Social Aspects of Digital Literacy

Social Aspects of Digital Literacy

Dragana Martinovic, Viktor Freiman, Chrispina Lekule, Yuqi Yang
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch209
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This article contains findings from the recent literature on the social aspects of how young people use digital technology. To be successful in today's world, youth must be competent at using digital tools and at defining, accessing, understanding, creating, and communicating digital information. However, even the self-defined ‘techno-gurus' can be digitally illiterate, often using technology in ways that compromise their privacy, safety, or integrity. Both optimistic and pessimistic opinions about youth use of technology are presented by age group, and formations of identity, friendship, participatory culture, and political engagement are addressed in the context of information and communication technology use.
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To be able to evaluate digital information as well as develop perceptions of and respect for social norms and values for functioning in the digital world is crucial. Yet the competencies and skills that new generations require to be successful in the digital era are still largely not being taught in schools. However, the weak points in formal education can open opportunities for youth services to use less formal venues, more adaptable means, and novel digital technologies to reach, guide, and educate youth in their transition to adulthood. This article:

  • Addresses the social prospects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use among youth;

  • Describes the online behavior of young people on the Internet, which paradoxically provides opportunities for social development while introducing social risks;

  • Informs educators and youth services about which factors to consider in designing flexible, innovative, and inclusive programs for young people to enable them to successfully function in the era of the Internet, new media, and computer technologies.



Over the past 10 years, ICTs have become increasingly accessible in most countries. ICTs like personal computers, cell phones, and the Internet can be used for both in-school and out-of-school activities, and are particularly suitable for connecting individuals and communities globally (Beetham, McGill, & Littlejohn, 2009). Using these tools appropriately for living, learning, and working in a digital society is deemed being digitally literate (Beetham, 2010). However, these competencies and skills are not being taught effectively in schools (Martinovic, Freiman, & Karadag, 2011). Jenkins (2006) found that youth were not taught how to participate safely in such social online practices as information sharing and collaboration, despite the dangers for unskilled users. Indeed, some authors (Martinovic & Magliaro, 2007; Noveck, 2000) have emphasized the importance of understanding the paradoxical nature of the Internet, where one can be confronted with limitless information while obtaining less knowledge; where access is relatively cheap, but the environment is increasingly commercialized; and where communities do form, but atomization prevails.

Livingstone (2008) examined the dichotomy of optimistic and pessimistic opinions from academics and media on how ICTs affect young people:

  • 1.

    Optimists emphasized opportunities for self-expression, sociability, community engagement, creativity, and new literacies. They envisioned change in social dynamics, with youth involvement in the co-creation of innovative and counter-consumerist cultures both locally and globally. Public policy-makers and educators saw opportunities for engaging youth in collaborative learning and various online government services.

  • 2.

    Pessimists associated youth behavior on social networking sites with loss of privacy and lack of shame. They considered social networking as time-wasting and socially isolating activities that could have far-reaching negative effects on the personal safety of the users. Some feared that youth growing up in the digital age might become incapable of understanding emotional nuances and reading social cues, and hence, might lack empathy (Stout, 2010). The pessimists noted that cyberbullying resulted in behavioral changes and deep emotional problems among its victims (Mitchell, Ybarra, & Finkelhor, 2007; Ybarra, Diener-West, & Leaf, 2007) and that communicating with both peers and strangers via the Internet might have particularly adverse effects on the well-being of lonely adolescents (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). And Ben-David Kolikant (2010) found that young people themselves recognized that using the Internet for schoolwork might encourage taking shortcuts, cheating, laziness, and low school morale, and could hinder the development of study skills.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Developmental Stages of Digital Literacy in the Social Domain: Stages through which an individual, over time, acquires the digital literacy skills necessary to be considered competent at using digital tools and at defining, accessing, understanding, creating, and communicating digital information.

Digital Literacy (as an Ability): Ability to use digital technologies appropriately for learning, working, and functioning in a modern society.

Participatory Culture: A culture in which artistic expression and civic engagement are valued and are oriented towards creating and sharing one’s creations.

Visual Literacy: Ability to see, discriminate, and interpret the visible natural or artificial objects and symbols in the environment.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): Digital technologies that include personal computers, tablets, cell phones, computer networks, and the Internet.

Information Literacy: A concept that emphasizes the need for careful retrieval and selection of information available in the workplace, at school, and in all aspects of personal decision-making, especially in the areas of citizenship and health.

Media Literacy: Ability to decode, evaluate, analyze, and produce both print and electronic media.

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