Information Literacy

There is a thread running through these pages about learning to use new digital
tools and techniques which assumes that tools and techniques will continue to
change. Information literacy is a concept that can prepare us to learn
about using new technology. I believe that understanding the process for learning
to use new technology provides us with some conscious ability to see how this
technology fits into our digital environment and how we might change that fit
to make better use of it. Making this learning process a conscious one is useful
when we approach new technology as more than just new tools. But even at the
level of tools, our changing technology presents with new items and gadgets
whose use and properties are not immediately apparent and for which we can not
necessarily rely upon existing knowledge.


Here’s an example: think of the microwave oven. How many times have
you heard a discussion about which vessels are safe to use in a microwave and
which are not.


A Generation ago we would have learned about ovens, stoves, and cooking vessels
from our parents (or grandparents) and that information would be good enough
to keep us going for the rest of our lives. But when a new tool like the microwave
comes along, we don’t have this deep body of understanding, taught to us by
older generations, of the microwave and how to use it. The result is confusion
and the need to search for information about the tool. Sometimes the information
is presented with the tool (the owners manual) and sometimes it comes with the
cooking vessel. I recently used a flimsy plastic disposable food container of
the kind that we have heard should not be used in a microwave but this vessel
had a short set of instructions printed on the bottom about how long it could
be in the microwave and how often it should be used. The producers of this vessel
realized that their intended users would not necessarily know how to use their
new container. More and more we need to know to look for this kind of information
and we need to know how to assess the information itself.


Next: The History of Technology