Wednesday, October 3, 2012

the Age of Digital Illiteracy

Did you know that the ability to "Like" something is not a sign of digital literacy?  I feel it's a sign of the Apocalypse, but that's beside the point.

So I'm reading the "Digital Literacy, Libraries, and Public Policy: Report of the American Library Association Digital Literacy Task Force," Sept 18, 2012 Draft... and I'm feeling less and less literate as I try to understand it.

Right off, while reading "DEFINING DIGITAL LITERACY," I realize that I can't think of anyone who might make the cut for being digitally literate.  The (draft) definition is, "Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills."

Okay, on second reading, I can see that there is no actual level or evaluation of literacy included in the definition.  And I guess that's good for the definition to survive the draft phase.  Because my brain inserts words where none had been:  "Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills without jabbing yourself in the groin with something pointy; or spilling very hot liquid in your crotch: your choice; tomato, tomahto."

When I think of digital literacy, I feel that there should be some positive outcome from the use of those informational tools.  And by positive, I exclude giving your Social Security Number to online criminals.  Because this draft definition doesn't try to make anyone feel bad for how well or poorly they use information or communication technologies.  In fact, I would guess that this definition could probably make a baboon feel included since about any monkey has the ability to find something, regardless of whether it was the intended or desired material; to evaluate in some form of feces throwing; to create in some other form of feces tossing; and communicate however evolution saw fit to endow them through natural selection; probably something involving feces.

I'm guessing maybe only mollusks might feel some sense of failure.

But that's not what the definition says, so screw you, baboons.  You're not so looking so superior next to those clams, now because they've added this: "It also is important to note that digital literacy *must* include mastery of traditional literacy,..."

Holy crap!  'Mastery of traditional literacy'??  In America?  What the hell is the drop-out rate?  And if that's not bad enough, now they further refine the definition to mean, "...high-level cognitive skills on finding, evaluating, ethically using, creating, and sharing information also are required..."  Really? 'Ethically using'?  Does that include looking at porn?  Too bad. Because I would guess that if you can view porn, masturbate, and not drop your iPad, you've mastered digital literacy.

But the good news is that libraries are already pioneers in developing programs that teach high-level cognitive skill, as the report notes: "libraries have shared that they offer Internet basics taught through searching for and 'clipping' coupons. Librarians report that these classes provide learners with transferable skills in a personally relevant framework." Huh? Clipping coupons?  Maybe my expectations for 'high-level cognitive training' were set way too high.

What really pisses me off about this is that we've had 60 years of television and 100 years of telephones and no librarian seemed to care whether anyone was literate enough to use these information and communications technologies.  No one cared how often you abused the telephone by calling someone at 2:00 A.M. to ask them if their refrigerator was running.  And no one bothered to teach anyone how to evaluate a television commercial that claimed some product or candidate was so much better than the other or that any product promoted in any infomercial was even worth calling that toll-free number to buy.  No one has ever cared whether anyone was literate before now.  Did someone finally notice that telephones and television have made us so stupid that we needed this intervention? 

I teach computer classes at my library.  But if I were required to wait until my students had developed any above-average level (or mastery) of traditional literacy before I allowed them to sit in my classes, my classes would be empty.  Yes, I see students who are prepared to learn, but they sit next to some other guy who has plucked the Q off the keyboard and swallowed it.

I don't know how you can define something which is dependent upon something else: banana, definition: delicious fruit so long as spiders haven't poisoned them. So how can you train someone to be digitally literate if you can't be sure he's mastered traditional literacy?  And that your tools don't present a choking hazard? (Damn you, Q!)

But the truly good news from this "Digital Literacy, Libraries, and Public Policy" is this: "Libraries can capitalize on the current interest in digital literacy and at the same time educate stakeholders as to the broader concepts involved in becoming truly digitally literate over a lifetime."

Become literate, then die.  Awesome.

(posted, as usual, without proofreading - don't say I didn't warn you if it doesn't make sense)

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