Tech.Lit.Auto.Bio. Mujtaba Ullah

Let's talk about technological literacy for a bit. Why? Because my experiences while growing up with technology are what shaped my pertinent literacy. Without the availability of experiencing online research or the utilization of connections which smartphones had to offer, I would not have been able to identify myself as the confident individual I am today.

As I slowly crept down the carpeted stairs of my parent's dimly lit basement, I was greeted with a familiar, musty smell. It's the kind of woody-dusty-dampy smell you only experience in an old building. Once I reached the bottom of the staircase I loosened up my grip on the handrail and quickly sprinted towards the light switch at the end of the dark hallway. With my heart still pounding like a drum, I thought to myself, "I've lived in this house since I was born, so after 8 years why am I still so terrified of this basement?!" With a flick of a switch, all of my imaginary demons who lurked in the darkness disappeared, but instead, the illumination from the light bulbs exposed something else altogether; giant, wooden shelves that stood from floor to ceiling and expanded from wall to wall. The books that they cradled were mostly organized but a few were lazily piled on top of one another. My concern, however, was elsewhere. I turn left to spot two small windows twinkling with hazy sunlight, and make my way towards them. Between the windows was yet another shelf, but this one is my height and holds the collection which my sisters and I have accumulated. It doesn't take me long to grab what I came for before making my way back up the stairs because everyone in my family knows especially not to touch my Aladdin VHS.

~By the time I finished re-watching Aladdin for the hundredth time, my family had already stopped asking me why I love the movie so much. He was as "brown" as Disney characters get. I admired him and wanted to become just like him; he was courageous. He fought for what he wanted. He was proud about who he was [at the end]. Did I mention that I had the biggest crush on him? However, out of pure confusion, I tended to exclude that last bit of detail to anyone who knew me. Although through time, this confusion had me asking myself many conflicting questions.~

~Every single school year, as long as my sisters and I finished our homework, got good grades, participated in science or math related extracurricular activities, went to Sunday school, and learned how to read and write in Arabic and Urdu with my dad, we were allowed to spend the rest of our free time at the library. We weren't forced to go to the library, we chose to go there. My sisters were avid book readers and I devoted most of my free time surfing the web to appease my curiosity.~

On the first morning of summer break I open my eyes as I'm laying in bed. "Finally finished with the 6th grade," I ponder to myself with a beaming smile on my face. I need to squint from the sunlight as I direct my head towards the open window. From it, I can hear a lawnmower humming in the distance, probably from one of our neighbors. The warm breeze invited fragrances of freshly cut lawn into my bedroom which compounded with the aroma of my mom's freshly cooked breakfast. "Perfect," I thought just as my stomach began rumbling out of hunger. I quickly splashed my face with some cold water in the hallway bathroom before making my way down the stairs and to the kitchen. My mom was standing in her usual spot, in front of the stove and preparing several dishes. I crept my way towards her with the intention to scare her, counting on the old Bollywood song to drown out my footsteps playing on my dad's stereo. I make it halfway to her before my dad bursts through the kitchen door, startling both my mom and myself. I stood in shock as he was carried a big white box over to the kitchen table before gently setting it down. It must have been heavy since he was out of breath. I puzzlingly looked at the box, getting ready to ask him questions but he cut me off before I could say anything. "Sana, Mona, Mujju! Look what I brought for you!" My eyes widen as I began deciphering the pictures on the surface of the box. Before I could even decide from where to start opening the box, my sisters rushed to the kitchen still clutching the books that they were in the middle of reading. Our dad had gotten us our very own computer!

~It was no surprise as to why my parents wanted to give us a computer. I believe it was mostly due to them being exhausted from driving us back and forth to the library every day. Regardless, my very own computer couldn't have come at a better time in my life. I had many more questions to ask but I was too afraid to ask anyone I knew. I turned to the world wide web in the security of our home to look for answers.~

I push my covers off and glance at the clock hanging next to the window. 2:30am. "Okay, mom and dad should definitely be asleep by now," I convince myself. I begin to slip slowly out of bed, simultaneously trying to listen for a distant snoring from across the hallway. I creep towards the staircase and begin to make my descent - remembering to avoid the loudest steps which I have memorized by heart. I can feel my heart pumping as I move down the last few steps and towards the living room where the computer is stationed. I pause to listen for noise. I hear snoring. "Okay, perfect. They're still asleep. I only have about 2 hours before they wake up for morning prayer."

