24.458, Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Jones and Hafner (2012)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-458. Thu Jan 24 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.458, Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Jones and Hafner (2012)

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Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2013 14:51:31
From: Chris Blankenship [c.n.blankenship at gmail.com]
Subject: Understanding Digital Literacies

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3058.html

AUTHOR: Rodney H. Jones
AUTHOR: Christoph  Hafner
TITLE: Understanding Digital Literacies
SUBTITLE: A Practical Introduction
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Chris Blankenship, Emporia State University


This short textbook provides a beginner’s introduction to contemporary issues
surrounding literacies conducted in and influenced by digital environments and
new media technologies. Assuming no prior knowledge of the topic, Jones and
Hafner provide a clear and accessible overview of the most relevant issues in
digital literacy studies from a sociolinguistic/discourse analytical
perspective. In keeping with this introductory framework, every chapter
contains resources designed to help with classroom use. Each chapter contains
a single case study section which provides more in-depth explanation and
analysis of an issue relevant to the chapter topic. Interspersed throughout
the chapters are also 2-3 “activities” sections that provide questions for
additional discussion, often asking students to relate the theories outlined
in the chapter to their own lives. Finally, each chapter concludes with a list
of resources that includes not only the references cited by the authors in the
text, but lists of web and video sources providing more information on the
chapter’s topic of discussion. In addition to these chapter resources, Jones
and Hafner provide an extensive glossary of relevant terms at the end of the
book along with their full list of references.

Jones and Hafner begin the book with a general introductory chapter entitled
“Mediated Me,” which sets up the basic premise that digital tools allow us to
do not just old things in new ways, but new things entirely, such as
“blogging, mashing, modding, and memeing” (p. 1). To frame these “new things,”
the authors use Marshall McLuhan’s (1964) concept of “mediation” and further
explain technologies in terms of their “affordances” and “constraints,”
particularly five ways in which these aspects of technology impact our lives:
“doing,” “meaning,” “relating,” “thinking,” and “being.” This basic conceptual
framework continues throughout the rest of the book. This introductory chapter
also defines the title term of the book: “for us, ‘digital literacies’ refers
to the practices of communicating, relating, thinking, and ‘being’ associated
with digital media” (p. 13) and provides examples of how this concept modifies
existing literacy practices. The remainder of the volume is split into two
sections, the first on digital tools, the technologies that shape our
discourse, and the second on digital practices, the impacts that the tools
have on our everyday concept of literacy.

The Digital Tools section begins with Chapter 2: “Information Everywhere.” The
authors begin this chapter with the assertion that digital technologies have
resulted in “information overload” (p. 19), which requires that digitally
literate individuals be able to make new decisions about information. After
distinguishing between the concepts of “information,” “data,” and “knowledge,”
the remainder of the chapter focuses on how to manage information, with
sections on organization, networks, filters, and algorithms, focusing this
final section on the use of search engines and the various ways to effectively
use them and the information they provide.

Chapter 3, “Hyperreading and Hyperwriting,” deals with the ways in which
digital tools are influencing the traditional literacy practices of reading
and writing. The authors begin with a discussion of internal and external
linking practices in hypertexts, emphasizing how hypertextual structures are
different from linear or hierarchical structures. Following this discussion,
they briefly address the common argument that hypertexts are lowering people’s
intelligence, focusing on Nicolas Carr’s book “The Shallows” (2011), where his
argument is summarily dismissed as “flawed.” Following this argument, the
remainder of the chapter focuses on Web 2.0 technologies, which are tools that
allow readers to become participating writers as well: commenting, fan
fiction, mashups, and remixing.

Chapter 4 more fully addresses a term introduced in Chapter 3: multimodality.
The title may be a bit of a misnomer, however, because the entire chapter
focuses on only one additional mode: visual. Though the auditory mode is only
briefly mentioned, the authors cover the visual mode extensively, discussing
the transition from page to screen, visual layout, visual argumentation, video
image progression, and visual-text interaction.

Chapter 5, “Online Language and Social Interaction,” provides an overview of
more traditionally linguistic topics of inquiry. This chapter begins with a
discussion of how digital tools impact language use, focusing on media
richness as an avenue to investigate practices like emoting, abbreviating, and
the use of space. The text takes a sociolinguistic turn in the second half of
the chapter via a discussion of interaction, identity, and creativity in
purely text-based communication.

Chapter 6, “Attention Structures,” focuses on how digital tools impact the way
that humans structure and divide their attention, based largely on Richard
Lanham’s “The Economics of Attention” (2006). Starting with the common idea of
multitasking (also called polyfocality in this chapter), the authors provide
examples of how digital technologies require users to divide their attention
“across a range of multimodal signs” (p. 85). The authors then return to the
concept of information overload, and, using Lanham’s “attention structures,”
explain how digital media requires new literacy practices to cope with the
many affordances and constraints of polyfocality.

Chapter 7, “Critical Literacy,” focuses on the ways in which digital tools
influence our ideologies. Again using the framework of mediation, the authors
discuss how digital technologies exert control over humans through
affordances/constraints, social practices, accessibility, and usability,
while, conversely, how humans exert control over digital technologies through
appropriation, adaptation, modding, and mixing. The remainder of the chapter
provides further explication of these basic concepts through discussion of
language, systems of inclusion/exclusion in creative tools, and relationships
as reflected in social media programs. Throughout each of these subsections,
the necessary critical literacies associated with each digital tool are also

The book’s second section, Digital Practices, begins with Chapter 8, “Online
Cultures and Intercultural Communication.” This chapter discusses the
different kinds of online affinity spaces afforded by digital technologies and
the cultures-of-use that grow within these spaces. Much of the chapter is
spent outlining the discourse systems that arise within these groups and
providing examples of the myriad of communities that can exist, with their own
systems of communication and ideologies. At the end of the chapter, the
authors broaden the scope of the discussion to consider how digital practices
have changed intercultural communication, particularly between native speakers
of different languages.

