What does it mean to be literate in today’s digital society?
I have recently had the opportunity to spend a week with my seventy-seven year old father, whose primary use of his laptop is to check the forecast and play solitaire. He would be the first to consider himself digitally illiterate, unsure how to set up or check email, or install software updates that perpetually pop up on the screen. Yet his lack of technological knowledge has not been a hinderance. He pays his bills through the mail or in person, and checks in with us kids by telephone every few weeks.
Citing Warschauer, Misfud (2005) notes how “becoming literate has always depended on mastering processes that are deemed valuable in particular societies, cultures and contexts”. (p. 133). As I grapple with what it means to be literate in today’s digital society, the importance which culture and context play seems paramount. My father’s lifestyle and livelihood is not dependent on digital fluency. He is fully literate in the context and culture of his life.
Clearly, the ability to read and write represent only a portion of what it means to be literate in today’s society. The Partnership of 21st Century skills, as cited by Belshaw (2011) employs a framework around the “four Cs’ of ‘critical thinking and problem solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation.” (p. 42). While Belshaw seems somewhat critical of the lack of definition applied to the various types of literacy that the Partnership heralds as important, I myself am less concerned with defining the notion of literacy, and think that the real focus should in fact be on developing skills necessary for these four C’s across all areas of an individual’s culture and context.
Misfud (2005) states that “viewing literacy through the affordance lens means that digital literacy becomes personal and not universal.” (p. 136). When I consider individuals like my father, I see the validity in her statement. Yet the skills required to problem solve and think critically and creatively, to collaborate and communicate effectively, are universal. While I am not yet sure how I would define literacy, helping students to develop these skills seems most imperative. If we can do it well, they will be able to transfer them to whatever contexts and cultures they encounter.
Belshaw, D. (2011). What is ‘digital literacy’? A pragmatic investigation. Retrieved from http://neverendingthesis.com/index.php?title=Main_Page
Misfud., L., (2005). What counts as digital literacy: Experiences from a seventh grade classroom in Norway. Retrieved from http://www.socialscience.t-mobile.hu/dok/9_Misfud.pdf