On April 23, 2012, members of the Social Impact Technology Network (SITN) testified during a New York City Council public hearing titled “Broadband Access: Closing the Digital Divide.” As a member of SITN, The LAMP’s Executive Director D.C. Vito testified about why media literacy is such an important part of the movement to expand broadband access and bridge the technology gaps in place for many New York communities. The following is a transcript of his remarks:
Giving people computers and broadband access is not enough to bridge the digital divide. It’s a start, to be sure, but just as we wouldn’t give our car keys to a teenager that hadn’t passed the driving test, we can’t throw equipment and connections around and expect our problems to be fixed. Young people—and their parents, and their teachers—need digital literacy skills in order to think critically about the world of new media that opens up with access to computers and high-speed Internet.
There are many reasons why digital literacy training is so important, but one reason in particular is that people need to learn how to be responsible and productive citizens in the digital world of social networking, social gaming, blogs, news sites and more. Bullying and bias discrimination have always been issues in schools, workplaces and public spaces, but now, this harmful behavior is crossing from the physical into the digital world. Increased broadband access allows people to build more relationships online. This power and freedom requires the ability to think critically about media, and comprehend how your behavior impacts others within the digital space. Called digital citizenship, this is where The LAMP comes in.
Recently, together with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, we have been running a series of workshops in Queens with a group of young people, and have been exploring this very concept. They have been analyzing popular media, and identifying the subtle ways in which media can reinforce stereotypes about gender, sexuality, race and religion that can impact the way we treat others. Not only can the teens completing this workshop now recognize harmful and misleading representations in advertising, music, television, video games and more, but they are also now using media to talk back to media. Since February, they have been working on Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, about the impact of bullying both online and offline. These PSAs are entirely written, shot and edited by these teens, and our goal with the Commission on Human Rights has been that they walk away empowered with critical thinking and digital literacy skills to practice and advocate for healthy digital citizenship.
For many of the young people we serve, The LAMP’s workshops are among their first explorations with media as potentially positive and educational elements in their lives. This is somewhat remarkable, given that our students, many of which are black and Latino, spend an average of 13 hours a day with media—their white peers spend just over eight and a half hours. Nonetheless, most of our youth have been taught that computers, mobile phones and other technologies are mere toys. In fact, these devices are tools, and powerful tools at that, capable of opening doors to homework help, social networking, health resources, breaking news and so much more. But when we hand them access to technologies like broadband, we need to teach them how to use these tools effectively and positively. Otherwise, it’s as if we are just souping up their car, and sending them on their way. Meaningful use of increased broadband access depends on digital literacy training.
In order for work like ours to continue and expand, The LAMP needs support from leaders like you. Equipment and high-speed broadband alone are not enough to bridge the digital divide, much less gaps in education and job readiness. Education about digital citizenship and digital literacy training have to be part of the plan to level the technology playing field, or else the communities we mean to connect will remain on the sidelines.
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Follow D.C. Vito on Twitter: @dcvito