Digital Literacy

I was born a “digital native” to a “digital immigrant,” and it showed. Everything for my family was a transfer from the “old” way of doing things to the “new.” We had dial-up internet for far too long, and it seemed like a miracle the day that my siblings and I could call our friends after dinner while their mom or dad was on the computer. And, they could call us. I was young when I came into contact with computers — then my main activity was placing my super cool and super high-tec BusyTown CD-Rom into the drive and not forcing the CD in or jamming it shut as my dad had instructed — and my experience slowly evolved to what I know today. While it may not have been our first computer (I honestly can’t remember), our PC came with the standard bulky desktop monitor and extremely heavy, but seemingly magical, computer tower. Today, seamlessly moving from class to class with my MacBook, the memory seems almost comical. Now, I consider myself fairly technologically literate, and I think that I have to be to keep up with the changing modes of communication today.

When I was growing up, I felt that using computers was fun, but also something that was only meant for a short period of time. My mom gave us 20 minutes to play a game on the computer here, or 30 minutes to spend on AIM there, but using the computer was never something I couldn’t or shouldn’t walk away from. I was comfortable on the computer, but I was never as savvy as my peers who always seemed to have more access than me. (Of course, most of them were not having to share their “computer time” with five other siblings.) Gaining more knowledge and access to using computers was definitely exciting, and being able to write expanded my ability to communicate with my friends outside of school. Eventually this evolved to being able to communicate with the world outside of my own.

I would argue that I do over three quarters of my reading and writing on computers today. How frequently I use them is no longer because I do not have access to a book with the information or because I am allowed to use the computer, but because of convenience. News is available at my fingertips, and if I don’t grab it, then I am behind. It also seems much faster to quickly Google something than to find the appropriate text, leaf through it and find a specific passage, and then read the passage to find the answer. Now you hardly have to click on websites to find a solution. It is no longer a question of if I have the time because I am (for better or for worse) almost always connected digitally through some form of social media. Reading and writing on computers has become second-nature in my daily life. I am no longer the child who cried because her Barbie CD-Rom got scratched and I don’t understand why the game is glitching, but the young adult who checks the news on my phone as I wait for a class to start, the bus, or while eating cereal in the morning. As long as technology is available to me, I am going to use it.

I realize that this sounds like I need a digital device or computer access to stay alive, and the following explanation of my reading/writing/listening/learning/researching habits are only going to make it all worse. I have access to a computer environment wherever I am due to my mobile device. At home I use my computer to work on homework, send emails, free write, read the news, listen to music and watch television shows and movies. At school, I use my laptop in between classes to surf the web and read news, I also use it to take notes and complete assignments. Occasionally, I use the computer labs to print, but it is easiest to just self-service from my laptop. I also use the Adobe Suite (primarily, InDesign) while at work to layout The Pitt News for publication. I keep in contact with news events and stories through Twitter and online reporting from my iPhone, where I also listen to music, use for quick researching and sending quick emails or messages. I have found that there is little boundary between the environment and technology/computer use because I am virtually always connected. While in close social situations like classes and talking directly to a friend/having dinner with someone, I try not to use computer technologies because it takes away from the intimacy and politeness of the encounter or discussion.

Constant computer access has strengthened some of my skills and weakened others. I can navigate most social media platforms and electronic technologies fairly well. I also have strengthened my online research skills over the years and research, fairly quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, some skills have weakened due to the accessibility of technology. It seems easier to text than to call, which is not always the case. In this way, some of my communication skills have actually declined due to technology. Spelling skills and memory skills have also weakened from technology. Instead of looking up a word in the dictionary, it is sometimes easier to plug the word into a texting program and see if it autocorrects. I also don’t have as many contacts’ phone numbers memorized as I did before I had an iPhone constantly at my disposal.

An increase in technology use has certainly shaped my reading/writing/listening of more conventional texts. I need to actively focus on reading texts like a textbook because I have come so used to scanning while reading online. The difference in physically turning a page (and reevaluating what I’ve read) in comparison to scrolling down an internet page has highlighted the digital space’s change in my focus level. This example speaks to the major difference that technology has had on my life. While my parents still have to make a noticeable transition to using technology, I have been able to pick it up as I’ve grown. This, I am sure, is both a blessing and a curse. Technology certainly plays a large role in my life, but I think it necessary to reflect on its help and its harm regularly.

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