Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department or Program

Graduate Humanities

Department or Program Chair

Joan Baranow, PhD

First Reader

Leslie Ross, PhD

Second Reader

Philip Novak, PhD


The transmission of culture depends upon every generation reconsidering what it means to be literate. The way we consider ourselves to be a literate species is changing, which puts us at a unique turning point in human history. Verbal literacy, or the ability to read and write, is slowly being replaced by visual literacy as a primary tool for human communication. As a culture, we tend to underestimate the creative ferment of our increasingly visual world. The linear, structured pathways of traditional literacy are shifting towards a creative and participatory pursuit of unstructured information that emphasize dimensional thinking. The acceleration and disruption of literacy in the 21st century is fueling new patterns of cognition and changing the way we tell stories. As the parent of a ten-year old son, I was perplexed to watch him resist traditional methods of literacy in favor of non-linear, visual storytelling. It seems possible that children of his generation will acquire knowledge by the process of finding information rather than learning it. Reading and writing has served us well for thousands of years and broadened the capacity for logical thought, but our dependency on writing is decreasing as we process and store knowledge in a communal capacity. As a result, the cultural authority of written language is changing along with the cultural memory that it preserves. I wanted to understand what our son might gain and lose as his reading and writing skills are slowly eclipsed by visual literacy. Human brains will continue to grow symbiotically with new technological tools, but will our imagination expand along with our intellect? The wiring of the world gives rise to new narratives, and the modern language of visual literacy provides a potent storytelling medium for the future.