Friday, October 1, 2010

Brian O’Neil makes an important point in his article, Media Literacy and Communication Rights: The digital divide is not simply a problem of access to technologies and media but also rely on citizen’s ‘technological skills’ which “are now central to many communicative processes.” (O’Neil, 325) And this new interpretation of the digital divide is not just a North/South problem but also an intra-societal problem. He writes, “Failure to do so [address the problem], it is argued, will mean an increasingly atomized society and a growing digital divide between those who are skilled or digitally literate and those who fall behind.” (325)
So if we as a society take the digital divide seriously, and the growing polarization of our society that is a result, then how should we address it? Our everyday lives suggest that there is a generational gap in technological skills. The Younger generation growing up with computers and internet are far more fearless and quicker to pick up these skills. But not all of the younger generation equally and here we must address the problem in our educational system.
I now look to my own educational background in media literacy for cues. I lucked up, really, particularly in two different programs that stand out in my memory. The first was part of the Georgia Gifted and Talented Program (later renamed “Spectrum”) where we learned simple programming skills on the early Apple computers. We wrote simple programs, usually a simple game, but included graphics and line by line commands. I remember the teacher always had us refer to our computers as “the stupid box” and it was up to us to tell them what do to. Early on, we were manipulators of the technology. It was great for a public school system though the program was not made available to all the students, just a few. Later on, I switched to a private school (well funded) with its own TV production studio. We had to write scripts, edit the videos, and learn how to frame the picture. Again, both programs helped us as students to see the media as constructed, implicitly. We saw ourselves as able to shape the messages, not just as receivers.
So what could and should media literacy programs look like in the educational system? First, technology skills should be made a part of the educational standards, just as important today for students’ success as math and science. But there is no reason why these skills must be taught by themselves. Technological skills should be integrated, with students using and manipulating for their own expression and purpose. Education is stronger at the intersection of subjects and the next generation will be on more equal footing.

Brian O’Neil, “Media Literacy and Communication Rights: Ethical Individualism in the New Media Enviroment” International Communication Gazette 2010: 323.

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