(Disclaimer: This blog contains some strong language, and the only reason I’m being polite enough to put in a disclaimer is because I understand some of you are new to this enigmatic ball of hair and pent-up aggression that is Jeff McFarland. This is your first and only warning.)

That’s how the line goes, right? “We can rebuild him – we have the technology,” and indeed we do, boys and girls. It’s 2015. The future seems to eek closer toward us with each passing day. Nike announces self-tying shoes, the world’s top scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warn of the dangers of artificial intelligence, and supposedly, a hoverboard is in the works. We’ve truly reached the future, eh?

Always In Motion Is The Future

Get in, loser, we’re going back to the future. Photo CC- by JD Hancock

Though, the thing about when people talk about us nearing the “future,” is I call immediate bullshit. When people say we’re headed for the future, they usually mean we’re on the brink of some technological breakthrough (the brink meaning 10-15 years off at the very least) and we imagine our strange, sci-fi-fantasy version of the future to be just around the corner. We’re in the now. Technology is flying right now. The internet is no longer a stand-alone browser app in your computer: everything is smart (except maybe the people). TVs, phones, tablets, even picture frames. Fucking picture frames can connect to a cloud and stream photographs. As amazing as that is, it’s a little daunting too.

So, in an age where going out to dinner means sitting with 3 to 6 other people all staring at their glowing crotches and maintaining no contact with one another throughout the duration of the meal, what hope is there for homo sapiens to not simply plug and download their brains directly into Facebook? Well, if one remembers the original intent of the Internet – networking, to make the world a smaller place, we can discover some potential for good in the cesspit of evil that is the Internet.

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Photo CC-by MTSOfan, and no witty quip is needed

What is Digital Literacy?

A lot of .edu websites seem to favor defining Digital Literacy as “the understanding of, and ability to use the Internet in a responsible manner to facilitate learning.” Something like that. I don’t like that very much. In researching an answer to the above question, I stumbled upon an article on TeachThought by Terry Heick that I think hit a lot of important nuances of the question that Universities seem to overlook. Technology, the internet, all of it- are fluid. By tomorrow, yesterday’s newest device is obsolete. The internet, as both Terry and I pointed out, isn’t a stand alone thing. Not anymore. According to Heick’s article, “Digital literacy is the ability to interpret and design nuanced communication across fluid digital forms.” I think that’s a pretty good definition. It allows for flexibility in “digital forms,” emphasizes “communication” over viral cat videos, and illustrates the importance of being able to interpret information. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is a note about the responsibility needed when technology is part of the playing field.

It’s not good enough to know how to use a computer or a smartphone. To be truly “digitally literate,” you need some essential skills. You need to know how to be able to search smart, be it for academic research or even typing things into Google. You need a basic grasp on copyright law so that you don’t accidentally piss off someone who can happily and legally sue the shit out of you. You need to be able to judge the merit and authenticity of things you stumble upon, and you need to know what not to click on. Also, as a bonus tip, you need to know most Anti-Virus software is bullshit. Your computer came equipped with an anti-virus that does everything the ones you’re paying for charge to do.

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Photo CC-by Joe, and what an image

Granted, a basic grasp on how to use technology is the only way to start developing any of these skills. I’ve known my way around a computer since I was about 5 or 6, and now I’m the guy who the “No, I will not fix your computer” shirt was made for. The thing is, most of my “fixes” could be done by anyone with a little know-how. Seriously. Don’t install shit you don’t need or if you aren’t sure about the source, keep complicated passwords, and you’re 2/3rds of the way there. I used to roll my eyes at Excel and Word classes that teach people the extremely complicated nuances of clicking “File -> Save,” but I realized the truth – that some people really have trouble with that. I know how to do advanced searches, I know how not to get sued, and I know how to keep my computer clean. What I need work on, is tolerance of those who have a knowledge level below mine.

Not everyone has been behind a keyboard since childhood. The internet / home computer has only been a thing for less than half a century. I also need to recognize that there are those who know infinitely more than I do. I can fix a computer’s software. When it comes to the guts of the machine, I know next to nothing. If a computer has a problem inside of it, I’m boned.

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Photo CC-by lgb06, strangely pertinent given this week’s itinerary
I think the most important step people can take to get better at these things, is simply to undertake the effort to get better. I know that sounds idiotic, but seriously. Take a class at a community college to teach you about Word or Excel, they help, despite what snobs like me believe. Check the credibility of your sources before you share some dumb shit on Facebook. Snopes.com is your friend. Take a typing class (if you didn’t have to in grade school) and avoid the atrocious-looking “search and peck” method of typing. If our society is going to be so reliant on technology, you’re going to have to be on the up-and-up.

Progressum

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Comments
  1. tristyfishy says:

    I’m one of those people you’re talking about with the Excel programs aren’t you? I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU TAKE THIS FUCKING CLASS. But, you have a point. Though you aren’t able to do what I am with Excel, even with my four class periods of Decision Support for Managers, I get what you mean. You are a lot better with technology than I am. Digital Literacy is something that I need to work on, with or without the word “hack.”

  2. This post is the best explanation for why this class in Digital Literacy focuses on learning rather than technology. Being digitally literate is about having a fluid, flexible, adaptable mindset, connecting and collaborating, focusing on creating not just consuming. It’s about how we learn.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I should really learn to be more patient with people who aren’t technologically literate. I’m very pushy in the sense that I’d rather take the reins and have someone watch me do something then repeat it, and that can be pretty stifling to learning.

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