Not All Digital Natives Are Savvy And Rabbit Holes Ensnare
The Challenge of the Digital Age
The digital age is characterized by unparalleled technological advances, chief amongst them the internet, allowing information to be democratized and giving voice and agency to the individual. This represents an opportunity to be truly transformative in creating a more fair world by ending the educational elitism of the past when access to knowledge was largely determined by social class and privilege equating to power and influence. But for all the new opportunities the digital age provides, it has undeniably become problematic and has given rise to new challenges that threaten society.
The online world continues to expand exponentially with estimates calculating that 380 new websites are created every minute. And it’s not all good. There is a nefarious side to the internet and within this space disinformation, misinformation, and echo chambers give life and breath to politically motivated movements, hidden agendas, conspiracy theories, and anarchism that can have very damaging consequences. And then there’s the dark web exploited for criminality and perversion to take into consideration.
With minor oversight or regulation of content published online, the individual user is left susceptible to influence and, with so many rabbit holes to get lost down, maybe drawn further and further from the truth. It is against this background that information literacy skills need to be developed and promoted as key skills and should not be taken for granted as a given.
While the generation who have grown up with technology, the so-called digital natives, may appear comfortable using technology and browsing the internet, scrolling, swiping, tapping, they (like so many of us) often do so perfunctorily and many lack the vital skills and strategies needed to navigate this world successfully. This behavior could be compared to that of a trusting passenger, passive and a little naïve, while the actual driving forces remain elusive.
In fact, perhaps the term digital natives weigh too heavily as it creates the expectation that this generation can navigate the internet intelligently and intuitively as part of their genetic makeup. Unfortunately, though, evolution is a slow process and until our DNA catches up information literacy needs to be taught and it is something we all need to learn as a necessary life skill.
Without key information literacy awareness and skills, many of us remain passive, at worse vulnerable, to exploitation online. And so these skills need to be explicitly taught, talked about, and encouraged and opportunities created to support this learning. The benefits both at a personal level and at a societal level make this a worthwhile endeavor as a greater understanding of information published online and skills to evaluate it can lead to more informed choices, increased personal responsibility for actions and the autonomy to be authentic in our own lives.
“Information literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion in all nations.” (UNESCO, 2016)
If we want to understand how we interact with the online world and how the online world influences our choices and lives, we have to start the conversation with information literacy. Perhaps then we can move closer towards realizing the concept of digital citizenship.