We now live in a world where information is literally at our fingertips. Due to the many technological advancements over the years, we are now able to communicate globally on a massive scale. When using search engines like Google or Duck Duck Go, we can have answers to our questions within fractions of a second. I become nostalgic when I think of my childhood: playing outside from sunup to sundown, riding my grandfather’s horses, and swinging from a rope swing into the creek during a hot summer’s day.
I experienced what it was like to be untethered to devices, and independent from digital technology. As I grew older, I can also remember immersing myself huh the world of console/online gaming and the World Wide Web. I have had the pleasure of enjoying life both with and without this technology. A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the term Xiennial while reading a Reddit thread discussing current generations in the workplace.
I had never heard of this microgeneration, so this prompted me to research the term. M.K. Taylor describes groups of individuals born at the very end or beginning of a generation who are essentially stuck between those generations. She uses the term Xiennial to define the micro-generation born at the end of Generation X, but before the Millenial generation (136). Depending on which article you read, these individuals were born in the late 70s to early 80s, and this micro-generation is who I feel that I identify with most.
I was able to experience the characteristics, literacies and competencies of both generations.I want to take the time to explore what digital literacy means. In the 1990s, the term digital literacy was popularized by Paul Gilster in his book Digital Literacy. The concept is similar to that of other literacies, but Eyman believes the term digital literacy is a stand alone concept, and implies:
“that the literacy practices referred to are enacted in digital spaces—I would contrast this sense of media, location, and context with terms such as “computer literacy,” which evokes a concept of mere tool use, “internet literacy,” which is too specific both in locale and in a historical moment, and “electronic literacy,” which is too broad in scope (as it can be seen as referencing any electronic device)…However, digital literacy also goes beyond the textual and includes the effective use of symbolic systems, visual representations of language, and digital object manipulation” (47).
In his book, Eyman cites Ilana Snyder’s argument that “in an electronically mediated world, being literate is to do with understanding how the different modalities are combined in complex ways to create meaning” (47). As a child, when I was assigned a report in school, I went to the library for research. When I could not find the information in my school library, I had to ask my mom to take me to the public library in town. My Google “equivalent” was The Dewey Decimal Classification System. Even then, a book was never guaranteed to be in the right spot, and you could forget trying to navigate the microfilm machine by yourself. My love for books and printed word began when I was around four years old while my grandmother was teaching me how to read. We read a lot of fantasy and adventure stories, and reading became my escape from the world. Zoheir Ezziane is a professor in the College of Information Technology at the University of Dubai, and he says that “people acquire their technology literacy in two ways: formally through school programs or in the workplace, and informally, whether at home, from friends, or by themselves” (175). Mary Soliday explained this in her essay, Translating Self and Difference through Literacy Narratives: “literacy narratives become sites of self-translation where writers can articulate the meanings and consequences of passages between language worlds” (511). Soliday called this “the distance between an earlier and a present self-conscious of living in time” (514).
In their book, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, McArthur et al. say that being digitally literate involves many of the same skills as print reading, so that may very well be the reason I took to the digital world so seamlessly. The authors claim that to understand an online text, consumers of the information must draw on existing knowledge about the particular topic, which is the same as they would when reading print texts. The authors go on to say that digital literacy is not simply being proficient in technology, but that we must also develop “a range of cognitive, social, cultural, and personal strategies” (McArthur et al. 2018).
Most of my iconic tech devices were hand-me-downs or bought secondhand from garage sales, including a Tamagotchi digital pet and an original Teddy Ruxpin stuffed bear. Teddy was the “Tickle me Elmo” of our generation. When I was not playing outside, I was watching Saturday morning cartoons or watching Sesame Street. In the late 80s and early 90s, it was uncommon for people to own a personal computer in my low/middle class, rural hometown. My first experience with computers began around 1993 when I was in elementary school. My small school had acquired several Apple desktop computers, and our teachers called the room in which they were stored, “the computer laboratory.” I can remember thinking how foreign that term was to me, but I was also excited to “play” on the new computers. Instead, the teachers inserted an educational floppy disk that taught us addition and subtraction. This was a much different approach than the standard chalkboards and overhead projectors we were used to.
