Skip to content

(Edit for 9 month report) 13 June 2017

Please note, this version has almost no citations since I am working on the flow. Relevant citations will be added.


Deep Literacy, Deeper Perspective

I assert that we need to develop a deeper literacy in order to equip us to cope with the increasingly complex urgent problems we face. A headline illustration of this is the discourse of recent political events {Trump, Brexit, General Election}; the use of fake news is bad when the opposition does it, but it is considered ‘illustrative’ when our side does it. Away from politics, in our own profession of academia I can find nothing in the literature to suggest that we ourselves are deeply literate in terms of how deeply we read {depth and breath of access and quality of understanding and interrogation of the material}, write {clarity of arguments} and connect the knowledge {clear and honest use of citations} in our field at a rate fast enough to keep current with new developments, let alone those in adjacent fields.


Problem & Direction

In academic ‘papers’, such as this 9 month report, it is not novel for the author to state that information is being produced at a prodigious rate and it is not novel to highlight the effect of Moore’s Law on the advancements of powerful digital devices {I currently have a wireless headphone in my ear which is more powerful than any machine Doug Engelbart developed for, for example}. What is needed is a defined goal for how we can more efficiently develop computer software for advanced computer systems.

Deep Literacy emerges when cognitive strategies enhanced by powerful computational tools enable knowledge workers to interact effectively with the ever growing inter-connection of digital information needed to carry out their work successfully. Livia Polanyi 2017


Barriers to Deep Literacy


Barriers to developing ever deeper literacies are largely based on the entrenchment of legacy systems and mindsets, something which will have to be taken into account when developing continuously more deeply literate systems.


Tools for Thought


It is no longer controversial to state that we think with our tools, our tools do not simply record our thoughts.

I think it’s worth looking at the deep span of time of where we are right now:

•  It is worth noting however where we are in the development cycle of digital systems; we are at the very start. Our solar system is about half way through its life, which gives us another 4 or 5 billion years of life on this planet {barring deeply illiterate human behaviour, which is a real threat to our survival}.

•  The first tools which augmented our ancestors physical and mental reach was about 2.5 million years ago. Our own species is 300/200,000 or so years old, depending on the criteria used to define Homo sapiens and cultural artefacts first really bloomed about 40,000 years ago, including cave painting which in important ways represent the start of literacy.

•  Pre-alphabetic writing is something like 5,5000 years old and the alphabet was invented in stages around 3,500 years ago.

•  Printing on paper – our most recent legacy which defines how we see documents even in the digital age, as vertical rectangles, was employed by Johannes Gutenberg to print text about 550 years ago.

•  In terms of digital literacy then, Doug’s demo was just half a century years ago and the web was launched a quarter of a century ago so our digital literacy pales in comparison. We are at the very start of the digital age yet we have fallen into looking at the future through a rear-view mirror, as McLuhan warned us – we are basing our digital technologies primarily on the prior medium of print.

I believe that we can really benefit from looking further back in our evolutionary history, look deeper at our perceptual processes, recorded communications history and examine current and near technological advancements as well as information theory to guide an experimental series of developments to support and encourage deeper literacy:




These are aspects worth further research in general and as further literature review for me in particular:

•  Evolutionary history studies can help us understand why we perceive the way we do, from our vision being attuned to the wavelengths our sun proceeds the most of, to how ambient colours change our states of mind.

•  Perceptual processes are based on our evolutionary history and as we learn to better understand what has been coined heuristics and other ‘hardware live’ processes, we can learn to extend and augment them, including taking into account how the capacity of the human visual system is about 12 million bits per second while 16 bits per second is the bandwidth of consciousness (Norretranders, 1999).

•  Recorded communications history is the history of writing which also takes into account pre-alphabetical and pre-grammatical writing, as a source of understanding and inspiration for re-invention of writing for thought and communication.

•  Examine current and near technological advancements of computer platforms, hardware, APIs, libraries and standards.

•  Information theory, with a focus on my own Liquid Information perspective, as developed with Sarah Walton, which approaches computer information as interaction and interaction as fluid not simplistically ‘digital’.

•  Investigations into how best to convey ‘human intentions’ via electronic documents, since the measure of an academic document is a combination of the value of the originality and context of what is stated, wrapped in how clearly and understandably it is stated.

All these perspectives and insights need to guide an experimental series of developments to support and encourage deeper literacy, such as my Liquid View project, which my PhD aims to focus on.


Visually Augmented Thinking


My project, the Liquid View, is based on the ancient insight that we can benefit from thinking with visual mental space (writing lists for example) and the ancient insight of the importance of experience/interaction, previously by using the medium of lines in the sand or pieces of paper.

Limitations of such thinking systems have always been the limited opportunity to re-organise and then to integrate with a conventional communications ‘document’. There are two opportunities to overcome these issues today however: Digital technology completely removes the issue of re-organization by making the elements interactive with zero degradation of information quality and I have developed a word processor called Liquid | Author which publishes academic standard formatted .doc and .pdf documents, which the Liquid View will be another view of, so the work done in the Liquid View is not separate from an academic document, it is simply another view of the document.

The Liquid View will be accessed when viewing a regular word processing document, through a user interaction gesture (preferably, since a goal is to make the information feel more tangible than a keyboard short can deliver) which results in all body text being hidden through being collapsed under the headings – it is the headings which the user primarily views and interacts with in the Liquid View.


Research Questions


Learning from the perspectives outlined above, in ‘Foundations’, it is already clear that several issues will need to be worked out through prototyping and testing, with the ultimate goal of delivering what I like to imagine as being an ‘incredible thinking space’, where users, primarily university students, produce measurably deeper work. The way I propose measuring the depth of their work is aligned with how Craig Tashman developed his iOS product LiquidText (name no relationship to my work) and how other work has been developed and tested.


Overriding Research Question


How can textual knowledge best be represented in a non-linear format of nodes and connections, incorporating a rich set of data elements to augment the depth of thought when authoring a document?


Visual Display Considerations


This is where I will list what visual issues I can see now


Other Elements in Liquid View


This is where I will list what visual elements need to be considered




This is where I will list what interactions need to be catered for




1. Norretranders T.. 1999. The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (Penguin Press Science). Penguin Books.

Published inPhDThoughts

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.