What is digital literacy?
Like traditional literacy, it is not only the mastery of the tools, such as reading and writing. Rather, there is a connotation of higher abilities which are arising from being intensively exposed to books, or to the digital, respectively, and I will talk about them in the second section. Mastering the new tools with confidence means losing the discomfort which mostly comes from either disinformation or IT insecurity. Both have in common that most users cannot evaluate the trustworthiness of systems and sources on their own. In both cases, one can try to rely on central authorities, or ask a friend. If you trust a friend’s email attachment in too naive a way, their imprudence may ripple across your circles because you may be trusting their virus who really sent it. Similarly, the friend may have retweeted a falsehood from a false central authority because evaluating the authority, too, is difficult. But if your friend is aware of you trusting them, they might be more cautious. So, it is important to ask the right friend who, in turn, relies on the right friends, too, rather than on questionable central mass sources. Of course there is not always enough time to ask a friend, so, the first skill is to decide whether I feel safe enough without the friend or if I should stop and wait for him or her — for example, to install some app or to change some settings. And there are some minimal questions that a digitally literate person should be able to answer for themselves. Most prominently, this involves a permanent awareness of one’s logins and of one’s backups, i.e. what would happen if a file was lost or if a password got stolen. Once the basic confidence is achieved, it is important to be aware of the big temptations of a depersonalized communication: that email can contain much sharper attacks than face-to-face, that social media can be used to evangelize and anonymously promote some agenda, or that the smartphone can be used to interact with friends as if it were a remote control.
What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? (*However you interpret this.)
The exposure to the web has the most impact, IMHO, through the following affordances: asynchronous exchanges that foster reflectivity, the opportunity of serendipitous breadth, the practice of individual picking and unlimited depth, and encounters with resources and people of unprecedented diversity — in short: it fosters open minds. And digital tools are more than a new format for reading and writing. If you look beyond their being a new form of a typewriter and of a library card catalog, you will find truly new affordances, many of which simply enhance our capability of sorting and rearranging our thoughts — in short, they foster flexible minds. Focusing literacy too much on digitized reading and writing, by contrast, may mislead us to damn it, to waste attention, and to trust paper sources more than a general critical thinking would warrant.
Who are you? (context matters)
My name is Matthias Melcher, by training a mathematician, and while I am not a digital native, I would not call me a digital immigrant, either, but rather count myself to the pioneers. From 1981, I have worked in a university computer center and e-learning center, and now I am retired, and blogging and developing a think tool.
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