Gregory Ulmer

Greg Ulmer

Electracy [ee-lek-truh-see] is a theory by Gregory Ulmer, a professor of English and electronic languages, that describes the skills necessary to access and utilize electronic media such as multimedia (audio, visual, and text), hypermedia (linked material), social networks, and virtual worlds. According to Ulmer, electracy ‘is to digital media what literacy is to print.’ However, ‘If literacy focused on universally valid methodologies of knowledge (sciences), electracy focuses on the individual state of mind within which knowing takes place (arts).’ It is his attempt to describe the transition from a culture of print literacy to a culture saturated with electronic media.

Ulmer sees this shift as a positive step, writing, ‘The near absence of art in contemporary schools is the electrate equivalent of the near absence of science in medieval schools for literacy. The suppression of empirical inquiry by religious dogmatism during the era sometimes called the ‘dark ages’ (reflecting the hostility of the oral apparatus to literacy), is paralleled today by the suppression of aesthetic play by empirical utilitarianism (reflecting the hostility of the literate apparatus to electracy). The ambivalent relation of the institutions of school and entertainment today echoes the ambivalence informing church-science relations throughout the era of literacy.’ He concludes that the sociological changes will be profound: ‘What literacy is to the analytical mind, electracy is to the affective body: a prosthesis that enhances and augments a natural or organic human potential. Alphabetic writing is an artificial memory that supports long complex chains of reasoning impossible to sustain within the organic mind. Digital imaging similarly supports extensive complexes of mood atmospheres beyond organic capacity.’

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