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Digital Literacy

Many students that I work with admit that they are uncomfortable with their relationship with technology. However, few students seem to be taking steps that give them control over that relationship or even an understanding of what they're up against. Mike Caulfield points out that one part of the problem is the retreat of work from the family. It's not possible to observe our parents at work nearly as much as we used to, and some of the skills that are most important, like discerning information, are almost impossible to observe in action whether or not they take place in the home.1)

One of the steps that we are taking at the school is to develop a written philosophy of technology. The goal is a durable, comprehensive statement of how we want to relate to technology as an organization composed of individuals. However, there are other discrete skills that would help someone more effectively relate to technology and use it as a tool, rather than be used by it.

Pick It Up, Put It Down

It would be very unusual to see someone in a suit and tie step out of his black Mercedes with a DeWalt drill hanging from his belt. How could such a tool be so beneficial to this man that he would carry it with him all the time? Perhaps he is an avid carpenter on the weekends, but it is very unlikely that his day job simultaneously requires him to wear a business suit and also frame walls.

In my own job as the director of a school technology department, I'm balancing administrative responsibilities, but I'm also often the one crawling under a desk and fixing something. So I carry a small screwdriver that fits in my pocket and is good enough for 95% of the problems I run into. It's worth it to carry this tool with me because I need it so often. Yet we often fail to evaluate more modern technologies, such as smartphones, by the same standard. For some of us, the question is whether we need a smartphone at all. For others, the question may be whether we need it only for work, or only for personal reasons. Yet most of us carry one with us all the time and use it all the time.

As a systems administrator, it would definitely make it harder for me to do my job without a smartphone, but not impossible. But I clearly benefit from having one during my time at work. Outside of work, I can point to three clear benefits of my smartphone that I would prefer not to give up: the ability to take high-quality pictures of my family, the ability to get directions for driving, and reading text such as books, essays, and articles. I could carry a small camera with me at all times, keep a state road map in my car, and print content to read or purchase a device solely for reading. These are all realistic options, but also more inconvenient. So perhaps carrying this device is less like carrying a drill all the time just in case, but more like carrying a whole bag of tools.

But it's not just as simple as choosing what I want to do with my smartphone, because there are corporations that want to get me to do things via this device as well. Facebook wants to maximize the time I spend scrolling through posts in the Facebook app or looking at images on Instagram. Google wants to know what I want to know by pushing my searches through their engine. So is it possible to have what I want without giving them what they want? It is if I practice the skill of pick it up, put it down by making my device a tool that performs specific tasks instead of being an ambient presence. Some strategies follow, but I believe that changing your view of the device will accomplish more than trying to limit your interaction. In other words, build up from zero instead of trying to reduce from infinity.

Uninstall Social Media Apps

Simply uninstalling social media apps that are crafted to take advantage of you goes a long way toward reducing usage. 2) You don't need to ditch Facebook, but you shouldn't keep it on your phone. This encourages you to choose when you want to use it instead of checking because the app told you to, or because you're bored.

Know Where To Go

Every year the senior class comes into the computer lab to research, I remind them that Google Scholar provides a search engine completely dedicated to academic sources. Minds explode.

Get a Second Opinion

Healthy Skepticism

Caulfield, M. (2019, February 25). Web Literacy Across the Curriculum. Retrieved March 24, 2019, from
Newport, C. (2017, October 2). Are You Using Social Media or Being Used By It? Retrieved March 27, 2019, from Study Hacks website:
digital_literacy.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/27 21:23 by john