Due to the lack of a unique definition of literacy and the need for redefining this conception in a context characterized by the changes generated by the inclusion of new technologies in all aspects of the society, this explicative research article is oriented toward proposing a definition of literacy from an integral conception which is based on three main kinds of literacy: functional, informational and ethical. This integral conception must orient the basic contents in the school curricula in all current educational models, mainly at the university level. We consider that knowledge is unique; it should not be divided into pieces. Therefore, it is necessary to integrate the new technologies, from this new paradigm, in the contents of the school curricula. The present article compiles some general considerations about literacy, proposes a new definition of literacy from an integral conception, as well as each one of its components.
It is undeniable that info technology has an influence on human issues. It is also true that this influence has become more intense since the end of the 20th century with the rise of the Internet, when several changes appeared in regard to information treatment and interpersonal relationships by offering communication facilities never observed before.
Two breakthrough inventions formed the information society’s foundation: computers and telecommunications, which play roles similar to those that the steam engine and electricity played during the industrial revolution (Cellary, 2003). In this sense, the Internet and the current scientific and technological development are the results of society’s evolution which has gone through dedifferentiated and clearly defined stages: agrarian society, industrial society, and currently, information society.
Cellary (2003) explains in a very simple way the form in which both inventions have a notorious influence on society. On one hand, he shows that although computers can only capture a fraction of their programmers’ real intelligence, computers behave like people in that they make correct decisions based on the knowledge encapsulated in the programs they run. On the other hand, telecommunications ensure common access to all computers connected to the Internet, giving the entire society the chance to share and spread information.
This information revolution tends to deprive humans of their decision-making monopoly, given their tireless speed and mathematical precision; computers will always outdo humans in performing any intellectual activity that can be explicitly defined (Cellary, 2003) and the facility for sharing results through the Internet.
This is consistent with the ideas of Gutiérrez (2003) who affirms that this convergence of languages and technologies and the arising of cyberspace as a relational environment promote three important changes: 1) new kinds of predominant documents, 2) new forms of communication, and 3) new education and communication environments.
Additionally, the main features defining the information society, according to Castells (2001) are firstly, an informational and technological revolution as basis. Secondly, a socioeconomic reorganization process known as globalization. Thirdly, a change in organization processes (not less deep than the previous one) as the transition from vertical organizations to Web organizations. Gutiérrez (2003) adds that these three factors and the interaction among them, generate important social and cultural changes.
However, the process has not produced purely benefits. Even when science, and in particular technology, has been produced by social progress, and both have undeniably offered great contributions in different areas: health, communication, education, culture, socio-politics, among others, inconveniences have also been produced.
Nowadays, it is necessary to educate citizens from a new perspective: the new citizens must be literate in the use of new technologies, but at the same time they must have a critical thinking, a reflexive and participative sense and be committed to society in order to be able to consciously and responsibly use sources. In other words, they must be integrally literate.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Integral Literacy: It is based on three kinds of literacy: functional, informational and ethical. Includes the basic tools that an individual must have like reading, writing and calculation; and the socio-affective skills in combination with the new technologies used in the search of changes of attitudes to construct a more humane and free society.
Functional Literacy: This has been understood as the ability to read, write and to perform basic mathematical calculations.
Reading: A dynamic, transactional, sociopsycholinguistic process of constructing meaning and making sense of print ( Goodman, 1994 ; Goodman & Goodman, 1983 ) and digital information.
Informational Literacy: Referred to as the capacity to access information (in electronic and printed format), select, critically classify as well as assimilate and turn it into knowledge; in other words, to build meaning.
Ethical Literacy: Refers to assuming reading and writing with a critical thinking, with respect toward the position of others, with conscious use of the information, and with respect to the intellectual property, and to rescue the moral principles and the values established in the information society.
Information Society: A specific form of social organization in which information generation, processing, and transmission are transformed into the fundamental sources of productivity and power ( Castells, 1997 ) due to two human inventions: computers and telecommunications.
Writing: Is a process of constructing meaning in which writers actively integrate thought and language ( Smith, 1981a , 1981b ; Goodman, 1994 ; Goodman & Goodman, 1983 ).