Over the last week or so, I’ve been following very different, but equally interesting, threads about internet and technology literacy. Each offers a different slice of a wide problem, and I think comparing the three together presents interesting contrasts.
The first take on internet literacy comes by way of a colleague of mine who teaches classes in information literacy at Pasadena City College. Teaching information and internet literacy is an ongoing challenge for school librarians at every grade level. My colleague provided an example that he uses in class to demonstrate why students should think beyond Google for access to information. He asks students to find answers to a series of questions, including finding the third leading cause of death in the United States. The correct answer is stroke, but try searching “third leading cause of death” in Google. Information literacy problem #1: evaluating sources.
The second take on internet literacy comes from danah boyd’s always-interesting, sometimes-controversial blog, apophenia. Her post “Who clicks on ads?” speculates on a different sort of internet literacy: that of consumers. Recent studies are suggesting that only a small percentage of internet users click on internet advertisements. danah writes that qualitative data from her studies of social network sites suggests that users with lower internet literacy are providing marketers with the coveted click-throughs. As she writes:
“Consumer culture has historically capitalized on poorer populations, long before the web. Studies of consumer culture have shown how American identity has been constructed through consumption over the last century and how, not surprisingly, those who have a stronger need/desire to prove their American identity buy into the consumer culture.”
Is this being replicated online? Hard to tell if she’s right without more data, but it’s certainly interesting food for thought and hopefully, further study. So, information literacy problem #2: information equity.
Finally, problems of internet literacy among a subset of American elites: our legislators. The opinion piece “Don’t Know Their Yahoo from Their YouTube” by blogger Garrett M. Graff in The Washington Post points out that the legislators shaping technology policy in the U.S. have very little idea of how it all actually works. For a medium which is increasingly influential in news, entertainment, education, commerce (I could go on) … and which is fraught with policy questions about equitable access, data collection, privacy and data retention, policing vs. openness and – oh yeah – information literacy (see #1 and 2), this particular case of internet illiteracy seems unforgivable.