Under conditions where time is increasingly calculated in nanoseconds and, as the saying goes, five minutes is a long time in cyberspace, there is little to be gained from speaking of new literacies in temporal terms. As soon as Instant Messaging appears, email seems like an “old” literacy. There is no future in hitching a research agenda to anything as fleeting as that.
Lankshear and Knobel then proceed to divide the "new" literacies into two categories: "technical stuff" and "ethos stuff." They explain the difference thus:
What is central to new literacies is not the fact that we can now “look up information online” or write essays using a word processor rather than a pen or typewriter, or even that we can mix music with sophisticated software that works on run of the mill computers but, rather, that they mobilize very different kinds of values and priorities and sensibilities than the literacies we are familiar with. The significance of the new technical stuff has mainly to do with how it enables people to build and participate in literacy practices that involve different kinds of values, sensibilities, norms and procedures and so on from those that characterize conventional literacies. These values, sensibilities and the like comprise what we call “new ethos stuff.”
This is the best explanation I've come across so far of the "new media literacies" we're all talking about so much: technical stuff and ethos stuff.
Of course, traditional literacies had their own technical stuff and ethos stuff--it's just that the stuff of traditional literacies had been around so long, and had been so relatively stable for so much of that time, that the adults whose job it was to foster skills in both categories felt comfortable doing so. The slate and chalk model was replaced by the pen and paper model, but that material change aside, writing was writing was writing. And anyway, the stuff clustered up in the ethos for traditional literacy practices really only mattered to the extent that people would be expected to engage in public conversations through those practices--and for the most part, this type of engagement was limited to a small, elite, and well-educated group of (rich white male) citizens.
It's not news that this model has been turned on its head--and this is what both makes the new literacies "new" and what makes them feel so new, so unfamiliar, so hard to teach. Normally (and by normally, I mean historically speaking), we'd have a generation or more to figure out the fallout from this changing cultural model, but this time around, the change is happening so fast, and is so complete, that we don't have the luxury of taking it slow.
The term "new media literacies," therefore, can be said to be making double use of the word "new": The media formats, and technical skills required to make use of them, are new to us all; and the literacies--the social and cultural competencies required to engage in the "ethos stuff"--are new as well. Thinking more broadly, the emergence of new media literacies has also, and at the same time, forced us to engage with a new model of expertise: The young tend to be much, much better at adopting and adapting, and therefore have a great deal to teach us about both the technical stuff and the ethos stuff. (By 'young,' I mean anyone up to the age of oh, say, 32. Ask me again next year and I'll say 'everyone up to the age of 33.')
We're not used to a distributed model of expertise in which all participants in a culture have something to teach all participants in a culture. Traditionally, older adults had a monopoly in this respect--early reports suggest the monopoly has been overthrown. It still takes a number of years to become a domain expert, of course, but even the established 10-year time frame required for expert status has been called into question by the ubiquity of learning environments and experiences.
This kind of revolution, as a friend recently remind me, doesn't lead to chaos in the streets. This is new, as well: Historically speaking, times of great cultural upheaval are generally accompanied by violence, riots, some sort of physical evidence pointing to revolution. We're all being quite calm and civilized (YouTube comments notwithstanding). This, in case you were wondering, makes it the perfect revolution to buy into.