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Another sign of post-literacy

No way anybody’s going to abandon privacy policies anytime soon – not with the FTC’s and others’ calls for ever greater disclosure of mobile and Web services’ privacy practices (e.g., see this). But no one reads them – even if they could get through all the legal verbiage without nodding off. Knowing this, Mozilla, the people who brought you the Firefox Web browser, and some privacy advocates decided to conduct an experiment, the New York Times reports. In an effort to make sites’ privacy disclosures actually useful to users, they’re vetting 1,000 Web sites’ privacy policies and assigning to them little icons that tell users – at a glance – what the sites are doing with their data. - Anne Collier, "Privacy Policies Made Palatable" Net Family News, November 27, 2012.

Really, does anyone actually need to read any more? Gettin' more post literate* as a society everyday. 

Libraries for a Post-Literate Society: "...the postliterate as those who can read, but choose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming. Print for the postliterate is relegated to brief personal messages, short informational needs, and other functional, highly pragmatic uses such as instructions, signage and time-management device entries – each often highly supplemented by graphics. The postliterate’s need for extended works or larger amounts of information is met through visual and/or auditory formats."


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Reader Comments (8)

Makes the 2006 movie "Idiocracy" even more prophetic.

December 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterS. Nelson

HI S. Nelson,

My sense is that post-literacy will not be considered a mark of stupidity or ignorance by the majority of society - if it is now. That being said, you may be right about Idiocracy!


December 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I think the idea of "post-literacy" is getting a bit maligned. What if it is very good thing? If you are interested in a thought experiment about this have a look at Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Future


December 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Ridley

Hi Mike,

Great link. Thank you.

I suspect for many of us whose talents are based in literacy, post-literacy is rather frightening. I've never argued that it is a "bad thing," I don't believe. From my article on Post-Literate Libraries:

I would argue that postliteracy is a return to more natural forms of multi-sensory communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization. It is just now that these modes can be captured and stored digitally as easily as writing. Information, emotion and persuasion may be evenmore powerfully conveyed in multi-media formats.

Thanks for the comment,


December 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I spent some time thinking about this issue Lots of questions, few answers. It is hard to see icons replacing language, but a universal system of icons is likely to be more widely adopted than Esperanto. No doubt human ingenuity will find ways to embed a tremendous amount of meaning in an icon, but theunderstandings that readers/viewers bring to the icon will vary... Neat stuff to think about though, interesting to watch it unfold.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiles MacFarlane

Hi Miles,

Interesting. Hadn't given fonts that much thought other than to make sure they are readable.

Thanks for the link,


December 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I don't have a problem with the idea that people can and will get their information from different means than text. Some things are better communicated that way -- how-to instructional videos come to mind. Some people process information better that way. What I DO have a problem with is the idea that we will abandon text, because text is a useful, information-dense method. I've heard it said that all the words used in a half-hour television newscast are fewer than what you would find on only the front page of an actual newspaper. When in a hurry (which is actually most of the time) and faced with an online news source that is video only with no transcript, I skip it because I can read the same story elsewhere in a fraction of the time. Discussing a post-literate society with the idea that text will be pretty much abandoned makes as much sense as discussing a "post-map" society. Both text and maps are extremely efficient at communicating certain types of information.

And yes, I read that thought experiment and was not impressed.

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterksol

Thanks, Kath. I like the map analogy. However, I have to say, the GPS in my phone has pretty much eliminated my need for road maps when I need to get some place new. (Although I usually take a paper map as a back up.) And this come from someone who loves maps (I even have some framed as art in my home.)


December 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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