Digital literacy as the key to the information society

Investing in knowledge and self-determination to foster innovative thinking

The concept of digital literacy combines skills in dealing with digital media with responsible action on the Internet. Everyone should be empowered at an early stage and in the long term to move confidently in the digital space. Only by teaching critical thinking can politics and business secure social prosperity in the long term by enabling innovation.

The concept of digital literacy combines skills in dealing with digital media with responsible action on the Internet. Everyone should be empowered at an early stage and in the long term to move confidently in the digital space. Only by teaching critical thinking can politics and business secure social prosperity in the long term by enabling innovation.

Media competence and sovereignty in dealing with information

Digital maturity is a broad term that encompasses many aspects. It includes concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, competence, openness, the diverse use of digital offerings and ICT usage skills. Digital competence is regarded by the EU as one of the eight key competencies in a knowledge-based society, defined as the self-confident and critical use of information.

Scientific research differentiates between different sub-competencies. In addition to basic skills for secure digital communication (technical literacy, privacy literacy) and critical use of knowledge (information literacy), digital literacy should include proactive use of systems to make one’s voice heard in the community and society (social literacy) and to participate in democratic participation and change in the systems (civic literacy).

Strengthening the political participation of self-confident citizens

The Internet is an important source for shaping political opinion. This makes it all the more important to develop an awareness of the fact that one is operating in a system manipulated by technology, which is also guided by many different interests – economic, political, personal. These interests are not always clearly identifiable and are characterized by different levels of information.

What expectations do citizens have of the digital communications space? According to a research report (Source in German) by the Weizenbaum Institute, in the digital context it is important for citizens to respect the opinions of others (90%), to pay attention to the truth content in news (85%), to obtain information from reputable sources (75%) and to counter hate and incitement in discussions (73%). But although more than half have already been confronted with hate comments on the Internet (54%), only a third have reported the hate comment (33%) or admonished the writer to be respectful (27%).

It can be seen that both the basic democratic understanding and the awareness of particular digital issues are very high. But the willingness to actively participate is rather low. Those who use political participation opportunities on the Internet are often people who are already politically active outside the Internet.

Sharing culture requires psychological and cultural competencies

Sharing culture has given rise to the collective use of Internet media to actively pursue goals. How can digital maturity help to practice it? What is needed is a very good knowledge of the digital environment and individual empowerment to interact in the digital space. One should be aware of one’s own possibilities and weaknesses and understand to what extent they are influenced by digital self-representation and the techniques and logics of digital communication channels.

Often, the focus when considering digital competencies is strongly on manual skills of mastering ICT. Psychological and cultural components in interaction are neglected. However, these competencies are necessary in order to identify diverse interest groups, their structures and mechanisms in the new type of Internet public sphere and to assert oneself in them.

Active exchange in the digital community promotes knowledge gain

Self-empowerment cannot be achieved through theoretical learning alone. Active participation and gaining experience in online exchange are necessary. Self-empowerment is not a life in the comfort zone, but also and above all borderline experience and failure. Continuous self-empowerment can generate self-confident actors in the digital space who actively advocate for the interests and concerns of a self-determined, democratic society.

In this work of understanding, literacy is the responsibility for the greatest possible freedom of the individual without harming anyone else. Since Kant, we have known that maturity is the ability to courageously use one’s own intellect. We need the mind to organize, reflect and adapt our common actions in the world, because “enlightenment is the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity.” (“Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?”)

Literacy is ostensibly not the intellectual empowerment of the individual, but the courage to be mustered again and again in non-conformist intellectual work, which does not proceed from the general, but from the particular. The scholar has virtually the duty to speak to the world in his “unrestricted freedom” and “in his own person”. How can this be done except through the constantly new interpenetration of lived experience? He must therefore leave behind his social role, which he was brought up in, and turn his knowledge into the subjective, if he wants to gain knowledge.

” … to go on into the unknown, into the uncertain, into the uncertain, and to use the reason that is given to us to plan as well as we can for both: not only for security, but at the same time for freedom.” (Popper, Karl: “The Open Society and its Enemies”)

Responsible citizens as a prerequisite for a free and open society

Maturity as a process of self- and world-awareness inevitably changes over time as the conditions of society, economy and technology change. In the aestheticized infotainment world, consumption has top priority. The social status quo is maintained by a conformist mass consciousness. In order to make freedom possible at all, the education of responsible citizens is indispensable. According to Habermas, the ideal vanishing point of a free society is a consensus free of domination, which is achieved in the social collective through the principle of reasonable speech.

With Popper, this becomes the social technician who pursues political change through individual steps of continuous scientific critique without ever being able to achieve a total understanding of the system. The goal must be to embrace the unknown in an open society, and to use reason to enable both security and freedom.

Digitization in the economy must take liberal values seriously

In the postmodern information society, digitization has a decisive impact on our lives – in terms of how we live, communicate, do business, raise our children, care for our sick and, not least, how we institutionalize diplomatic and political relations. The direction of future digitization should be negotiated with the democratic participation of all social groups. Social inclusion can only be an ideal, however, if no unrealistic ideal of equality is striven for that prevents competition through excessive state regulation and destroys incentives of the meritocracy.

Companies can also secure trust with transparency offensives, strengthen digital maturity or improve cooperation with civil actors. In economic innovation, greater emphasis must be placed on diversification and thinking concepts outside the known norm. Innovation is no longer the exception in accelerated technological change, but must be integrated into everyday business processes as a permanent process. In this way, efficient and, at the same time, ethical models with growth potential can be developed that guarantee a genuine edge in knowledge and yet do not lose sight of the protection of people.

This text is a shortened version of my essay on digital literacy.

Simone Belko is a linguist and European studies scholar with a strong focus on digital literacy. With experience in journalism, PR management, marketing and training she has excelled in Germany and abroad. As a manager for digital products in the online games and FinTech industry she gained deep insights into how online platforms and communities work. Simone is the author of "Digital Consciousness" ("Das digitale Bewusstsein") and currently works at Otto GmbH, leveraging her expertise in business transformation.

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