Digital literacy in Australia – walking with dinosaurs

digital dinasaur stomping on australiaCatherine Livingstone president  of the Business Council of Australia  gave a lovely speech about the need for digital literacy and stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) in this country and for the most part shes right. Go see her full address if you haven’t already .

However for me this is so little so late, lets have a good look at  digital literacy in Australia  with a hard and logical eye.  Our government uses the words “disruptive technology ” not to garner some street cred with the excitement of disruption and revolution but its spoken with a tone of fear loathing and blame.

Both politicians and business folks love to use theses catch phases but the sad truth is they really don’t understand them. One look at both government policy on the NBN, Metadata retention and the desire to sign the TTP (trans pacific protocol) clearly demonstrate the average politicians appalling digital literacy- honestly its like walking with dinosaurs.

Most of the major businesses in Australia including our local Government are addicted to  Microsoft office and have no clue what the words  “open source ” mean let alone open data.

The culture of geek

when faced with government forms asking about how many languages I speak I’m always tempted to write HTML, CSS & Javascript form asking about langauge.

Being multilingual changes the way your brain functions. Speaking any kind of code language fluently  means grappling in some sense with the core illusions of the digital world. Everything online  is made by code either human generated or machine generated. Noting is “real”  everything is created and in that act of creation you the coder have both responsibility and choices.

But its not just learning to code its not just programmatic thinking that’s beneficial in this space.  From the first moment you type  hello world into notepad you embark on a journey which will require you to learn about file management, semantic naming conventions, accessibility and file extensions.  Granted none of theses things are  new or ground breaking, but they are the fundamentals of digital literacy.


“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” 

This fundamental part of digital literacy is so often overlooked in the smallest of ways, We seem to give it lip service but no take it to heart.
For instance its quite common for recruiters and  job placement places to ask for a resume or Curriculum Vitea –  The problem is  most of them will actually ask for it as a Microsoft word document.  Microsoft word is a propriety format that belongs to a specific company that not everyone has access to, it would be better to ask for a .rtf (rich text format or plain text file) but they don’t  they ask for a brand name product because their digital literacy is so low they don’t know any better.  There is politics in your file format people and your doing it wrong !

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the funny thing about the internet is most sighted people assume its a visual medium. This assumption is not only completely wrong  its downright dangerous.  Not only are there screen readers that read out webpages to the visually impaired but some people are colourblind.  So people who use markup understand you have to deliver information in a variety of formats . Pictures may make many people happy but they don’t work for everyone. Video’s need captioning  and so many other issues.  The web is a big place and not everything works for every-person so we ask – “what is your fallback position ?  ” .
educate yourself about digital  accessibility:

The funny thing is  most machines cant see pictures either so just improving your accessibility will improve many other things like getting Google to see your content.

Open source

You may also start to think about the world in radically different ways, open source is not just a buzz word, a trend that will go away or become unfashionable, like a hipster beard.

Open source is about thinking collectively about sharing your code in the hope someone smarter than you can improve it or use it. This is a fundamental change from the traditional way of thinking about intellectual property and its one that Australian governments and businesses really struggle with yet its fundamental to digital literacy.
Its also about transparency  – in a digital world we know that sooner or later someone will leak the truth. It’s the world wide web and attempting to take the world out of it is pretty stupid.  Information is like water  let it flow.

learn about open Source culture

learn some code –>

learn it online – don’t be afraid it wont bite.. you will break things you will fail magnificently but you will learn, It may take some time so be patient with yourself It is never to late to start.


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