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.