Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kids, Fonts, Multimedia and Reading

Those who have been following my ramblings, both on the Medieval Writing website and here, know that I have a thing about trying to understand the process of literacy, and also about how modern literate communications are becoming more medieval in style than the plain linear texts that my generation learned from. These two themes came together for me recently when I attended my primary school age granddaughters' school presentation and got a copy of their school magazine.
The first notable thing was how savvy the kids were at incorporating multimedia into their live presentations. Text was incorporated into video, slide shows and live performance with lots of fancy special effects, with interesting references to much grander productions. I'm not sure what George Lucas would have made of their pinching not only the Star Wars theme music, but the receding scrolling graphics for the introduction to a blooper sequence of all the things that went wrong when they entered an interschool push car challenge. The whole production was a bit of community theatre worthy of a medieval mystery play, without the risk of the scenery catching fire.
The school magazine had lots of snippets of their original writing. Now when I was a pup, we wrote our stuff out with a pen, and the school secretary typed it out onto Gestetner sheets (Ask your grandmother about those!) and it was printed in glorious grainy black and white in a standard typewriter font. In this magazine, each kid had chosen their own font, colours, decorative headings and artwork. Each work was not just a text, but a visual exploration of design. They had made great efforts to make it appropriate, and some were quite witty. One kid had written a poem about Google, all in the Google sequence of colours for the letters. It's going back to something that is conceptually quite close to the techniques employed in a medieval manuscript. Literacy crisis - bah, humbug!
I recently obtained a copy of the second edition of Mary Carruthers The Book of Memory, a wonderful work that explores how various techniques, including page design, were used to help medieval scholars remember huge swags of text in a meaningful manner. It's a marvellous book, if a bit of a heavy read, and emphasises that reading and memory, text and image were not opposites, but part of a fuller, richer experience of literacy. I must sit down and read it thoroughly, if I can just remember where I put it down last.

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