By Tom Collins
Yvonne and I had a wonderful dinner last night with our friend and client, Sybil Stershic, and her husband Mike. Sybil found us a quiet little Italian restaurant in Canandaigua, NY, Casa de Pasta, where the food and service were excellent ...
But I digress ... it's a part of the enjoyable conversation we had last night, combined with Gord Hotchkiss' Search Insider piece that hit my inbox this morning, The New Speed of Information, I logged in to write about.
Quick background: Sybil is an author (shameless plug: Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most), blogger, speaker, and consulting expert on internal marketing and communications. And Mike, as president of the Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, blogs and communicates professionally, as well.
So naturally, the conversation included a lot of talk about our own blogs, Twitter, and various other social media channels. Mike, in particular dances the dance with a range of traditional media outlets, local, regional, and national, alongside his use of social media to communicate with his two main audiences: the tourism folks in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania and "everybody everywhere" he'd like to see visit.
A lively debate broke out around the relative value and/or long term survival of traditional media outlets like newspapers, local TV, and radio versus social media channels. Mike noted that, for many in his local constituency, newspapers and other local media remain their primary news and information sources and they still refuse to engage in social media.
I think those folks are quickly becoming functionally illiterate. And Gord's piece reminded me of some of the reasons why.
He wrote about the contrast between local news coverage and social media information sharing about recent wild fires in the Kelowna, BC, area, with social media sharing running a couple of hours ahead on the developing danger. Gord asked, "Do we need a two-hour jump on the news we hear? Is it really that important that we know about events as soon as they happen?"
But a hint to how this relates to my point about functional illiteracy came in Gord's observation that a local radio station was able to scoop the TV news about the outbreak of a second fire, "only because a reporter was also monitoring Twitter."
One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Michael Schrage when he was with the MIT Media Lab eBusiness project:
"The surest way to add value to a network
is to connect it to another network."
Isn't that what the radio reporter in Kelowna was doing?
So maybe the more likely scenario is that traditional media will have no choice but to connect themselves to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and blogs in order to survive. You already see a lot of it on CNN, but maybe every local outlet will need a social media team, too.
It seems to get truer every day that digital literacy is becoming a redundant phrase. The ability to find, consume, and evaluate online content is this century’s equivalent to the ability to read. At a minimum, this means becoming adept at searching online, cross-checking sources, and being able to apply some of the same evaluation criteria we use offline to online information (who wrote it, how do they know it, who else agrees, and so on). Does it also include the ability "view source" and look at the code behind a page on the web with a basic understanding of the meta data? Run a WhoIs search for the ownership behind the page?
And the ability to create, optimize, and publish online content is the equivalent to the ability to write. This necessarily starts with access to the web and becoming comfortable creating and sending email, posting and commentingon blogs and similar sites, recording and uploading audio and video files, and more. Does it also include some basic ability to format content with HTML and CSS? Optimize images for fast loading? Edit video? Add keywords and tags to help others find your contributions?
Certainly, there will be degrees of digital literacy, just as there have been with the offline variety. But both skill sets already are vital to every person’s ability to function fully in the present and future societies we are rapidly building.
A century or two ago there were people who saw no need to learn to read and write, especially for women! (That was for Yvonne's amusement!?!?)
They were wrong. And those today who see no need to acquire and constantly improve their digital literacy skills are just as wrong.