My undergraduate degree was in Communications Studies at Dublin City University (DCU – then known as the National Institute of Higher Education, Dublin NIHED). There I was fortunate to meet lecturers like Luke Gibbons (Film & TV Studies), Martin Croghan (Linguistics), Des Bell (Media Studies) who opened my eyes and my mind to the way in which the media was shaping our world. We got a grounding in subjects like Sociology – where I first encountered Mead and Freud; Economics where I was introduced to Capitalism and Marxism. We had a Psychology class which featured live performances of Woodie Guthrie songs complete with accompaniment from a real fascist-killing-machine. It was quite an education and gave me a jump on media literacy and critical thinking which has profoundly shaped the way I see and interpret the world ever since.
In the following years, I was lucky to get an equally good grounding in digital literacy and the ways in which networked computing has shaped and continues to shape our world and our culture. Many of these changes are for the better. We are connected in new and rich ways. We can collaborate and work with colleagues and collaborators all over the world. We are more open to each other’s culture and we can appreciate each other’s difference better than we used to. Now, you could argue that the converse of all these statements is true also. And this exemplifies exactly the complexity that is now part of all our lives. If we can build capability around diversity and remain open to contradictions in this new world, we have huge opportunities to evolve. And yes, the converse of that is true too.
Digital literacy for me was also bound up with learning – and I was influenced by the writings of Stephen Brookfield, who in turn led me to the writings of Paulo Freire. I started reading ‘Pedagogy of the Opressed’ back in 2007, I think. And I read it slowly – savouring every page. In fact, I still hadn’t finished it last year and my promise to myself was that if I ever did finish the book, then I would have to start living it more fully.
It feels like we are at the start of another phase of technical innovation which is fundamentally shaping and molding our lives and how we exist in the world: the age of data. To thrive in the future, we will need to be data literate. We need to understand how data is being leveraged to determine our access to education, employment, finance and so many other aspects of our well-being. The power dynamics don’t seem to change much – but the medium does. It’s up to all of us to get to grips with this new one.