The Internet and other various Information Communication Technologies are continuously creating and reshaping new literacies that are integral to our participation in a global community. Changes are occurring at a rapid pace, with new sets of skills and practices required to successfully engage in literacies of 21st-century technologies. The ethos of new literacies involves principles similar to that of participatory culture and affinity spaces, with users collaborating, distributing knowledge and accessing multiple perspectives (Black 2008) in a supported environment devoid of “expert-dominated” traditional literacies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2012).
Many people are ‘joining’ new literacies and redefining mainstream methods of literacy and learning, particularly through the notion of affinity spaces (Lankshear & Knobel 2012). Fan Fiction platforms such as FanFiction.net allow fans of all ages, ethnicities, genders and abilities to contribute as creators or consumers in a collaborative and creative environment. With over a million fictions of various categories, the Fan Fiction Network has over 1.3 million users in over 30 different languages (Black 2008).
Popular culture phenomenon Harry Potter is one of the most consumed and contributed medias on FanFiction.net. There is currently a rising 619, 000 stories building and creating on the basis of JK Rowling’s characters and plotlines. The Internet has propelled the emergence of fan fiction on an overwhelming scale. Fan fiction is a new literacy that not only allows its users to read and create content, but also to be part of a passionate affinity group that supports and encourages positive interaction and creative stimulation.
Remixing or “mashup” involves the process whereby “a range of existing materials are copied, cut, spliced, edited, reworked and mixed into a new creation” (Lankshear & Knobel 2012). Remixing has become an increasingly popular product, as ‘ordinary people’ can readily access remix software online or for a small cost in order to enable their own creation.
Online music distribution platforms also enable users to upload, share and promote their sound creations. Berlin- based company SoundCloud is home to 40 million registered users and 200 million listeners. Musical creation – once the work of a few specialized composers, musicians and producers within a professional studio environment – can now be performed in the comfort of one’s own home, and distributed amongst millions at the click of a button. Like many other new literacies, citizens are now armed with inexpensive tools to create, edit, capture, organize and produce their own material (Delwiche & Henderson 2012: 3).
American musician Girl Talk specializes exclusively in mashups and digital sampling, and has received international acclaim for his five LPs released on the record label Illegal Art. Illegal Art describes itself as experimental “sample-obsessed production” that “pushes the limits” in order to create edgy and inventive sample production. Despite announcing its indefinite hiatus in April 2014, the Illegal Art website still offers free mp3 downloads of its artists’ music, or hard copy purchases for around $10.
The word meme, originating from the Greek word mimeme (or “to imitate”) was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He aimed to use the word meme as a unit of “human cultural transmission”, which spreads and evolves as time passes (Hiskey, 2012). The modern notion of the Internet meme is somewhat more humorous in nature. It usually involves image, video or text, or combination of the three, and is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users – often with slight variations.
The ‘overly attached girlfriend’ meme: Originated from a YouTube video posted in June 2012, in which a female user posted a parody rendition of Justin Bieber’s latest single “Boyfriend” titled “JB Fanvideo”. In the clip, she alters the lyrics “If I was your boyfriend” to “if I was your girlfriend” in a humorous display of clingy, stalker-like verse. The ‘overly attached girlfriend’ meme uses a variation of text posts on a screenshotted image of the young female in the “JB Fanvideo”.
A variety of parodies, a parody of a parody, have followed from the ‘clingy girlfriend’ meme phenomenon:
- Overly attached boyfriend
- Misunderstood girlfriend
- Underly attached girlfriend
… The list goes on.
Whilst the use of memes seems relatively trivial in comparison to active participatory spaces such as fan fiction or music production, one could argue that the exposure of common experiences, situations or stereotypes reveals aspects of our culture we would be otherwise unaware of. The familiarity and relatability of memes – despite assuming gender and cultural stereotypes in the ‘overly attached girlfriend’ example – create a shared network of experiences whereby participators feel “some degree of social connection” (Dulwiche and Henderson 2006: 105).
A video that is viral becomes popular through the process of excessive Internet sharing. This is often achieved through video sharing platforms such as YouTube, social media websites such as Facebook, email, and other forms of electronic communication. Similar to memes, viral videos may often be humorous in nature, however some enforce strong political or personal beliefs, such as the Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children Inc.
An example of a viral video that recently captured my attention – and the attention of 89 million others on YouTube – is Wren’s strangely endearing “First Kiss” (2014). See: http://youtu.be/IpbDHxCV29A
A seemingly simple concept – twenty complete strangers asked to kiss for the first time. Awkward, funny and touching, “First Kiss” portrays several uncomfortable social encounters, but also reveals our natural underlying desire for human connection. Its success can be credited to its simple ability to evoke a strong, positive and emotional response from consumers – much of what viral videos embody.
Viral videos are relatively important new literacies as they allow consumers the opportunity to view and share material of a generally positive nature. The rapid and ever accelerating rate at which videos are viewed and shared, and new literacies holistically, permits access to new information, in ways and at speeds never before possible.
Black, R. W. (2008). Publishing and Participation in Online Affinity Spaces. New Literacies: A Professional Development Wiki for Educators. Retrieved from https://newlits.wikispaces.com/Publishing+and+Participating+in+Online+Affinity+Spaces
Accessed August, 2014
Delwiche, A., & Henderson, J. J. (2012). What is participatory culture? (A. Delwiche & J. J. Henderson, Trans.), In A. Delwiche & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The participatory cultures handbook. New York: Routledge.
Hiskey, D. (2012) Where the Word Meme Comes From. Today I Found Out: Feed Your Brain. Retrieved from: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/06/where-the-word-meme-comes-from/
Accessed August, 2014
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2012). ‘New’ literacies: technologies and values. Teknokultura. Revista de Cultura Digital y Movimientos Sociales, 9.(1), 45-71. Retrieved from http://everydayliteracies.net/files/RemixTeknokulturaEnglish.pdf
Accessed August, 2014