Rumor Mill and the Concept of DSL

By Tom Johnson, October 16, 2009 8:14 AM

RCA Dog“DSL” is slang for “digital as a second language.” It’s the difference between people born in or before the 1980s and those born after. We oldsters may be fluent in digital communications, but we’re never going to be native. Where the break between DSL and native falls may not yet have been determined. There will be new ways of using digital technology to fuse what have always been different media, and the dividing line between DSL and fluency may not have been drawn yet.

Rumors persist of an Apple tablet computer. The interesting part of the application of Apple’s intuitive design to multi-media, always-on computing — or the idea of it, at this stage — is that it posits an entirely new way of communicating. Call it omni-media, all-tools-all-the-time, real-time  storytelling, Daniel Lyons of Newsweek puts it like this:

For people like me, who produce content, this change is both great and scary. Great because the techies in Silicon Valley are giving us powerful new tools for telling stories. Scary because the old ways of telling stories are about to become obsolete, and if we cling to them, we’ll be washed away. In the past we’ve all worked in silos. “Print people” had one way of describing the world. “Video people” had another. But the silos are getting crunched together. It’s as if for most of your life you could get by speaking only English, but now you need to learn a bunch of other old languages, and, what’s more, you must then master a new language that is evolving out of the DNA of all the old ones.

I’ve worked in most media: daily newspaper, monthly magazine, television, radio, various forms of the Internet. “Writing” for each of those is different, with different requirements. (I scare-quote “writing” because the act of authorship in non-print media includes an assemblage of things other than words.) Awareness of those requirements is key to working well in whatever medium or mixture of media you use to present your story. Now, as a DSL adult, I’m going to have to learn to manage not just the different media, but the connections and transitions between those media. There are times when I’m as confused by what I see and hear as the RCA dog was from hearing his master’s voice.

As you work toward your presentation, consider the components and ask yourself how best to present what you want to present. You may find yourself moving from words to pictures to moving pictures to animations to interactions. It’s a good workout, one we’ll discuss more in the future. The trick is going to be creating a presentation that is whole, not merely a succession of chapters. As you do it remember that you’re learning what is likely to come naturally to your students. You’re DSL, learning their language.

Remember also that as teachers you have unique advantage. You already understand the different ways people have of learning — of absorbing and assimilating information.  That knowledge will form the basis of your judgment as you consider how to tell a story.

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