It seems my teachers were on to something. According to Gumulak and Webber, there have always been strong advocates for using games as education tools (241). J.P. Gee argues that video games can be a channel for learning, developing problem-solving skills that are valuable in the “real world,” and accommodating different learning styles (7). Squire and Steinkuehler’s Library Journal article states that “game cultures promote various types of information literacy” (38). “Gamers” need to learn to manage resources, design battle or building strategies, and interact with others to solve in-game problems (38).
It was not until a few years later in the fourth grade that I was introduced to my first computer game: The Oregon Trail, on what I believe was the Apple III system. The game came on a floppy disk, and in only one color: bright green. Before playing this game, I had been exposed to the console games of Dr. Mario and Duck Hunt on The Nintendo Entertainment System. Little did I know, The Oregon Trail would be my first time playing an actual interactive, roleplaying game (RPG). I could not help but connect this experience to my beloved books. Instead of just imagining the story in my head, here I was able to actually interact and make decisions that affected my characters. When I began playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), I was able to connect with people from all over the world with similar interests. We would discuss gameplay and strategy in the chat rooms/forums, ask questions of veteran players, and access gameplay walkthroughs. In his article, Ezziane talks about the future of teaching and learning: virtual reality (VR). VR is a “three-dimensional, multisensory, immersive, and interactive digital environment, has triggered public imagination as the technology that will dominate the way our work, education, and leisure are delivered in the future” (185). VR was traditionally associated with the gaming world and for other entertainment purposes. Ezziane says that VR as an educational tool has gained recognition and momentum within the last decade (186).
My grandfather purchased our first at-home desktop computer when I was around thirteen years old. He and I used it mostly for playing preloaded games like Solitaire, Freecell, or Minesweeper on Windows 95. Then we began receiving the America Online (AOL) CD ROMs in the mail. AOL would become my gateway to the internet. I was introduced to the application of AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. An online article provided by Purdue University mentions that it was not until the National Science Foundation (NSF) removed restrictions on the commercial use of the Internet in 1993, “that the world exploded into a frenzy of newfound research and communication methods” (Purdue 2017). In his article, Taxonomy of Literacies, Peter Stordy tells us that the internet became securely established within both the economy and in education in the 1990s. He says that the beginnings of literacy focused on the “softer” skills and competencies required for navigating the influx of information that flowed from the internet (457).
Chetty et al. call digital literacy an “enabler,” in that it allows participation in social networks for the “creation and sharing of knowledge” (6). For example, I taught myself Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and developed my webpage using a host website called Angelfire. I was then able to share this information with my friends so they could also build their sites. I later found a site called Open Diary which become my first “blog”. Again incorporating my love for books, I also found a site called Fanfiction.net where I could write my own stories centered on the books I loved. I can still remember Clippy, the Microsoft Office paperclip that always popped up randomly in Microsoft Word asking if I needed assistance with my document.
In the early 2000s, my grandmother agreed to pay for half of the cost of my personal computer. Together, we purchased my very first PC, a Hewlett Packard, which had a new Windows operating system: the Windows Millennium Edition (ME). As I got older, I discovered peer-to-peer file sharing, and I would spend hours downloading music on websites like Napster and Limewire. I would download, then “burn” these songs to CDs and give them as gifts to my friends. I am now in my thirties. I still play games, both online and console, when I can find the time. I still use the internet for social media, creating music playlists, and keeping a blog. My husband and I remodeled our bathroom a couple of years ago by watching tutorials on YouTube. I think one of the most powerful tools that digital media offers us today is the ability to teach and learn. There are so many different learning styles, and with the integration of video, audio, images and other texts, you will be hard-pressed not to learn something. The digital literacies I developed while growing up, and later as an adult, have opened up opportunities for me during my career. I have come a long way from that Apple III in elementary school, and I cannot wait to see what kinds of literacies I will continue to learn throughout my lifetime.