14th Feb2009

On the Principles for a New Media Literacy: My thoughts

by Dorothy

I was pretty interested in this thread on literacy in new media that has been started in our Digital Media Across Asia class, so here are some of my thoughts on the matter. It is a topic close to home, and also adds on nicely to my earlier posts on Journalism 2.0.

The original article by Gillmor can be found in it’s entirety here. Questions posed from our prof!

Question: What is a literacy? What is Gillmor talking about?

From my interpretation, I take the meaning of literacy as being able to understand a certain subject, to be well versed to communicate about it.

Wikipedia cites literacy as “the ability to read and write, or the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. In modern contexts, the word refers to reading and writing at a level adequate for communication, or at a level that lets one understand and communicate ideas in a literate society, so as to take part in that society.”

Wikipedia also portrays the problem of illiteracy as “a social problem to be solved through education.”

How this links back to Gillmor:
All of these elements are highlighted in Gillmor’s article in

  • His principles of media consumption (“reading”), Principles of media creation (“writing”)
  • Taking part (“Participation”)
  • Right at the end, Gillmor states that “If we really believe that democracy requires an educated populace, we’re starting from a deficit. Are we ready to take the risk of being activist media users, for the right reasons?” (education)

I feel that he is advocating the ‘education’ of the crowd in not just media consumption (as would have been important in the past, since all we did was largely consume our media), but additionally, media creation, now that the tools are widely accessible to all. People have to learn how to digest and make sense of all the information that is presented to them from various sources, and also to use and disseminate that information responsibly. This education is not complete nor thorough, since a large number of web2.0 users are still illiterate about how best to handle the changing media landscape and channels. Some people have yet to even jump on the Web2.0 bandwagon.

2. Why would digital media be important in SG society?

Some important points for me, with regards to the situation in SG:
#1 New media tools are pulling down some walls and helping to create the possibility of deeper nonlegal accountability.
This gives every citizen a choice, and a voice. Whereas previously, complaints and grievances might have been screened by the editors of newspapers before they could make it to print, nowadays, blogs and forums give one instant broadcasting rights to air your opinions.

I like the idea of nonlegal accountability because it suggests self governance, and also implies a more mature process of communication in which we do not have to rely on laws to trust that people will say/do the right thing.

With great power, comes great responsibility (think Spiderman!)
At the same time, we have to learn to be responsible. Emotional rants online about sensitive topics are no more appropriate than discussing the same offline. Do not hide behind the computer screen and feel like this removes you from all accountability for your words. The way I see it, don’t say online what you would not feel comfortable saying in person, in public.

The conversational style that blogs adopt means that more emotions get filtered through. Read, re-read your posts to make sure that your tone of language is not overly harsh/critical/emotional. The easiest solution I can think of is when truly in doubt, get someone else to read what you’ve written and see if it elicits any warning bells.

#2 The tools of creation are increasingly in everyone’s hands + #3 We can make what we create widely accessible
Power comes from being able to control the tools of production. Singaporeans can now take their opinions online and have a worldwide audience, not just local.
This is important for us because other people around the world get access to our thoughts, and can contribute experiences of their own. We are a very young country and can learn a lot from citizens where a more mature system of democracy, or “liberal traditions” are in place. We have to be willing to admit that sometimes, what we feel and think might be myopic in the grander scale of things. Opinions from sources overseas who are distanced from any vested interests are great for getting a sense of balance.

#4 The Concept of being Collaborators
We effectively become collaborators, with anyone in the world. We can find like minded people (not just in a local context), but also off our shores. This sets up a great foundation for brainstorming, and the “education” that Gillmor advocates can finally take place.

#5 Being Skeptical + #6 Going outside the Comfort Zone
Citizens need to become aware of something other than what’s happening locally. Once there is this awareness, perspectives change. It may lead to perhaps more demands on accountability and transparancy, more freedom of press. It could manifest in many other different ways.

If we are to move from an economy driven by mere efficiency to innovation, we need this increased sense of awareness of what is truly happening in the world. To learn how to be discerning about what we read, to understand that it is not enough to just depend on a single source for our “news”, and that combining this knowledge with other credible global sources helps to give a more balanced viewpoints, upon which we can make better decisions on.

I see digital media as a great catalyst where conversations and learning can take place for Singaporean citizens. It has always been a tricky situation whenever a “closed” or “sheltered” society opens up, because it is difficult to control how people will react to this new found freedom, and hard to trust that they are mature enough to use the power responsibly. But these are necessary risks that the government will probably have to monitor, if we are to remain viable. We are (arguably) still very comfortable with a government that we naturally turn to in times of crisis. But is it fair to ask that the government solve our problems all the time, or should we take more initiative ourselves?

Singapore simply cannot exist as a closed society, unlike some other economies of the world, because our sole resources are our people. If we want to have business dealings with our global counterparts, we need to understand more about them, and all the underlying intricacies of cross cultural communication.

Here is where digital media is great ….because (pardon the cliché) the world then is truly your oyster. No one dictates what you will “learn” from this channel, nor is there a fixed set of rules that you follow. You make up the rules. You learn as much as you want to, and along the way, information is constantly added and changing, and you learn about how best to deal with all this.

This flexibility of mind, discernment, coupled with the fact that there will be increased diversity in thinking (rather than producing a whole cohort of people who think and react the same way), I believe, is one step in the right direction in the education of Singaporeans to become more competitive in this fast changing day and age.

It may not be something that we consciously want, but it is something we need.

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