15 years ago, I began working on ‘digital literacy’, which at the time meant helping people learn to use computers and the internet. We focused on the skills you needed to get a job or get your business up and running. We didn’t think about social media or connecting people to a global community - we were just focused on getting people access to information.
Then a funny thing started to happen. I met a group of breast cancer survivors in Taiwan learning office skills who, independent of our training, decided to create a Facebook Group to encourage and support each other. I then met a group of people in the Philippines who, while trying to improve their computer skills to find work, came together online to keep each other up to date on job prospects. I realized the magic of the internet was not just access to information, but access to community.
Connectivity is empowering and incredibly valuable, but it brings with it many unknowns. This got me thinking about these ‘digital citizens’, members of a huge community not defined by geography or by years of shared cultural understanding. We all grow up learning what is expected of us as citizens of a certain physical country, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're equipped to navigate the digital world, in which we all now live together. And this digital world we share raises many new challenges and questions such as: 'Is this true?', 'Can I trust it?', 'If I can't see, hear or feel this person, can my words really hurt them?', or even, 'When I send this, where will it go, and will it exist forever?'.
'Digital literacy' as I knew it 15 years ago needs to evolve to meet today's needs, and the needs of the future. We need to focus on the skills we need to develop responsible digital citizens – critical thinking, empathy and respectful digital discourse. I believe in the power of technology for good; I've seen it with my own eyes. I also believe we are at a critical point to help shape the digital citizens of the future, and I’m excited to be bringing together some of the best minds to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be a digital citizen?’. This will guide our work with communities to provide these much-needed skills.
We need to focus on the skills we need to develop responsible digital citizens – critical thinking, empathy and respectful digital discourse.