Crystal Clear as Mud

Media literacy shows itself in libraries, coffee shops, and even elementary schools. It’s in the cell phone in our pocket, the gps on our boat, and the cd in our car. It’s not wonder, then, that defining it is necessary. But is defining it enough? Media literacy is the ability to understand and use technologies successfully. That’s deeper than it sounds. Because media is constantly changing, and last month’s elite toy is today’s obsolete dinosaur, we must be flexible, able to make sense of new functions and how they fit into our currently existing schema for the media we have, and work on a very steep learning curve. Johnson (2005) calls this cognitive adaptation the ‘sleeper curve’.  The reason, however, that media literacy is crucial, however, is that we must be able to not only learn the functions of the media; we must be able to communicate (i.e., convey and translate messages) via these existing and emerging technologies.

As Jolls (2008) mentions in her list of 5 questions we must ask ourselves when observing media conveyed messages, we must remember that different people translate messages differently. Sending a receiving texts is a very common example of this: one person sends a playful text, and the receiver perceives it as having an angry tone. Being media literate means recognizing that there are alternative ways to process the same submission; much in the same way that different songs touch people in different ways.

Different media also function better for different purposes.  Transmedia, as presented by Jenkins (2011), is the convergence of different media in order to create a single, more rich experience for the consumer. This is necessary for more than one reason: some media lend themselves better to certain types of people. People who use twitter, use it to keep up on breaking news or write about their every day goings on (Hoover, 2011). Facebook, twitter, and foursquare all serve different purposes, and yet they’re all considered social media sites. Understanding where one is better used over another, especially based on what your message is, or what messages you’re looking to receive, is also part of media literacy.

Jenkins (2011) also points out that media is more and more participitorial, and less spectatorial. Lieberman (2011) echoes this point, saying that we’re prosumers, rather than consumers. This lends itself to the necessity that we are able to comprehend not only the technologies themselves, but the messages/purposes they are serving.

Literacy, which we typically think of as pertaining only to written pieces (e.g., books, theatre, etc.), means being able to read and write. When reading a book, we must be able to use the book (i.e., read) and decipher the message (i.e., understand the plot, characters, themes, etc.). It stands to reason, then, that media literacy means we must be able to do the same; the technologies included in media is far more comprehensive and inclusive. It is for this reason, that media literacy must be vague and we, as prosumers, must be more flexible.


Hoover, T. (2011). Life as a tweet. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2009). Henry Jenkins [Web]. Retrieved from

Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad for you is good. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group.

Jolls, T. (2008). Generation m-media literacy, education & choice [Web]. Retrieved from

Lieberman, C. (2011). “America’s Got Technology”: Participator television. Retrieved from

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