Chapter 9, “Games, Learning, and Literacy,” outlines the ways in which the
medium of video games can provide a space for new practices of learning.
Combining concepts of multimodality and hypertextuality from previous
chapters, the authors discuss the ways in which video games promote new ways
of reading and writing, both within the games themselves and in other online
spaces devoted to the games. Using the game Spore as an example, the authors
look at story structure and visual interface as new methods of meaning making.
Outside of the game itself, the authors consider fan interaction in the
construction of “game manuals, walkthroughs, fan modifications, and fan
machinima” (p. 134). The latter two of these practices involve the
manipulation of the game itself to create new games or the use of the game’s
visual components to create new video. The chapter concludes with a brief
discussion of the impact of games on identity and a final section synthesizing
all of the concepts into a discussion of games and learning in general.

Chapter 10, “Social Networking,” covers the digital practices surrounding not
just the ubiquitous Facebook, but also Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and
Google+. Jones and Hafner contend that while sites like Facebook are not
changing the nature of friendship, they are, however, changing the nature of
how people connect with one another. These connections form not just by
personal interests but by associations, which is similar to the hypertextual
manner of organization described in Chapter 3. It is in this way that clusters
of people are bridged with other clusters, forming connections that the
authors describe as “weak ties,” which can become “strong weak ties” when such
a connection proves helpful in some way. With this new way of connecting,
identity becomes more important, and the authors discuss how the ways in which
we present ourselves can impact our privacy and be a motive for corporate

Chapter 11, “Collaboration and Peer Production,” revisits the topics of
reading and writing from the first section of the book from the point of view
of digital practices. Much of the chapter is devoted to outlining the ways in
which new technologies, such as Google Docs and wikis, are changing
collaborative practices from sequential or parallel writing processes to
reciprocal processes where writers can work on the same document concurrently.
This process also involves commenting on and editing others’ work. Beyond
immediate collaboration, the authors also provide a detailed discussion of
wikis, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of mass peer production and
crowd sourcing, including the problematic nature of the authorship, ownership,
and accuracy of texts produced in this manner.

The final chapter, “Digital Literacies at Work,” outlines the ways in which
digital technologies are transforming the workplace. Using the phrase “the new
work order” to signify these changes, the authors discuss knowledge-based
economies, distribution of workers over long distances, telecommuting, the
preference for self-managed teams over vertical hierarchies, and the
increasingly tenuous link between employer and employee. After describing
these transformations, the authors then look to the advantages and
disadvantages of this “new work order” and determine, as the reader may
expect, that the advantages outweigh the potential pitfalls. The chapter then
shifts focus to the individual worker, looking at how skill with digital media
and social networking can be beneficial to those seeking employment and
advancement within this new work order.

The book concludes with a very brief afterword that brings the reader back to
the concept of the “mediated me” from the first chapter. The authors emphasize
here that, given the participatory nature of digital media tools and
practices, it is up to the individual to understand and critically evaluate
the impact that these technologies are having upon our world.


As an introductory text for students, I found “Understanding Digital
Literacies” to be impressively broad in the information that it provides while
not oversimplifying the complex issues covered. Of course, much more could be
said about any of the topics in this short book, but the general overview that
it provides of the field of digital literacy practices is quite helpful, if
not comprehensive. Though Jones and Hafner cover many relevant popular sources
in the text, the scholarly sources are almost exclusive to the general
discipline of linguistics, despite the interdisciplinary nature of digital
literacy studies. As a reader coming from a rhetoric and writing studies
background, I found a conspicuous absence of many scholars who are, in my
opinion, indispensable for many of these topics. Where are Jay Bolter and
Stuart Selber in the discussion of digital and critical literacy? Ian Bogost
on gaming? Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher on collaborative writing? Anne
Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola on multimodal composition?

However, the disciplinarity of this book could be considered a strength as
well. Coming from a different field of study, I found myself learning a great
deal about researchers whose interests align with my own, yet I’ve never
encountered due to my own disciplinary focus. For that reason, this book can
be a valuable introduction to another facet of digital studies.

Additionally, I found Jones and Hafner’s text to be particularly accessible as
a textbook. The chapters are short and easy to manage for students unfamiliar
with the subject matter, yet rich enough to provide plenty of material for
class discussions or research papers. I also found the activities given
throughout the chapters particularly versatile as in-class discussion
questions, small group conversation starters, or homework prompts. And I can’t
speak highly enough of the end of chapter web and video sources. From mashup
videos to TED talks, these resources are relevant, interesting, and useful in
demonstrating the many principles of digital literacy that the authors cover
throughout the book.

Ultimately, I would recommend “Understanding Digital Literacies” to any
teacher seeking a textbook for an introductory course on the topic of digital
literacy. Combined with other texts more firmly rooted in other disciplines
like rhetoric and writing studies, this book would also make a valuable
contribution to advanced undergraduate or graduate courses that provide a
multidisciplinary perspective on this complex and widely researched issue.


Carr, N. (2011). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New
York: Norton.

Lanham, R. (2006). The economics of attention: Style and substance in the age
of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man, 1st edition,
New York: McGraw Hill; reissued MIT Press, 1994, with introduction by Lewis H.
Lapham; reissued by Gingko Press, 2003.


Chris Blankenship is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition in the
Department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism at Emporia State
University. His research focuses on argumentation pedagogy, digital rhetoric,
and writing assessment. His current projects include work on conceptual
metaphoric framing of argumentation in first-year writing courses and
professional development of contingent faculty in writing assessment.

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