Is web literacy practical or technical? Or both? #nv12

Haven’t blogged in a long while, but after attending Northern Voice, I got the expected kick in the pants from many of the attendees there. The enthusiasm is infectious, but more than that, it’s just a great reminder that blogging demonstrates first-hand the power of the web. So, no excuses for my lapse, but this is just what adults who care about the web do: we blog.

So I had the pleasure of sitting in on a discussion on web literacy that took place during the unconferenc-y first afternoon of #nv12. (Here’s a good breakdown from Boris who had the idea for the conversation.) It’s interesting for me to come to a discussion like this one with my background in libraries and in health, because I think though my personal level of “literacy” on the web as we talked about it is high, my perception of an average web users’ skill set is different. Maybe it’s pessimistic, maybe not. But, my sense is this:

To me, web literacy should be about establishing an understanding of how the web works practically. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value understanding how the web works technically, but I am saying most people aren’t interested in that right away when they sign up. What they’re interested in is getting some pictures on Facebook and Instagram. They want to reblog someone’s Tumblr post, they want to grab that infographic and Pin it. Before we can talk about HTML, before we can talk about DNS and hosting, we need to acknowledge that, like it or not, much of the creation and consumption happening on the web right now is mediated by large platforms like these.

So I don’t entirely agree with Boris when he says “I don’t think posting photos to Facebook or using an app to post to Twitter qualifies as putting your own content online.” To me there is nothing fundamentally different between a Facebook status and a blog post. Value judegments aside, at the core, those acts are all the creation of a cultural artifact on a web platform.

My perspective in health comes in here, because there’s a correlary between my perspective on web literacy I’ve just outlined, and how I think about health care on the web now, too. People are looking for information and to connect with others by any means necessary — if they do it on Facebook, or Patients Like Me, or on another health-oriented web community doesn’t really matter (to them). What matters is the connections they can make and their newfound ability to share.

So I believe it’s important that we start helping people to understand what it means to share their information on platforms where they don’t own the content, so that they can make informed decisions about what they choose to share there. I don’t believe people will stop using Facebook or things like it. I do, however, want people to feel empowered to participate on those platforms with an understanding of how much control over their contributions they can reasonably expect; to continue sharing with an explicit acknowledgement that they are freely giving up some ownership of their content in order to gain access to the advantages of the network.

If, after that, they end up (like we hope they do) making the decision to own their content then all the better, and let’s help with that. But in my view, we’ve got a very consumption-heavy web right now, and we have to tackle the implications of making your web content OPP first, and help transition people into owning their content second.


One thought on “Is web literacy practical or technical? Or both? #nv12

  1. Ah, you’ve said this in the way I *meant* but didn’t articulate well. The whole “sharing on platforms where they don’t own the content” education is exactly the right angle.


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