“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” —Father John Culkin (1967) in ‘A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan’.
If every medium influences communication, then what effect does that have on our own learning as well as how we help others to learn? We choose our tools, and then they take us in a certain direction, of which we may not be conscious. Knowing which tool to select becomes critical, especially in communications. Email can be terse, while Twitter is short and lacks nuance. The printed word does not have the emotion of the spoken word. Video can be all emotion and little substance. Consider the power of Riefenstahl’s 1934 film, Triumph of the Will for Nazi Germany. It was all about emotion and imagery, with almost no narration.
Today we have social media. These are new languages for a digital era. Tweets spread fast. So does what is known as ‘fake news’ which is nothing new, though it is viewed as the latest clear and present danger to our society.
“The latest establishment notions to ‘ban fake news’ is a ridiculous example of this. There have been fake news for centuries, most of it really funny even when it ultimately describes something real, and those fake newspapers (like Weekly World News) have been in the newsstands beside ordinary newspapers for just as many centuries.
But suddenly when fake news are distributed over the Internet, they’re a problem that requires unprecedented curtailment of liberty? They were not a problem when they were right beside The Economist in the newsstands?” —Rick Falkvinge
This latest reaction shows the need for widespread media literacy. Is fake news the real threat? To understand the new media, we need fluency. Network era fluency could be described as individuals and communities understanding and being part of global networks that influence various aspects of our lives.
For individuals, the core skill is critical thinking, or questioning all assumptions, including one’s own. People can learn through their various communities and develop social literacy. Information literacy is improved by connecting to a diversity of networks. But control of networks by any single source (e.g. Facebook) destroys the ability for people and communities to develop real network era fluency, which is not good for society in the long run and may kill innovation and our collective ability to adapt.
Mass network era fluency can ensure that networks remain social, diverse, and reflect many communities. This kind of fluency, by the majority of people, is necessary to deal with the many complex issues facing humanity. We cannot deal with complex issues and networked forces, like platform monopolists, unless we can knowledgeably talk about them. This requires fluency.