A continued conversation with myself about Digital Literacy
A quarrelsome mind can become vexing when the dialogue is internal. I have always had an aversion to the term digital literacy. It has always struck me as a defensive term that justified certain library activities.
I do not want to appear schizophrenic in my thinking. I am asking this question because I did not go through the process of stepping back and critically thinking about literacy and the what literacy is and isn’t.
The catalyst that propelled me in this direction was a New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/magazine/jared-kushners-other-real-estate-empire.html?_r=1) and I will loop back to this later in this post
Literacy is the ability to read and write. It comes from the Latin word literatus/litteratus “educated, learned, who knows the letters;” formed in imitation of Greek grammatikos from Latin littera/litera “alphabetic letter.”
This seems like something Captain Obvious might say, the knowledge of letters and the combination of letters allows us to make words. The combining of words allows humanity to capture and share thoughts. The art of writing is the art of thinking. You can achieve the refinement of thought through the process of writing. Writing is the tool that clarifies challenges, examines and scrutinizes. Critical thinking and decision-making can occur without writing, but it has been my experience that writing improves the quality and depth of thought, at least in my own mind.
Categorizing literacy such as digital literacy is helpful, but I feel it misses the entire point of literacy. Literacy is about understanding your thoughts and those of others. It is not only about acquiring a set of technical skills, it is about putting those newly acquired skills to work for you.
The skill of reading allows me to find a bathroom, understand a bus route, and learn about the world that I live in. It gives me opportunities.
The impetus for this post came from the New York Times article where it became apparent that tenants in these rental homes were not legally literate, and they lacked the skills to manage the legal situations they found themselves in. They could not articulate their thoughts and ideas in the legal language and that illiteracy hurt them financially and emotionally in some long term and dramatic ways.
The complexity of the world is increasing. I have no idea how to quantify this change and again knowing the speed of the change is not the point.
Humans have certain needs and these needs appear to remain constant. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the go to theory that deconstructs these needs but I want to look at Manfred Max-Neef, he developed the “Fundamental human needs.”
This is a summary of subsistence living.
People need physical and mental health; they need food, shelter and work. They need to be fed, clothed, have rest and work, these are the doing things. People need living environments and social settings to interact.
I now understand the power of the idea of Digital Literacy. It is vital just as fire and a spear once where to navigate this world. Digital Literacy alone is not enough; it needs to be combined with other sometimes-new complex 21st century literacy skills.
Legal literacy is needed more than ever. Just think of all the things that sustain our lives and how they interconnect with the legal system.
- Rental agreements
- Writing a will
- Selling or buying a house
- Pay a parking/speeding ticket or contesting a ticket
- Power of Attorney
- What to do in a small claims court
- Marriage/Divorce (approximately 50% of those married will go through this legal proceeding)
- Financial scams
- Requesting a loan
I have listed some of the topics that I think are needed regarding medical literacy
- How to work with your insurance company
- What is Medicare vs Medicaid
- How do I read a hospital bill
- How to get vision/dental/medical service without insurance and what are the costs
- How to pick a Doctor/Dentist
- How to lower bills for medicine
All of these skills now need some form of digital skill. I have not touched on skills needed for acquiring work or the skills you now need in the average work environment. Can you think of other literacy categories that people might need? What skills would need for Educational literacy?