Literacy and the Web03.02.00
The Oxford English Dictionary, Paperback Edition, published in 1994, defines Literacy as follows:
literacy: (lit-er-ãsi) noun the ability to read and write
That is true in the same sense as it is true that the internet is a bunch of computers linked together; you only get the most basic aspect of the idea.
What the OED won't tell you, is the fact that literacy is so much more than just being able to read and write. It is comprehension. Literacy is being able to comprehend what you read, and being able to write with lucidity, to say nothing of style. In other words, it would make a lousy statistic in today's world. Much better to report on how many people can read and write.
Gone are the days of the philospher kings, when wise men ruled because they were wise, instead of because they were able to convince the most suckers to vote for them. I hear tales of how leaders who were aware of their own limitations would surround themselves with the learnèd, so that they might prosper from their knowledge. Now all I see are politicians surrounding themselves with yes-men, so they can feed their own egoism, or even worse, so they can hide their inadequacies even from themselves.
This is where the web comes in. Never before has there been such a tool for helping so many people become truly literate. And why, you may ask, is the web such a great tool for that? The answer is simple. You have to be able to read, and you have to be able to understand what you have read, or it won't work for you. Even the flashiest, most visually oriented sites, like Kaliber 10,000 or Staticlife (the latter of which works only in Netscape, by the way) have to have some kind of textual content, or they are quickly dismissed.
As Jeffrey Zeldman has often lamented, the web is, in its current form, just a glorified collection of magazines, most of which are rather poorly written. This is a good thing.
I firmly believe that things happen for a reason, and I also believe that great things develop in stages. The web is no exception. The web has gone from a loose collection of computers to a massive network of users spanning the globe. The fact that most sites resemble trashy magazines is a Good Thing at this stage of the game. The public likes trashy magazines, that's what they respond to. And that is what will get them hooked. Once they're hooked, the real work can begin.
The web is slowly becoming an essential tool, and as that happens, the amount of traffic on it will increase, and so will our reliance on it. But one thing will not change. It will still be text based. The demand for comprehension will increase, and, as the laws of supply and demand will not be disobeyed, comprehension will increase accordingly. True literacy will move up a notch, as will basic OED literacy.
Of course, there are those pioneers who have already taken the early steps into the next phase, like Project Gutenburg, and A List Apart, and they deserve our respect. The road will be long and hard, but in the end, they will be praised for their forsight and their perseverance.
In the meantime, add some more content to your website. Or better yet, go read a book.