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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Digital Literacy (or how the hell did my own culture leap frog me?)

As a totally random beginning to my blog I first felt a need to explore the notion of Web 2.0 and how it has in fact changed the social face of our culture. I start with a quote made by Arthur C Clarke in his prediction of the future (c 1964);
          "(The future) will be a world in which we can be in instant contact with each other, where ever we may be. Where we can contact our friends anywhere on Earth even if we don't know their actual physical occasion. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only fifty years from now (1964), for man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London. In fact, if it proves worth while, almost any executive skill, any administrative skill even any physical skill could be made independent of distance. I am perfectly serious when I suggest that, one day, we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand. When that time comes the whole world will have shrunk to a point."
           Beside the point that Arthur C Clarke had amazing insight into the effect of mobile and internet technology, the quote raises concepts only just recently considered.
          Mobile phone technology was the first major shift of the millennium. We are now contactable almost 24hrs a day. The concept of not being home, being busy, or just "off the hook" and taking time out from the social life has steadily eroded. Time essentially contracted to become a parallel continuum of activities. While waiting in line at a bank/shop, we could be using the "waiting period" to be socially active on our mobile phone or even expected to work for our employer. This progressed to a point where, while we were paying for goods or banking, we were being socially active, often to the annoyance of the person serving us (as it was not they who are part of this interaction and their existence is essentially being ignored).  This is an illustration of how we have become slightly disengaged from the physical/social world in our immediate vicinity. Of course, this has not just been an emergence of anti-social behaviors, it has become outright dangerous. In the case of mobile phone use in cars, where it has appeared that 25% of current crashes may have been caused by mobile phone use  in the U.S. (http://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/cell-phone/statistics.html), shows that the fact we have endangered ourselves, let alone others, to be contactable at a drop of a hat is testament to the deep shift in our social/cultural behaviors and consciousness. I observe students in class who believe that any phone message is given priority to their own learning. The reason for this, I believe, is the call inflates the sense of self worth more immediately than the long term development of self awareness and understanding of the world around them. I could get side tracked here by the "celebrity culture" at work on young people's identity these days but it would be a digression.
         The concept of "self", "friendship" or "friends" has been transformed in the advent of social network sites such MySpace, Twitter and Facebook.The fastest way to build the self is with a digital footprint on MySpace, Twitter or Facebook. Your sense of self/ego can be easily legitimised by (and conversely legitimise)  the hundreds or thousands of "friends" on social network sites. A continuous stream of declarations and responses that have replaced older ways of communicating as well as increased the amount and scope of communication. It's almost as if we are always attending a party where conversations from the inane and ridiculous to the poignant and sublime can occur. It is also a place where our musings can go beyond the close circle of "friends" to a world wide audience, thus making it extremely attractive to those who wish to be heard. I have been quoting the term friends as it now means more of an acquaintance when you define it in relation to social networking sites. Now you might say that a generational shift means that I can no longer see these friendships for what they are but I do know that social network friends are a little detached from your life when compared to those friends you see in person, know what they sound like, will see you for major celebrations, etc. This is not to say that all social network friendships are vacuous.  In fact, the ease of communication can really help those in crisis, quickly gather support and expand on friendships formed beyond the site. It is just hard to believe that someone can have a rich and meaningful relationship with thousands of people. I would term that as more like "fans" or at least mutual ego builders.
           Given that we have this new paradigm shift in cultural relationships and ways of communicating, it is ever more important that we understand the impact of this on our lives. There has been an uptake into the new digital culture at a rate that has been frantic, narcissistic and naive. There are no experienced elders to guide younger generations in this case as the speed at which change occurs can be at the click of a mouse button. However it is absolutely important that guidance does occur. Digital literacy, an understanding of the mechanics, language, and impacts of the new digital community, is required to give future generations the tools to safely, confidently and competently live in this world. Areas that I will expand on are Avatars (digital identity as opposed to true identity), the normalisation of the offensive (e.g. sexting), the digital footprint (permanency of actions) and privacy (can it be maintained?). However, if you lasted that long in reading this I'm sure you have the patience to wait for these to be written ("posted") as I do really want to use this format to document my experiences in producing independent films in Australia.
Have a good one ;)


  1. Sober and succinct. There is much potential in any one of the threads you raise here. Can we really eat our cake and have it too? God knows everyone who wants our commerce says we can.

  2. Cheers for that. Feel welcome to break out on any strand there as dialogue is far richer than monologues.