I find that a lot of people get confused over what it means to be ‘digitally literate’. Many older users interpret younger people’s facility or confidence in using ICT as an indication that the latter know exactly what they’re doing in the online environment. After all, they’re pretty zippy in there, right? And gosh-darn aren’t they clever ‘cos they can program a VCR? (I can’t even begin to tell you what’s wrong with this notion.)
Of course, watching a 13 year-old flitt around MySpace can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t know where to click, but that doesn’t mean that the 13 year-old fully understands all they need to in order to be digitally literate. So, let’s break this down a bit. I’d offer three main strands to digital literacy in the current era:
- Network digital literacy. Understanding what it means to be a networked citizen. That means knowing how to manage your profiles and identities online; knowing what happens to the material you upload; knowing about data management and understanding boyd’s four properties of networked publics, i.e., 1) persistence, 2) searchability, 3) replicability, and 4) invisible audiences. It also means risk management and knowing how to read and interpret Terms of Service and Privacy policies. Do most people (young or old) know what it means when Facebook asks for a “transferable, sub-licensable” license to their IP? No.
- Critical digital literacy. This is perhaps the most crucial of the three, especially if we’re talking about how to use ICT to further cognition and to advance what Pierre Lévy refers to as collective intelligence. Critical digital literacy is about how to find, validate, interpret, communicate, analyse, critique, evaluate, synthesise, transform information and how to then use those skills in the participatory realm. It’s about higher-level thinking and engagement with cultural, social, political and intellectual life. In other words, it’s the big stuff.
What I’m saying is, don’t freak out when you think you’re being left behind because the kids are oh-so-clevva and teched up. Chances are you’ve already got the higher-order, intellectual skills you need to become a fully-rounded digital citizen. This in itself means that your network literacy should come along very quickly. And as for your functional literacy, well, just jump in there and play around a bit — you can’t break it