Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Digital Literacy: Human Flourishing and Collective Intelligence in a Knowledge Society

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Digital Literacy: Human Flourishing and Collective Intelligence in a Knowledge Society

Article excerpt

Introduction

The arrival of cyberspace in everyday life is unquestionably challenging the ways that we humans see ourselves in a philosophical sense. As the world of atoms coalesces with the world of bytes, we are witnessing a measurable emergence of new patterns and forms of civilisation (Levy, 1994/1999, 1997/2001, 1998). The most obvious shifts are, perhaps, occurring in the sociological quarters of communication, regulation, economics, and politics. But other, more cultural, zones of human affairs are also affected: tradition, experience, art, science, language. This period of change is, like most periods of change, also one of opportunity; as we slowly shed industrial and analogue practices and mindsets in favour of digital ones, we have the chance to enter into a new 'knowledge space' with the aim of contributing to humanity's ethical--not just economical--wealth. This paper explores such prospects in terms of human potential and social opportunity, and the role that educators must play in the materialisation of humanity into a domain where individuals contribute to a collective intelligence that leads to the mutual enrichment of human beings as a total course. Drawing on Pierre Levy's work, which describes the role that computers have to play in developing intelligent communities, I argue that building digital literacy is thus essential in helping our young people--especially those in the all-important middle years--attain their human potential. In our current modes of schooling, then, the role of the teacher remains an essential one--but teachers, too, must become digitally literate if they are to succeed in raising students' critical consciousness to a point where those in our charge realise their right to 'name the world' and 'say their own word,' as Paulo Freire (1970/1996) puts it. Practically speaking, this means that teachers must be supported not only in the form of 'skilling up digitally' but also in the form of being provided with philosophical and ethical frameworks for understanding digital cultures and how the cyberworld is changing our intellectual capabilities. To this end, I argue that teachers must be encouraged to engage more frequently and deeply with 'the literature' (meaning, primarily, works of philosophy, ethics and social theory, as opposed to manuals or guides on how to teach better--valuable though such texts may be) if they are, in turn, to improve the digital literacy of our students. Before proceeding, however, it should be acknowledged that this paper is based upon the privileged intellectual perspective afforded by working within a philosophically Utopian framework, and all that that implies for the sidelining of questions of global politics, poverty, and injustice. Nevertheless, there is value in speculative and philosophical thought, especially if it helps us to understand current conditions. To get us underway, I present an outline of Pierre Levy's four 'anthropological spaces,' which I hope will provide an appreciation of why digital literacy is so important to the ethical development and human flourishing of our students.

Levy's four anthropological spaces

In his work Collective Intelligence: Mankind's emerging world in cyberspace (1994/1999), Pierre Levy describes the intellectual development of humanity in terms of four great 'anthropological' spaces: earth, territory, commodity and knowledge (Levy 1994/1999, pp. 5-8). These spaces are anthropological in that they are uniquely human and depend as such on 'human technologies, significations, language, culture, conventions, representations, and emotions' (Levy 1994/1999, p. 5). Taking each space in turn, we can therefore chart our unfolding humanity. The first great space, the earth space, is characterised by language, technology and social organisation (Levy 1994/1999, p. 6). Wealth in this space is gained through participation in the cosmos. The second space, the territory space, appears with agriculture, the city, the state and writing (Levy 1994/1999, pp. …

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