In reading the case studies from Hawisher and Selfe’s Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and the Literacies of Technology, I became reflective of my own digital literacy practices as well as those around me. The two research study participants, Melissa and Brittney, separated by an age gap of over 20 years, show the advantages of a “digital native” (someone who grew up surrounded by technology) over someone who had to acquire the skills later in life. Both participants came to age in a time when the digital culture was undergoing a radical transition.
I can’t help but be reminded of the frustrating hours spent helping my mom on the computer. My mom, who is part of the Baby Boomer Generation, sees computers as a foreign concept. As an elementary school teacher, she wasn’t required to use computers for her day to day job beyond taking her class to the “technology lab” twice a week (where there was a dedicated librarian/lab technician to answer student questions and troubleshoot any network errors). She has only recently discovered the virtues of email, but hasn’t quite mastered the distinction between the reply and reply all functions. It was an inside joke between my brothers and sisters when our inboxes became flooded with chain letters and “true” stories verified by snoopes.com—uh-oh, mom has discovered the fwd button. I once received a panicked call from her because she couldn’t access her bookmarks, only to have to explain that bookmarks did not transfer from browser to browser and computer to computer (she was at a friends house trying to access her own bookmarks).
I find myself repeating the mantra of “patience” in my head when it comes to helping my mom navigate her computer troubles. I’ve come to realize that maybe there is somewhat of a generational gap, or at least a gap in experience. And it isn’t just my mom–frighteningly enough, many of her coworkers are the same when it comes to the uses of computer technology–and when I help them with a simple task like uploading a picture, they see me as a technology guru, though I am far from it. I’ve noticed that the knowledge that many of us who grew up using computers would consider intuitive (links and search engine functions), aren’t so intuitive for people like my mom. For her (sorry mom, hopefully she never reads this), technology is just a big enigma, shrouded in mysterious powers.
Circling back to Hawisher and Selfe article, it points out that “people are constrained by any number of influential factors: age, class, race, gender, handicap, experience, opportunity, and belief systems” (667). How do these factors conflict with our notion about an open, universally accessible world wide web?