As reported by Inside Higher Ed, Susan Zvacek, director of instructional development at the University of Kansas, has proposed a new definition of technological literacy for students. Instead of restricting literacy to the ability to use a computer, she advocates expanding the standards to include an understanding of and capacity for critical thinking about technological concepts. In her words, computers today are easy to use and Google is easy to access, but “the ability to deal with information” is what sets the true tech-literate apart from those who just know how to do tasks.
I love the idea of “tech skepticism” presented by Zvacek. I like using new technology, and appreciate the benefits that much of it brings to my working and personal life. At the same time, I’m skeptical of the limits of technology and the ways it can consume our attention and isolate us from our immediate surroundings. I’m intrigued by the ideas of Nick Carr (“Twitter is neurological heroin,” “Google is making us stupid”), but I also think he’s only half-right: The real problem is distraction, not the Internet itself.
Focused Internet use
All use of the Internet need not necessarily be distracted. For example, if you want to focus on one action while using the Internet on your computer or mobile phone, don’t open 5 windows, browser tabs or net-using applications. Keep one page/window open, and concentrate on the task at hand, whether it’s reading an article, watching a video, or making a purchase. Alternatively, you can simultaneously keep other pages or applications open, but keep them in the background until you finish your prioritized task. A little mental discipline can go a long way, and much distraction can be avoided by turning off Facebook, Twitter, email, or instant-messaging services, or at least stopping any “push” notification built in to the way you use them. By simply putting a wall of focus up, and then blocking out time for when you want to use more distracting applications like email or Twitter, you can retain your mental efficiency.
To come full circle to tech literacy, I see the problem of distraction as integral to tech literacy in as much as technological distractions prevent us from being efficient students, workers, and people. As a result, I applaud Susan Zvacek for her level-headed advocacy. Educating students (and the rest of us) on the best ways to manage technology positively impacts nearly every aspect of life in the information age.
What do you think? Do we need a new definition of tech literacy? Is distraction in general more of an intelligence/competence obstacle than Twitter or the Internet?
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