Digital Literacy

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"Our ability to communicate – Unlike our parents, who recall sitting down at a desk to deliberately draft a letter with paper, pen, envelope and stamp, today’s youth have radically expanded options in how we communicate our observations, reflections and emotions. Oral and written communication have merged into a constant flow of commentary that tends to incentivize wit, irony and novelty. Of greatest significance, online communication is often many-to-many rather than one-to-one, an adjustment that has proven difficult for older generations.

Our ability to search for information – A woman in her mid-fifties once told me of a recurring childhood fantasy while she grew up in rural Venezuela. She frequently walked through the countryside, imagining supernatural glasses that provided her with extra information about anything she set her eyes on. Today, a self-described iPhone addict, she says the Internet has become those magical glasses. Modern youth take for granted our ability to search for any type of information — song lyrics, actors, politicians, Facebook profiles — at any time. But we should be careful to not conflate potential with reality; a 2010 study by Eszter Hargitttai and her colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago found important limitations in how youth seek and evaluate online information.

Our ability to network – “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” goes the only business school cliché. Today’s youth are intuitively, if not explicitly, aware of the importance of social capital to open up economic and social opportunities. Whereas our parents may have joined a social club, cooking class, or sports league to increase their social capital, today we are often more likely to search out similar interactions through the use of online spaces geared toward particular lifestyles, sub-cultures and interests. As social interactions with strangers begin online rather than offline, they become more numerous, more fleeting, and yet, paradoxically, more persistent as each person from our past remains just a search away.

Our ability to absorb knowledge – Information anxiety has become part of the human experience. As the amount of information made accessible grows exponentially, the percentage of available information we are able to process necessarily declines. I believe that all generations are struggling as we move from a world of relative “information scarcity” to “information abundance.” But youth are especially aware of the need to develop strategies and coping mechanisms to survive in a world with more information than any one person could come close to comprehending.

Our ability to create social change – For the purposes of this book, I am particularly interested in a final digital literacy: our ability to shape meaning out of information, and social change out of meaning. To better understand the evolution of how we change the world around us, we must look more closely at the social movements of our parents, and of today." (