Then & Now of Literacy

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” – Carl Sagan

The world has had great changes over the centuries. There was a time when entertainment came verbally and/or through sitting around a fire watching people dance. Now we live in a time when entertainment can be seen through a device, read through a device or on printed paper, and it can be seen live. Through these changes, perception of entertainment may change from generation to generation. Part of entertainment has been literacy. I am here documenting my findings and understanding of how literacy experiences could have changed over time or if they have stayed the same in each generation. 

In finding out how each generation views literacy, I asked a family friend’s daughter, Sophie, who just turned 5 and is attending St. James Day Care. My uncle’s friend, Peter, who is 40 years old, and how I perceive literacy from a 19 (almost 20) year old female’s point of view. (Mind you, these are pseudonyms to keep their privacy.) 

Sophie lives out west, so we had the interview using technology. We had a lovely conversation through Skype. She had much to say about the questions she was being asked. After catching up, I began by asking her what games she most enjoyed playing with her family. It turns out she is a very active little girl because she loves playing freeze tag with her grandmother. She is hands-on with art projects and she “wants to have more time with [her]  friends and family to learn more things”.

Sophie enjoys reading. She reads once a day throughout the whole year. Reading and writing make her happy “because I love my family and they love me too”. Her favorite stories come down to Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. I asked her who she thought was a good reader and she responded her grandmother because she goes to school and writes about the good things she reads.

It turns out the good writer that she has come to know is herself. She is a good writer because she learns from her books. . When Sophie reads and comes to words she does not know she will find out what the words are saying to her. This is a time when she will listen to music. Some of her books will read out loud and have music to go along with the story. But this is not the only time when she will listen to music. Oh no, she likes to listen to music while she is coloring and she is getting dressed, because once she is dressed she will make her own music; “when I am done getting dressed and I have my clothes on I like to dance to the music and turn the music off and make my own music and sing it.”


Conversations become longer, the older the people conversing are. That was the case when I sat down to talk to Peter. By sitting down I mean in front of my computer because once again I was using technology to converse through Facebook. Peter lives in my hometown, about five hours away (by plane).

We began with his definition of a good time  with friends and family. Playing volleyball, beach volleyball, and table tennis are on the top of his list. The things he likes to do and make with his family and friends range from coming together as a family (which is big), prepare food together, tell anecdotes, and maybe watch a football or baseball game. They definitely meet up in February to watch the Super Bowl together. 

I’m not much of an athletic girl – soccer is about as much as I will watch on television, tennis I can only do live, don’t ask why – but when it comes to music, I have much more to offer. Peter listens to music in Spanish and English. He likes  80s  and 90s rock music such as Bon Jovi, Soda Stereo, and Enanitos Verdes. He also makes music of his own; he plays the guitar and the drums. I play the guitar and have participated in the percussion section for the West Side Story play we did my Junior year of high school, so we got side tracked for a bit on that, and found out he has played at parties and restaurants.

Music is a universal language, there is no doubt in my mind about this. As we discussed who he thought were some story characters he knew music came around again. He brought up a famous Guatemalan singer, Ricardo Arjona. He said he was aware that Arjona is not a story character from a children’s book, but to him he is one. He went on to tell me that he met him in the street of Guatemala while he walked through El Centro Historico (the historic center) when he was 14 years old. Arjona tells a story in his music, and being a singer he is somewhat a character in those stories. Arjona has a record of presentation, “Luna Park” from Buenos Aires and the record of greater permanence in the Festival de Viña del Mar”. Another way to view a story character…always learning something new!

We moved on to another of my favorite topics: stories. He is into science fiction. A fan of Star Wars and Back to the Future. He tells me: “it connects me to my childhood, a wonderful stage, and that always keeps me attentive in the search for happiness, like a child does.” But, when it comes to how he feels about reading, he likes short stories, especially the ones based on real life. Therefore, He will only read when the story captures him and that will only happen when it is a short and life-based story.He is a photographer and goes for the visual more than anything else so he isn’t into big stories and prefers to see the film over reading. (That I must say does not fly with me all the time; the books tend to be better than the films in capturing what the author was trying to give to the world.)  

He may like to see what things look like from the producer’s point of view, but it is not so for his niece. He named his 15 year old niece a good reader, because she reads a lot, but more importantly has a great imagination and is very creative. 

I can’t argue with him about who a good writer is because I have read his book and I have really liked it; my uncle who has been Peter’s friend since elementary school, has a passion for his stories and has told Peter that “for him (my uncle) a blank page is a goal to be accomplished”. Along with my uncle, Peter is writing a story of his own. He really likes poetry. He practices when he has the inspiration that he usually gathers from experiences of love – both from family and a partner. So, he will set to writing when he is in love, has something important to say, or his “interior asks for it”. 

I mentioned earlier that Peter is a photographer, so when it came to ask him about the use of a computer, it was not doubt that he would say yes. I do photography on the side, and I know how it is to fix a photograph to give it the right amount of contrast to make certain aspects pop. But, he also uses the computer to communicate to others about his work through Facebook and YouTube. 

For more information on his photography skills and interests please visit: .

Literacy does not appear to have changed much throughout the generations. I was able to relate to both of them. Age did not seem to be a boundary. I remember my childhood being as fun as Sophie’s and I can see myself in the future not being so different from Peter. Even between the 5 year old and the 40 year old, music is a central point and reading, even if the consistency and preferences of subject are different, they would be able to discuss the act of reading. Maybe because I am in the middle I can relate more to both, it makes it easier to find common ground, but if we step back we will find that literacy is more powerful than we thinks. It is a great device for showing parts of us to the world. Sophie, Peter and I hold dear expressing our thoughts through one way or another. Music is still holding strong to use to have fun and enjoy one’s self. Through music, writing, photography, and/or dancing we are sharing a piece of us that we may not have thought was in us. So let us continue to pass literacy down generations and allow for journeys back into history or into the future take place. More importantly is to allow the freedom of the imagination a story can bring to someone – no matter the format used to be delivered. 


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