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.

6 Responses to “Why Digital Literacy? A bit of thought analysis…”

  1. Lisa November 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve had this discussion many times about my child’s education and we’ve thought about enrolling her in computer classes. One thing I have wondered is where this digital education should happen, as it doesn’t seem to be happening to a great extent inside schools. Maybe after school programs? Hopefully not just with tutors or adult continuing education classes.

  2. Anonymous November 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    “Most students treat knowledge as a liquid to be swallowed rather than as a solid to be chewed, and then they wonder why it provides little nourishment.” (Sydney Harris)

    I really like this post because it shows how we should be refocusing our approach to education in the 21st century, particularly for young people. This way they may find more ‘nourishment’ from learning.
    I am however trying to figure out who the people are in the image in this post?

  3. Roni November 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I learned most of my computer skills by myslef from high school projects thorugh my B.S.c in computer science.I think that every one should know basic computer use and structure.
    We all should get fimiliar with the internet and the digital literarcy age.
    We are in this fast revolution of computers and internet and the people without such skills will eventually stay behind.

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