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Why Digital Literacy? A bit of thought analysis…

2 Nov

As we’ve begun writing and advocating for greater investment in digital literacy we’ve challenged ourselves to step back and think, does digital literacy really matter?   Should all young people really be forced to take a programming class? Should teachers teach the basics of Internet architecture?

For some, the answer is a resonant yes.  But, it’s not obvious.

We don’t, for example, teach young people how to build houses or cars at school, though it’s clear that both physical architecture and the basics of combustion engines impact our every day lives.  We don’t even teach many young people the basics of the stock market, investing, or simple money management.

Why then is digital literacy different?  Is it different? Or is this just another case of tech-exceptionalism….

As we’ve explored the blogosphere it’s become clear that those who advocate for digital literacy are motivated by many different visions and world views. They also attack the challenge from different angles.

For many policymakers and professional training advocates, digital literacy is about empowering the next generation of workers and students with the skills needed to compete and add value in today’s market.

For Mozilla and other free speech advocates, this drive is about creating a “web-literate planet.” It’s about enabling anyone and everyone to understand what’s “under the hood” on the Net and empowering individuals to build upon, understand, and manipulate the “operating system” of our lives.

And for many start-up community advocates, digital literacy is seen as a basic pre-requisite for managing programmers and cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Yesterday, Fred Wilson, a New York VC who is starting to invest in education projects like Code Academy and Skillshare, wrote a post on the importance of basic coding skills. Therein he posted a striking quote from media theorist Douglas Rushkoff.

Of everything I’ve read, Rushkoff provides one of the more eloquent and compelling justifications for investing in digital literacy:

When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.

We’ll be refining our own views and justifications over the coming months, but for those fighting the good fight on digital literacy today, hopefully these thinkers both inspire and put a few more arguments in your arsenal.

Why Write

9 Oct

Open Technology is a blog started by Michal Tsur and Leah Belsky.  We are two people who’ve traveled a varied path between the worlds of tech entrepreneurship,  business strategy, and academia.  We came together at Kaltura – a New York tech startup launching the world’s first open source media platform.  We were also both fellows at the Yale Information Society Project – a research institute focused on the future of the web and to understanding the way new technologies can be a force for positive change in the world.

Over the past 3 years at Kaltura we’ve brought to market an amazing video platform that has transformed the use and vision for media within top broadcasters, educational institutions, and enterprises. We developed a unique open source business strategy, and also founded an open advocacy organization, the Open Video Alliance, with Mozilla, PCF, Google, and others.

Yet, as we’ve grown Kaltura, we’ve become increasingly aware of how limited the discourse is between the tech community and the more academic worlds from whence we came.

For us, this blog is an attempt to bridge that gap- to connect BIG ideas about innovation and open technologies to industry and to the practical lives of entrepreneurs trying to start and grow companies. Most of all though, it’s a place for us to think and learn, within a community, and to refine our ideas in this time of change.

We will focus on a few key themes:

  • Open source tech and open systems -  What is the future of open source technologies and the open web, particularly in an age when web services, tech-activism, and social networks are rapidly changing the way we use and interact with the Net?
  • Digital Education – The education system today is crashing. Students are shouldered in debt. And generations of workers and graduates lack the skills needed to succeed in a digital world, and in a world with more complex technologies and industries. What is the future of digital education and how do we use digital literacy to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs?
  • Startups, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Communities - We’ve both studied innovation academically and had the privilege of working in growing entrepreneurial communities in New York.  We’d like to use this blog to share some of our insights and lessons learned.

We’ve also had the privilege of working with many amazing friends, entrepreneurs, co-founders, and thinkers over the years, so you will likely see a few guest posts from them as well.