Network literacy

What does it mean to be literate? McClure’s paper of 1993, both perceptive and ahead of its time, could be throughly innovative for some of my colleagues in 2015. The information literacy definition ” the ability to locate, process and use information effectively” (p.117) still underpins mission statements in school libraries today, many of whom still believe this is innovating into the 21st century. The question is then, is this definition timeless, or are information specialists just not prepared to let go of analogue thinking?

McClure’s proposition that the gulf is widening between the “elite few” who do understand the power of networks, and the rest of the population who are illiterate. His concerns are for equity and focusing on the issue from a policy perspective, where governments – those in control – find ways to educate individuals so that they live productive lives in society, emphasising taking seriously the challenges of the information age.

Rheingold says humans have been creating networks since they evolved into homo sapiens. This is not new. He focuses on the freedom of the internet, which is open to all through networking groups of people. It is only under the control of government when they agree, vis the Netflix syndrome. The international downloading of films. The control of networks is impossible.

Maybe there’s a dawning realisation that government is less in control than it thinks it is.(cf China – can block Twitter, control ISPs. ) The technical architecture of the internet, says Rheingold, reserves innovation for the users, not the controllers. This presents a challenge for those who would like to control (Learning Management systems in schools anyone?) and seek not to have diffused and decentralised networks. When people can organise themselves without organisations, this is threatening for hierarchical models.


control freak

Social capital, says Rheingold, is the capacity to get things done as a group, without the direction of government.

McClure focuses on the role of government in driving network literacy, while Rheingold focuses on the capacity of the individual nodes to connect around mutual interests.  McClure says we can’t make predictions about how the networked society will evolve. (p.119) but that the characteristics of the networked society may change.

Literacy has never been any different. We just see it through different perspectives. We learn to look at it through different lenses, that of our time and context. Literacy is the capacity to share, and it is only relevant in the context of its time. Without literacy there is no sharing and on this Rheingold and McClure are in harmony.

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