Digital Literacy Part 3: Advanced Skills Understanding Behavior

Digital Literacy: Advanced Skills Understanding Behavior
What are the rules, norms, and behaviors

Digital literacy is a hot topic for many libraries but its definition remains ambiguous and evolving even as many try to pin down a working definition. At Johnson County Library, we’ve chosen to define digital literacy as a wide range of digital competencies. With this in mind, how do we balance the concept of digital literacy in relation to the ever-expanding free-flow of ideas on the internet?

Depending on your level of literacy, the internet can represent a feast of information or a collective of control, as described by Joel Stein of Time Magazine. In “Tyranny of the Mob,” Stein describes how an innocent internet search began with the intent of information gathering can quickly take us to unknown places that are not always beneficial.

“Once it [the web] was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now the web is a sociopath with Asperger’s. If you need help improving your upload speeds it’s eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try and goad you into killing yourself.”

The internet’s potential impact on individuals, groups and society call into question how to balance social norms of responsible digital literacy practices within the Wild West behaviors of the Internet. With this in mind, do libraries hold some level of responsibility as a dedicated internet provider? Should libraries set a goal to define and enforce behavior on a global network? Perhaps, but is there is also collective hope needed norms and behaviors will naturally evolve through the collective responsibility of worldwide internet users.

My interest in the collective impact of social norms over time has its roots in the world and culture where I grew up in. In New Zealand, Maori culture was a part of my childhood and two of my brothers are part Maori. We once had a family reunion on a Marae, which is a tribe’s gathering place with meeting house and other buildings. It is the place where the tribe stands and belongs. It is the place of funerals, family reunions; a fence surrounds these buildings and there is a point of entry.

If you are not of that tribe or have not previously entered the Marae you cannot enter. You must be welcomed and there is a welcoming ceremony. The Maori provide a set of defined rules as a way to culturally to deal with risk, define acceptable behavior and provide clarity of purpose.

How we define our own rules is a product of who we are at this time in addition to our experiences in the world. On any given day, the library is a gathering place for individuals, each with their own version of social norms. The current discussion on digital literacy represents a microcosm of greater change and evolution, reflecting what’s happening in the community and in the world at large. In lieu of regimented internet social norms, I believe digital literacy will become a collective responsibility.

Throughout this process, libraries and its staff will be a critical ally in helping patrons sift through the internet, separating fact from fiction through the supplement of books, magazines, databases and liberal applications of librarian knowledge. Through these efforts, I believe we will find common ground on digital literacy and find new ways to enhance our quest for knowledge in the world.

I quoted Joel Stein at the beginning of this post. In the same article, he writes about a Pew Research Center survey published in 2014 that 40 percent of internet users have experienced some form of online harassment.

Pew has six categories of behavior that it considers harassment.

  1. Name calling
  2. Efforts to purposely embarrass
  3. Physical threats
  4. Sustained harassment over a period of time
  5. Sexual harassment
  6. Stalking

Pew found that younger people were more likely to experience this type of behavior. Over half of those harassed were harassed by an anonymous user, and 66% reported that the harassment occurred on a social media site.

Online, like with any public forum there are positive and negative experiences that you can encounter. The study showed that online audiences are perceived to be both more critical and supportive which I find to be an interesting contradiction.

Here is a clear example of supportive behavior that can occur on the Internet. I had the chance to hear Dan Savage the founder of “It Gets Better” talk at a conference. This site supports LGBTQIA teens that are considering suicide. In an article “Does ‘It Get Better’ Make Life Better for Gay Teens?” published in The Atlantic Oct 7th 2010 they question the effectiveness of the website.

I think this misses the point. There are places on the web that are supportive and places online that can expose you to harassment.

Author TSC

Editor: JBF