A Journey in Digital Literacy
First of all, this is not about me. I am just a voice. I have dedicated the last 23 years to keeping myself updated in IT. The last 15 have been dedicated to teaching adults. The last 9 to adults and children. Guess what? I sometimes feel like I should not teach someone to be on Facebook or WhatsApp or to use their email account or a particular platform if my actions might put them in danger.
What do I mean? Digital literacy is a fluid discussion that started shortly after the World Wide Web was here to stay. An article looking into the digital divide around the mid-90s -the haves and have-nots- seems to have coined the digital divide. Academics are studying this divide. I have my own opinions, as you can imagine. I agree with the work done in the Netherlands by J. Van Djik and A. Van Dursen.
The Digital Learning Club and the Challenges of the Pandemic
I even started a club in 2018: the digital learning club. It targeted people that felt left behind in the context of digital learning. It got their attention and, as a result, some funding. Then it all stopped because of the pandemic. It was a social event. What if I could have funding to continue with my vision?
What is my vision? Initially, my vision was to have a physical meeting point where people could come and ask specific questions about their digital gadgets. Why physical? Because the people I was trying to reach could not look for answers by themselves. And not even with the help of their family. Image to be taught how to drive a car by your loved one. Does this work? Only sometimes.
This vision evolved because I saw danger in it. I was working with volunteers. I was doing too many things except looking for more funding and defining the terms and conditions of belonging and volunteering in this club. I got overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work I had to do alone. The pandemic may have given me a natural pause.
The pandemic pointed me in an academic direction when the club was not viable because of its social nature. The PhD was meant to focus on researching tools that will help people with zero digital skills (not knowing how to use a mouse, a keyboard, a browser and so on) to learn individually by using a particular teaching and learning methodology. It was interrupted because life dealt me a set of cards that were impossible to play. I became a loser. I always finish what I’ve started. However, I have become more flexible with this view. However, this negative narrative is being turned around.
So here I am at it again. And this is how the vision has evolved. Realistic? I don’t care. Is AI realistic? I mean, look at its potential, good and bad, without properly considering its release to the public. But we even did that with nuclear power. I think ChatGPT is “magic”, by the way.
The Vision: A Point of Information for Digital Literacy
What is the vision, you may be wondering? What if there was a point of information (POI), not courses, within libraries, county halls, health centres, women’s centres, day centres, and so on? I am not saying that courses are not necessary. Still, they are counterproductive in many instances because they use the typical educational methods we KNOW do not work for many people.
What will this POI do? First and most important, people working in this POI must be trained to deal with those lacking digital literacy. By this, I mean to know how to treat people rather than make them feel like idiots. Who do you think anyone would like to be labelled “illiterate” in their definition of themselves? And yet, many people say, and this is normal: I am not good with technology. Hey! There have been over 30 years of Internet use and computer courses for the initiated. What has this achieved? It has often put people off learning computer and Internet literacy, particularly older learners.
What problems will this POI resolve? Many. First of all, we all use digital devices and software in different ways. Our starting point varies depending on our circumstances. Our queries arise from this starting point. People talk about PDFs as if everyone knows what they are, what they are for, when to use them, how to open them, how to create one, attach it and so on. Come on… And if you don’t know, you look like… yes, an illiterate. A digital one. I witnessed how an elderly couple was harassed in the airport, by an airline agent at the checking, for not knowing about PDFs when the Digital Covid certificates were compulsory.
The Risks of Digital Illiteracy and the Role of the Youth
I believe children are in danger when parents (allegedly digitally literate) leave their children with their grandparents (allegedly digitally illiterate). Grandparents that own a smartphone lend it to their child without a clue about what the child can do with it because they can’t fathom what could go wrong with it. I know of a case very close to me. But there are many. This ‘digital nanny’ is like leaving the back door open at night, expecting nobody ever to find out. However, everyone wanting to take advantage of unsupervised or unlocked backdoors knows that many older people leave the back door open.
Many adults (Gen X, Boomers and geriatric Millennials) are in danger because they are targets of scams. After all, they use a smartphone or a computer without knowing what is going on when they click on something or when they receive something when they get updates when they get annoying notifications. Upsetting notifications they can’t turn off. Figures show that there are 42 million (how this is measured is cause of concern, too, because there are more) people without digital skills only in the EU. And many think they know but don’t say because… yes, nobody wants to be labelled as digital illiterate, so they hide. I have witnessed this in my one-to-one tuition over 15 years!!! I recommend the book The Digital Divide by J. Van Dijk.
Now, you are young and digitally literate. This article has nothing to do with you. Think again. What about your inheritance? Do you want your “illiterate” parents or grandparents to go wild and look for help from dodgy strangers helping them invest? Use Revolut, for example. Buy Crypto? What about your children? Can you explain to your parents not to lend their phones to the children? This “lending” can be a secret between them; you will never know. Well, if you do, then make sure that you install software on your parents’ phones. Be kind and explain to them how to turn it off when the kids are no longer using it. These ‘nanny apps’ are useful while we wait for better ways of detecting children’s activity that can be stopped automatically.
Envisioning the Impact of the Point of Information
In this POI, which will use a one-to-one and confidential approach, people will come and ask what is bothering them regarding something to do with the devices at their fingertips. It can be a starting point to go to specific courses or receive one-to-one tuition from experts, trained people who can help.
With this POI, people will gain independence. They will feel respected and not insulted when they say they are not good with technology and want to learn, don’t understand what is going on with something, and need help recovering passwords.
This lack of independence makes people feel very vulnerable. Not because they do not know about technology but because they might want to do things without other family members or friends to know. Wouldn’t you?
This POI is a service for the transition to using electronic services. And let’s face it, nobody gets younger, and the technological advances are so incredible that we will all going to be needing this advice. This service is necessary for equity and inclusion. And perhaps more “baddies” could be spotted, more data on what works and what doesn’t could be collected, and therefore it could help improve services. Do you need REAL people testing your accessible eService, gadget? Come to the POI and PAY for access to potential user and their UX interaction.
POI: A Service for the Transition to Electronic Services
Contrary to what many believe, including academics, people are willing to learn if the learning appeals and solves problems. Technology, as we use it now, creates a lot of anxiety. People are also willing to pay. The problem is that we need to figure out where to turn for help because there is no such place or service. I have been called a genius and a hero. We could be heroes just for one day.
This creative article is based on my personal, academic, and professional experience.
- How has your personal experience influenced your perspective on the digital divide and the need for digital literacy?
- What are your thoughts on the idea of Points of Information (POIs) in public places to assist with digital literacy? Could this be a viable solution?
- In your opinion, what are the most significant challenges we face in improving digital literacy across all age groups, and how can we overcome these?