I spend lots of time thinking and talking about digital literacies for work, but a couple of things that happened yesterday in my personal life really made me stop and think about the emotional responses which technology-enhanced communication can provoke.
Firstly I had one of those weird moments when you hear a story about ‘one family…’ on the local grapevine and realise it’s you. We live in North Bristol’s nappy valley, and the population density of families with young children means there are great local facilities, but enormous pressure on local schools. So despite living less than 300 metres away from it, we failed to get a place for my daughter at my local school. This fact had got passed around, including to someone who hadn’t realised that we no longer lived in our old house, which was right opposite the school. She was then telling people about the case of this family who lived right there and didn’t get a place… I initially found this quite amusing, until I realised that a popular local blogger had then put this up on her facebook page, and lots of other people had happily weighed in with their opinions, including that we must have put down the wrong school, were silly not to appeal, etc. Now this really bothered me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why – probably mostly because unlike spoken gossip, there’s a lasting record of it which allowed me to read every word – and I ended up feeling like my online identity was somehow compromised, even though we weren’t named.
Those of you who’ve heard me talk about digital literacy will know that I often use my mother-in-law in Slovenia as an example to show how personal motivation and need (in her case, to see her grandchildren) can overcome a lack of prior digital knowledge or skills. Having never touched a computer before last year, she now likes to skype video chat with the kids three or four times a week. Due to the aforementioned population density issue, our broadband is totally rubbish, especially the upload rate, so recently she hasn’t been able to see or hear us properly. The outrage and annoyance this has caused – including a reluctance to just go back to using the phone – has reminded me of how quickly the use of digital technologies which are felt to deliver really key benefits can go from being perceived as an add-on to an entitlement.
A word that came up a lot at a recent institutional workshop on digital literacies was ‘resilient’, in terms of staff and student attributes, not just the technology itself. I do think that’s an important part of digital literacies – although obviously staff and students should expect appropriate online behaviour of each other, and reliable service from the technology, there’s a need to be able to take the rough with the smooth, accept the setbacks and look for work-arounds or ways to resolve the situation, rather than downing tools and giving up. How as institutions we develop that resilience in our students and staff is a key question, and one which has implications for employability as well as digital literacies.