What is the importance of being network literate?

Being someone who was born in the same year that the World Wide Web was released to the planet, I have grown up with technology and have always been an active participant of the online world. If you had asked people back in 1991 what they had imagined the internet to look like almost 30 years later – I am certain that the digital era we are currently living in, would be beyond their wildest imagination. The modern world has been engulfed with technology, where anyone can have an online voice and share whatever they wish with the world through. “Social media bleeds across platforms, across social and media contexts…” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013), it is engrained in almost every facet of our day-to-day lives. The nature of social media is constantly being reshaped, as the box that it was once defined it, is constantly challenged and the “sphere of contemporary online media practice” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013) expands. However, it is no longer enough to be just computer savvy or be connected to this entangled and intertwining network that we now call our world. Network literacy is a necessity to be able to thrive and survive online, by having the basic knowledge and skills, to engage effectively with our peers and embrace digital culture. It is understanding the general systems and principles that allow us to operate efficiently in the online space, allowing us to reach our full potential as content creators and as well as consumers.

Through my research and analysis of my own behaviour in the online world and use of social media, this idea of network literacy became clearer than ever. I would have always thought of myself as someone who was ‘social media literate’, taking pride in building my network and being heavily involved with a vast number of platforms for both personal and professional purposes. During my research I was forced to stop and think, why do I use social media? What can I achieve by increasing my network literacy and understanding of the digital world? To create and curate a successful blog and presence online, you must understand that as you become network literate “the distinction between consuming and creating content dissolves” (Miles, A 2007), as we learn the importance of immersing yourself in both practices.

To collect the information that allowed me to explore the importance of network literacy in my own life, I tracked my online and social media use for 7 consecutive days. As the days rolled on and I observed my behaviour, I was surprised to see what a healthy combination of observing, authoring, publishing and distributing content I was already partaking in. The most interesting discovery for me however, was becoming aware and understanding my style of authoring. Even though I know that I have specific audiences to appeal to on my social platforms (including my lifestyle blog), I produce a lot of content that is not focused on relevant subjects or areas of interest. I use a lot of my social media platforms as an unfiltered presentation of my thoughts, feelings and opinions. In  a large selection of my posts, the language I use is perhaps not appealing to all audiences due to my sailor-like language. A big part of network literacy is “…learning to write with awareness that anyone may read” (Miles, A 2007) which after tracking my online behaviour, is something I will certainly be wary of, if I hope to increase my reach and my appeal to a range of audiences. Social media has given people access to various sections of our lives, and as someone who has a presence online both personally and professionally, I need reinforce my own understanding that the “…boundaries between personal and professional identities no longer apply” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). It is incredibly difficult to seperate your business and personal thoughts, especially when your audience perceives everything you do as part of your persona and image.

Part of me believes that we spend so much time online because we want to be sedated, from our reality and our lives. It can be used as a form of escape, allowing us to be whoever we want, immersing ourselves in only the things we love if we so wish, while numbing us from the negatives of the day-to-day. Social Media has “…infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched and complicated our lives” (Rheingold, H) and for most of us, is entangled and inseparable from our everyday existence.  I feel there is an empowerment in having a deep understanding of the communication platforms and networking opportunities that the online world provides us with. There is truth in the statement that being literate in the digital world, “…can make the difference between being empowered or manipulated…”. While the digital age has brought a plethora of positive aspects to our lives, it has also created a way to take advantage of those who are not as well informed. Spam is an example of unwanted content that we become more aware of as our network literacy increases. It is important to know what to look for and what information to not give out to un-creditable sources. Thankfully, some platforms filter the majority of spam comments and messages automatically such as WordPress and Google email accounts.  I know that I personally would much rather be educated about all I can digitally, so can make informed decisions about how I use social media, produce my blog and create content that is meaningful and worthwhile. The idea of becoming network literate should add value to your life, as it’s about “…having the skills to find what it is you think you want, of being able to judge it, and then of being able to incorporate this, in turn, in your knowledge flows” (Miles, A 2007). I want to be valued within my online network and put my own unique mark on the digital world, instead of simply being crushed under the “…incoming tsunami of information” (Rheingold, H).

Without having an understanding of network literacy, it is easy to feel like a boat on the open ocean without a paddle. There is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet and it is important to understand how to filter through these waves efficiently and with ease. Developing myself, even as someone who is already immersed in technology and social media, is something I constantly strive for. Being comfortable and proficient in the digital landscape is not only important to my personal practice and business through photography, but is a pivotal part in being able to connect to opportunities in the world around me.

References:

Hinton, S, Hjorth, L  2013, “Understanding Social Media”, SAGE Publications, London, UK p. 3-31

Rheingold, H, “Introduction: Why You Need Digital Know-How — Why We All Need It, p. 1-33

Miles, A, 2007,“Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge” , Screen Education, Autumn. 45, pg. 24-30

Written by Jaimie Brasier

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