Digital literacy in the 21st century has never been more critical to our progress. Undermining the human ability to search, read, and write should be viewed as one of the fastest potential roadblocks to our collective prosperity as a human family. Yet today, more than ever, we need to act, not just react. In many ways, online literacy has never been more necessary, and the secret to its full and effective attainment is clear and straightforward.
To begin with, it is important to understand just how far behind we are when it comes to achieving proficiency with the digital tools that constitute the most crucial element of any first-world educational tool kit. As stated by one of the country’s top tech executives, “the big problem is nobody is teaching kids how to use their technology.” In fact, as bad as computer literacy remains, it is considerably worse when it comes to the ability to communicate in cyberspace.
This virtual “catastrophe” exists not only because a wealth of effort is required on the part of educators and parents to teach young people basic computer skills, but also because the tools we have at our disposal to communicate in digital form are inadequate. It is all but impossible for those of us who would normally take a few minutes to post something to our status updates to ignore the side effects of the Internet upon our state of mind. Time spent watching YouTube can mean lost ability to operate a mouse; pain and anxiety during social media profiles can hinder communication in conversation. In the world of business, online self-management means job security, reputational damage, and a high probability of not hearing back from your boss. With the stock market and the quality of living itself irreversibly tied to a knowledge-based economy, reading, writing, and working with technology have never been more paramount.
This is what Google, over many years, has been working toward with its adaptive learning platform Allo, and its recent new program, iBeacon, to reach the heights of academic success in an increasingly connected world. As reported by The Guardian, Google’s aim is to improve the way that people think and interact with digital information, while bringing joy and learning to people around the world. Developed in conjunction with companies including Intel, and an upcoming partnership with Glu Mobile, Allo has a child-friendly design that puts images front and center. The app prioritises simple conversation over demanding all-too-frequent internet updates, and features a “talk” button at the top that lets users post posts. iBeacon is another device that specifically targets individual users to facilitate conversations, listening, and listening for conversation, and to make that conversation interactive.
Yet while Allo and iBeacon are groundbreaking projects, they are still infant and require deeper, more constructive thinking to fully bear their potential. We’re currently just testing the limits of these frameworks, and while the past will tell us where it may go, what I have seen thus far tells me that learning and conversation using digital technology should be the first order of business. To ensure its viability for many generations to come, we need to do better than we are right now.
Many of us know that the ability to find meaningful and productive moments in the digital age makes a huge difference in both our physical and mental health. Our network of connections enables all of us to get the basic things done and to be good people. But I have also seen that a wider awareness of what online habits have the potential to do to us can be just as damaging to us as the material things that cost so much, and that we often forget about because they look and work so well.