Three Essential Steps In Advancing Digital Literacy

The challenges facing our collective civilizations are severe, and yet where technology is concerned, our interactions with technology are limited. I see a growing divide between those inside the technology industry and those outside of the industry. This divide is exacerbated by tech operating inside of a black box hidden behind seemingly obscure terminology and vernacular. That growing divide is a risk to our thriving as a nation and species, and the muddied discourse from social media is strong evidence of that divide. This is a time for people to come together to use the tools in our diverse tool-kits to collectively solve the problems we face. I’ve come to the table to humbly say “I get it. Now let’s move forward and begin closing the digital literacy divide.”

When digital literacy is expressed across a network of users, those groups in effect become voting blocks, injecting or deducting economic value from the communities and websites they visit. You, the user, command real dollar value through your attention and interactions with content across the web, this is the basis of how Facebook and Google became modern-day Goliaths. Whether you’re viewing videos, articles or memes, the truth is that advertising dollars follow you and speak loudest on the web. Understanding that is the first step on the road to digital literacy. Embodying digital literacy, is an ongoing effort to understand our rapidly interlocking worlds and include the following:

  1. Understand that wherever you browse on the web, economic value follows with you.
  2. Now more than ever, critical thinking is a necessity when browsing the web.
  3. The ongoing development of technology and web, poses both great potential risk and opportunity for everyone.

There was not, nor would there be a billboard sign proclaiming — ‘the web is complete, we did it! Mission Accomplished!’ There has been no clear indication that we had transitioned to a digital society where every detail of our life is cataloged somewhere in the ‘cloud.’ We understand challenges in our physical world pretty well for the most part. We’re able to predict the weather a few days ahead of time. We’re able to build intricately engineered skyscrapers. We can logistically ship a product across the world to arrive just in time to restock. Moving through a physical environment is a feature that we understand well. Moving within a digital world, not so much.

E-commerce becomes a natural market force of a developed nation’s desire and needs. Order today, here tomorrow. It’s simple to understand how technology augments our physical world. What’s more difficult to understand are the abstract threats and risks to our digital worlds. Because it’s not readily apparent how all the factors of the internet tie together, it’s easy to dismiss the issues as too dense to understand or unimportant. I contend that this is very much not the case. What we secure as rights in our present time will have an impact on how technology develops for generations.

Still, there is no way that we can visualize and then realize the extent of the threat. Rollercoasters are successful because they trick our brain’s fear response into a primal urge to protect ourselves. Life tends to be full of little tricks like that.For example, the TV show The Big Bang Theory uses laugh tracks to trick your brain into thinking the show is funny, when in actuality it is not funny at all. For your day-to-day technology use, the most visceral reaction you can have is realizing you sent the wrong private image to the wrong recipient. The threats we face are challenging and fraught with pitfalls, navigating these issues will require some levity in their approach.

Food for thought. In the totality of the history of human expression, how many curse words would you think there are? Take a wild guess. No seriously, take a guess because it is literally innumerable. In a billion years from now when alien archaeologists are digging through the ruins of civilization they’re going to find two things about the human race. One — Humans love plastic, and two — we loved curse words. It’s likely to be the first words anyone learns of a new language. We love the expressiveness of curse words. That’s the point, curse words are immediate instinctual catharsis. It’s a good thing too because we’ll need a few to get through this year.

The emoji, like slang provides a means of codifying meaning, modulating the impact of the phrase. Oddly enough, expressing sentiment across a large swathe of people can be possible. Twitter recently announced the most popular emojis by country for the year 2016. Given all that’s been going on in the news in 2016, the United States has most frequently used the following emoji:

Fig 1.- 2016’s preview for 2017 Fig 1.- 2016’s preview for 2017

To me this is a pretty clear indication of the psyche of my country. Other times it can be tricky to determine the inferred meaning when used but they can however express meaning while also adding levity. Which is good because in order to summarize the extent of “what can go wrong” we’ll need to use them frequently to punctuate the ongoing frustration.

(This post is a modified excerpt from my upcoming book Welcome to Tomorrow, now available! The book offers insights and practical advice for beginners on venturing into the wide world of tech. If you enjoyed the piece, please sign up for my newsletter and more stories like this when they release!)