Net Smart: Introduction to fundamental social media literacies
Change 11 MOOC
Howard Rheingold


The way you use a search engine, stream video from your phone, update your Facebook status, edit a wikipedia page, matters to you, to me, and to everyone, because the way people use a new medium in its early years can influence the way that medium is used and misused for centuries to come. Nicholas Carr might be correct that the use of digital media is making people shallow, or Sherry Turkle might be right that social media are leading to a world where people are “alone together,” but choosing to believe either hypothesis before empirical evidence corroborates them is to engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy -- people who feel that the shape of events is out of their control are not people who try to influence, change, or transform the way events unfold. If there is a way for people to influence or even control the power structures, cognitive effects, social impacts of digital media and networked publics it is through know-how. Instead of confining my inquiry to whether or not Google is making us stupid, Facebook is commoditizing our privacy, or Twitter is chopping our attention into microslices -- all good questions -- I’ve been asking myself and others how to use social media intelligently, humanely, and mindfully. What we know matters, and how we know matters. More than ever before, humans need to teach and learn from each other about human-centric ways to use new tools.

I’ve concluded that one important step that people can take is to become more adept at five essential literacies for a world of mobile, social, and always-on media: attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network know-how. The effects of these literacies can both empower the individuals who master them and improve the quality of the digital culture commons. It isn’t possible or practical to try to control the quality of content and conversation that people publish online -- if it had been possible, there would be no web, no YouTube, no Wikipedia today -- but I contend that it is possible to increase the proportion of the population who know something about what they are doing when they consume or create digital culture.

Although the word “literacy” traditionally refers to the skill of encoding and decoding messages or programs in some medium, the kind of literacy required in a world of mass collaboration necessarily involves a social element as well as a personal skill. If you were the only person in the world who knew how to swim, you could still save your life if you fell in the river. But if you are the only person in the world who knows how to read or link, your skill will empower you to a far smaller degree. Social media literacies combine the skills of coding and decoding digital media with the social skills necessarily to use online tools in concert with others. The amplification of personal capabilities that can be granted by the right know-how is the same bbleverage that can improve the infosphere. This hypothesis that increased social media literacy could improve the quality of life online and face to face can only be tested by educating a sufficient number of people to educate each other. Such an effort is underway from a number of directions. It might fail. However, to do nothing and leave the shape of the media milieu to our randomly aggregated behavior or the actions of a few powerful interests is to insure its failure.

We will look at facets of each of these five literacies and engage in learning activities that can both increase our own competencies and provide public useful public goods: Help construct attention probes to help people learn to gain control over their attention; dd resources to an existing wiki about critical thinking and crap detection; curate a public selection of resources regarding information, media, and digital literacies;

Texts: Readings and Videos

Crap Detection 101 (blog post)

Selective attention test (short video)

Infotention concept map (concept map)

Collaboration Defined: A Developmental Continuum of Change Strategies (PDF)

Why Networks Matter (PDF)

Suggested activities

Contribute to critical thinking wiki: (crap detection) by adding and organizing resources and learning activities as well as examples of bogus information.

Attention probes (attention and collaboration): Brainstorm ways that individuals and groups can use attention probes to begin to gain control over their attention.

Start organizing a Pearltrees around social media literacies, and/or information literacies and/or media literacies (participation and collaboration)

Attention Probes