Electracy is a theory by Gregory Ulmer that describes skills and facilities necessary to foster communication competence in the era of digital media. It is a coined word for “electrical” and “literacy.” According to Ulmer, electracy is to digital media what literacy is to print. He draws comparisons between the shift from orality to literacy in Plato’s time, suggesting that at the beginning of the 21st century we’re experiencing a similar shift from literacy to electracy.

electracy table

Electracy adds the digital dimension to the oral and the literate cultures. As far as the institution, people in the oratorical era assemble in one place such as a church and listen to a speech. In the era of literacy, people get information and knowledge at school, home, and everywhere. And, the place for electracy is now the Internet, and it is very young and still evolving. You can see the other categories with each generation in the table on the right.

So, Ulmer’s proposition is based on the concept that electracy is the next landmark of our communication strategies and in many ways is better than traditional print-based literacy because it makes ideas, concepts and information much more interactive and more widely available.

For literacy, theoretically, aims to share knowledge among people provided they have access to the print forms. However, here is where literacy falls short, for not everyone has the same kind of access, the same sphere of influence, or even publish in the same language. Electracy, however, broadens the sphere of influence even more than orality and literacy did. For now all one needs is internet access in order to access the wealth of knowledge and to contribute to it. Anyone can start a blog, post pictures to communities, share their insights in general to a broad audience. People can associate themselves strongly with a group and define themselves by which groups they belong to and what they can contribute to the group. Online discussions in these can grow just as heated as those in real life, and often link to other sources like Wikipedia and Youtube as proof or entertainment. Such hyperlinking simply cannot be done in a text source. Also, language barriers are affected via translating software and online communities of generous translators, reducing barriers once again.

However, there are downsides of electracy. Collective information sites like Wikipedia can be added to or adjusted by anyone at any moment, so it is difficult to judge credibility of such a malleable source. In addition, the ease of handling might make the users less responsible. It is a problem which is special to the society today. According to Ulmer, “What is important for electracy is the creation of MOOD or atmosphere, the logic of which is fundamentally poetic or imagistic.” So, my question is, where can we draw the line for the creation of mood and how can we guard digital world maintaining the mood of imagination. It is difficult to deal with these questions, but if we avoid facing up to it, more and more problems could arise.

related article: Introduction: Electracy


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