Gains and Losses: New Forms of Texts, Knowledge, and Learning by Gunther Kress
Kress (2005) discusses the “gains and losses” of the communication movement from the
traditional linear text to imagery, which he calls the contemporary canvas. As
Kress explores the positive and negative aspects technology plays on society,
he compares how text has changed in a number of areas. Those areas include
order, entry and exit points, reading paths, organization, mediums, and modes.
He also brings up social changes that have already happened, or need to happen,
as we adopt new reading technologies. I see these changes as progress in our communication journey over time. New digital technology has allowed humans to use their natural thinking patterns and multimodal meanings in conjunction with text to
communicate more effectively with each other. As we continue to invent and innovate,
we will increase our capacity to communicate, even though it may mean leaving
behind some ideologies we currently hold dear.
Kress (2005) wrote that, “Over the last five decades or so, social framings and
attitudes to representation have been transformed in response to or in line
with social changes.” He goes on to tell the social history behind changes in
text beginning in the mid-twentieth century with the movement of text competence
and mastery to critiquing. Now, in the 21st century, there is an explosion of information, which empowers readers as they can select what text they want to “visit” and gain information from. Since this article, the emergence of social media has added a unique dynamic to text as people are continuously connected. We have seen social uprisings and overthrowing of governments due to the impact of social media and the remediation of text.
The relationship between authors and readers has evolved with the change in text
mediums. Until recently, text was linear and the writer would lead the reader
on a journey from beginning to end, holding them in thought. Kress (2005)
reveals that there are numerous entry and exit points in digital text where
readers can glean as much information as they want and then leave in an
instant. He suggests that online readers are no longer just readers but visitors
on a quest for information. The readers then “fashion their own knowledge.” One
downfall is that authors do not know their audiences as they did before,
however; many more people have access to their writings. The authority of
authors is now being challenges as anyone can publish in an online environment.
Readers need to be more cautious as they search out information since authors
may be uninformed or intend to lead readers towards their own bias.
Multimodal forms of communication are used more and more as technology advances and allows for more visual messages like pictures and videos. In the past, textbooks were heavy on text and low on visuals, making the reading dry and monotonous. Textbooks today are mixed with text, pictures and diagrams, which are laid out on a page to increase reader
stimulation. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words holds true
as a well-designed diagram replaces paragraphs of explanatory text. The New
London Group (1996), in their article A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures argues that, “Of all the modes of meaning, the multimodal is the most significant, as it relates all the other modes in quite remarkably dynamic relationships.” They go one to explain how technology enhances the reading experience by increasing visual,
audio, gestural and spatial meanings in the experience whereas a codex book of
text may only include the linguistic meaning. In my opinion, multimodal meaning
is more natural to humans than coding items through word representations and
organizing them linearly on a page. We have trained ourselves to rely heavily
on text for learning and passing along information because that is what our
inventions of the time allowed. In the computer age, with access to photographs
and video, we can exchange ideas through recording real experiences and sharing
them instantly and globally. Text will always be an important part of our
communication with each other but multimodal meaning is realized through
According to Kress (2005), “The elites will continue to use writing as their preferred mode, and hence, the page in its traditional form.” He goes on to note, “Stories will continue to be
told and narratives will continue to be written-because the two modes are apt
for doing so.” I agree that text and visuals will continue to play a major role
in communication as they have always done in the past. The mediums we use to
interchange ideas will constantly change, however. It is an exciting time as we
are in the midst of a communication medium revolution. The codex book continues
to evolve and be printed as the rise of the computer era enables vast online
libraries (O’Donnell, 1994) to be open to worldwide audiences. The future may
have to let go of the codex medium as we continue to explore new technologies
that are multimodal and cannot be printed on the page. The new forms of text,
knowledge and learning depicted by Kress will engage wider audiences and take
us further into the digital era.
Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning.” Computers and Composition. p. 5–22.
O’Donnell, J. J. (1994). The virtual library: An idea whose time has passed. University of
Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20070204034556/http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/virtual.html
The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.
Harvard Educational Review 66(1). p. 60-92.