Digital Literacy

Rex Miller wrote an amazing book called The Millennium Matrix. The big takeaway of the book is that every time the way we communicate changes, the way we think and process changes, and therefore culture changes. Rex references the huge shift in culture when we moved from an oral culture to a print culture (the reformation); the turmoil in the shift from a print culture to a broadcast culture (the 60's); and talks about the shift we are seeing now from a broadcast culture to a digital culture.

Here's the thing. In each shift, there were people who really, truly didn't see a need to change. Imagine..."Why do I need to read?" to "Why do I need to trade my radio for a TV?" to "What is Facebook?"

Rex positions the concept in terms of literacy. Prejudices and equating illiteracy with ignorance aside, there is a very real barrier for people in our culture who cannot read. And no matter what you think about current television programming, people who do not watch television miss out on a large element of American culture. For example, if I use the phrase "low-talker" or "man-hands" if you aren't a Seinfeld viewer, you miss the context. If I say, "he's a Dwight Shrute" or "they have a Pam/Jim relationship", people who have seen The Office know what I mean in a more connected way than if I simply said "they like each other, but keep missing each other relationally."

This morning at our weekly Bic's meeting, Nancy Jumper mentioned that she has developed new relationships with her nieces and nephews over the past year. The reason is that she's recently become literate in their language....Facebook.

Craig Janssen tells the story of his daughter Brooke getting a scratch on her back. "I want to see it," she said. "You can't see it," her mom explained, knowing that even with a mirror it would be out of sight. "Sure I can. Just take a picture with your phone."

Whether it is texting, IM, e-mail, digital pictures or quick access to anything and everything via Google, digital communication is removing barriers opening up new worlds--just as print and broadcast did before it. As it does, the way we think about what is possible changes. But your thinking can only change, if you engage.

After all, digital literacy comes about by using the technology.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall