Postliterate society

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A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common. The term appears as early as 1962 in Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy.[1] Many science-fiction societies are postliterate, as in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Dan Simmons' novel Ilium, and Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.

A postliterate society is different from a pre-literate one, as the latter has not yet created writing and communicates orally (oral literature and oral history, aided by art, dance, and singing), and the former has replaced the written word with recorded sounds (CDs, audiobooks), broadcast spoken word and music (radio), pictures (JPEG) and moving images (television, film, MPG, streaming video, video games, virtual reality). A postliterate society might still include people who are aliterate, who know how to read and write but choose not to. Most if not all people would be media literate, multimedia literate, visually literate, and transliterate.

In his book The Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges charts the recent, sudden rise of postliterate culture within the world culture as a whole.[2]

Author Bruce Powe, in his 1987 book The Solitary Outlaw, wrote:

Literacy: the ability to read and interpret the written word. What is post-literacy? It is the condition of semi-literacy, where most people can read and write to some extent, but where the literate sensibility no longer occupies a central position in culture, society, and politics. Post-literacy occurs when the ability to comprehend the written word decays. If post-literacy is now the ground of society questions arise: what happens to the reader, the writer, and the book in post-literary environment? What happens to thinking, resistance, and dissent when the ground becomes wordless?

— Bruce W. Powe, The Solitary Outlaw (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987); cited by John O’Leary, Popular, Informal Education, Presented on TVO Big Ideas, Published 07/29/2011

See also[edit]


  • The Dawn of the Post-literate Age, by Patrick Tucker, THE FUTURIST Magazine, November–December 2009.
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan, University of Toronto Press, 1962
  • The Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges, 2009, ISBN 978-1-56858-437-9


  1. ^ McLuhan, Marshall (2014). The Gutenberg galaxy : the making of typographic man. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442612693. OCLC 993539009.
  2. ^ Hedges, Chris (2009). Empire of illusion : the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle. New York: Nation Books. ISBN 9781568584379. OCLC 301887642.