~For the next several years, almost every single chance I got, I would sacrifice my sleep to sneak away with the computer. Mostly it was to discover new games to play, find sites to download movies, and stay in contact with friends. Other times I devoted hours to research about what makes me different and if its okay to be different. It was becoming more and more difficult to reconcile my life with my faith. So instead of continuing to read countless articles with varying information, I began looking for actual people who I can identify with online. I discovered several chat groups of people with similar questions. After years of searching, what I learned the hard way was that I shouldn't believe everything I read on the internet. Danah Boyd refers to a point in her book, "It's Complicated," which states that technology's ability to shame people reinforces social divisions [Boyd 2015]. This social division was exactly what was taking place in my life. I didn't want to come out of the closet because of the viewpoints I've been reading online. However, I continued to participate in group chats because I didn't know anyone in real life who questioned their identity the same way I did.~
~My initiation to social media was revolutionary. It allowed me to maintain a stable connection with many of the people who I found solace in over all these years of random group chats. I could now use my computer to consolidate my virtual friends and real friends to one convenient platform instead of having to shift from one site to another.~

My sister slams open my bedroom door and shouts, "Get up! We're going to be late for the first day of school!" She stands in the entryway glaring at me until I sit up in bed. I pull out silver flip phone from under my pillow and check the time. "My alarms haven't even gone off yet!" I bellowed back to her as I plopped back down and pull the covers over my head. In a much calmer tone Mona retorted, "Fine, I guess Sana and I will drive our new phones to school ourselves." I could hear her snicker as she closed the door behind her. She said the magic words that were needed to chase away all lethargy. Next thing I know I'm leaping out of my bed and making my way towards the kitchen where my dad is having his morning tea. He smiles up at me but my focus is on the small boxes on the table in front of him; two of which look like they have already been opened. I anxiously glance up at him and ask, "Is that for me?" He puts his tea down to grab the unopened box and gestures for me to take it.

The smartphone was the biggest craze in my high school. I made my sister to drive us to school so I could play with all of the features that this amazing device had to offer. I've played with my friend's smartphones before so I knew the gist of getting around it, but it still took me a while to fully become familiar with the controls. Each phone is individual and the apps you download are what make the phone yours. Of course, Facebook was the first app I downloaded but there was another social media app which I was curious to learn more about. That App was Grindr; a dating app for gay men.

This app had a learning curve of its own. I was able to send messages to people as well as send pictures and location. The best part about the app was that its Geo-location based, which meant I could find people in my very own neighborhood to communicate with and not have to feel so isolated. I nervously gave Grindr the best shot I could. Who knew my technological literacy could come up such a path. If I didn't watch Aladdin, I would have never found my first crush. If my parents never bought me a computer, I wouldn't have been able to do as much identity research. If I never did the research, I wouldn't know about Grindr nor would I have met my fiance.

Defining my Character

Growing up in with religious parents who had high expectations of me while living in a cookie-cutter neighborhood located in the Midwest contributed in major ways to my "cultural ecology" as a young adult (Hawisher and Selfe 2008). My Indian family resided in a well-off residential suburb of Chicago and both of my parents worked as engineers. The fact that they were both able to provide for my siblings and I meant that we not only had what we needed, but also what we wanted. Since my childhood I was exposed to different forms of literacy, namely books. Not only was I taught how to read and write in English, but due to my culture and background I grew up speaking, reading, and writing in Arabic, as well as Urdu. School was forced to be my number one priority with no questions asked. When I brought home good grades, I was rewarded. The private school my parents enrolled me into was a very competitive school. Many of my parent's friends also enrolled their children into the same school, so bringing home an Honors or AP award was important for our family's reputation. Thinking back at my life, I can easily say that I was fortunate enough be raised in the family in which I was born into.

Encouraging my Character

"A sponsor of literacy includes any agent who enables, supports, teaches, and models, as well as recruits, regulates, suppresses, or withholds literacy - and gain advantage by it in some way" [Brandt 1998].

  • My personal literacy sponsors included both of my parents. They forced me to push myself into to doing more than just the regular schooling 5 days a week. They would drive me to school, to the library, and to the store to buy supplies. They provided me with more than just the basic necessities that I needed. That in turn helped me excel in school.
  • The library that I was a member another sponsor for me. As long as I didn't have any late book fines, I was able to check out books and use their computer systems. Since I was able to use their computer systems I learned how to type proficiently as well as browse the internet.
  • My sisters were contributed as my sponsors in a completely different way than my parents or the library. They made sure I did my homework and studied before an exam. They prevented me from doing which they thought would affect my grades in any way, such as senior-skip-day.
  • The computer and smartphone that my parents gifted me were sponsors in similar ways to each other. They enabled me to search for resources that would help me in both of my academic and social lives. I was able to learn about myself as well as help myself be being connected to people online.
Chicago Style Work Cited
  1. Boyd, Danah. It's complicated: the social lives of networked teens. Place of publication not identified: Yale University Press, 2015.
  2. Brandt, Deborah. "Sponsors of Literacy." College Composition and Communication 49, no. 2 (1998): 165. doi:10.2307/358929.
  3. Latchaw, Joan. "Literate Lives in the Information Age. Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. 259 pp." Technical Communication Quarterly 17, no. 2 (2008): 245-49. doi:10.1080/10572250701878934.
Created By
Mujtaba Ullah


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