Learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car develops a set of transferable skills that equip us to ride anything two wheeled or drive anything smaller than a heavy goods vehicle. To engage fully online means developing a similar set of core, transferable skills.
Howard Rheingold has been around long and deep enough in the digital landscape to be able to recognise deeper underlying trends. His pieces since the 1990s on Digital Competencies have been beacons on the constantly changing terrain, updated in his excellent, recent book, Net Smart . But as a basis for thinking about training and digital literacy, I prefer the ‘5 Cs’, a development of Rheinberg's template which I came across working with the University of the Arts, London, developing a Digital Vision:
Like diplomats, artists have their own rich core skill-sets which have to be extended if they are to exploit digital opportunities. The 5 Cs passes the test of generalisable frameworks – it’s a useful guide to the digital domains for groups of people as far apart as artists and zoologists. I developed this idea with participants at Diplo's recent Public Diplomacy workshop in Pretoria for the South African Directorate of International Relations and Cooperation.
This blog post discusses the first fundamental competency which is often overlooked, e-curation. Information used to be a scarce resource, managed by specialists who were gatekeepers, organisers, teachers and communicators. Curators or librarians (lately rebranded as information scientists or managers), played critical roles – gathering, classifying, indexing and storing information or artefacts. But today all of us have to adapt to a glut of information, the vast majority of which is essentially un-curated. Diplomats rarely have the time to find and engage with the miscellany of online tools which have emerged and evolved to help us navigatge and as a consequence sometimes struggle to stay afloat in the flood.
Curating information: the Internet is a public access gallery or library of information about us and our work. Journalists, employers hiring new staff and the many, many criminal predators roaming the net have long known how to exploit these freely available resources. The web is full of stories about people not getting new jobs because of their party photos on Facebook and we delight in the unmasking of hypocritical politicians who flout their own pomposities in their private lives. Online pundits talk about people curating their image on social networks but how many of us take the time to review and manage what is out there about us? (see, "Tattoos – and decisions you may later regret" or the more alarming, "A virtual line-up") It’s an essential element of eDiplomacy for MFA and foreign missions – check to see how many embassy Facebook profiles are up-to-date – but as important for our own lives since through features such as the tagging of photos on Facebook, we can suffer the same fate as Prince Harry. The issue of children’s photographs perhaps clarifies the issue: reactions differ to finding pictures of your own child tagged in a birthday party photo, shared innocently by a parent or child but, given the horrifically real risks posed by paedophiles and other predators it’s usually a sobering wake up call. And I suspect it is a minority of people, outside those who are constantly active online, who would find them, know how to get them removed, and understand their own property rights in this and other social sites. Very few of us are celebrities but even fewer have the resources of the British Royal family.
Finding information seems more straightforward, Google is an active verb. But the vast majority of people use the first few results in a standard Google search without realising the innate biases to Google’s search results: 'there is no longer such a thing as a standard Google search', says Eli Pariser in his powerful TED talk, about 'online filter bubbles' and explored here recently by Mary Murphy. In our experience, too few Diplomats use more specialist options like Google scholar for books and resources and almost none, in our experience, use the powerful ‘custom search’ facilities to set up a standard view relevant to their own context or interests.
Filtering information is essential to stay afloat in the floods of information and news that threaten to submerge us. Enthusiasm and determination to experiment is the typical reaction of most Diplomats to whom we show our Internet Governance Netvibes page (Netvibes is one of many tools for creating personal ‘listening dashboards’, web pages that bring together new items from selected online news and other resources and which can be shared with groups of people or teams). But it is also straightforward to use Google alerts or collect and view news feeds in browsers or Google’s own reader. We have to be our own librarians but remarkably few people use collective bookmarking sites like Delicious or Diigo.
In the next blog I'll explore the remaining four competencies, and share some of the reactions from the participants in the workshop.