fight for literacy and the right to be literate to your readers. Here are some resources to share.
    New National Standards:
    Changing Literacy Rules
    New Literacies for the Web-

  5. Thank you for the links, Angela. Much appreciated. To top the sentiment of this post, I ended up watching the movie “precious” this past weekend. I could not imagine what life would have been without being able to read and write, articulate thought and access resources. Social media allows for extending those conversations and projects.
    (In case anyone is hesitant, the two links are to Angela’s posts)

  6. I work for a company that sells a reading program and we use social media to provide reading teachers with tips & resources for helping struggling readers. When I clicked on this post I was thinking along the lines of what we use social media to promote the cause of literacy, but as I’ve worked on doing so I’ve realized how grateful I am for my own literacy skills & ability to create.

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