Last week we read Stuart Selber’s “Reimagining the Functional Side of Computer Literacy” in which Selber outlined four points that he considers vital components of functional computer literacy: control over technological resources, understanding of the ways that writing and communication activities are organized online, technical proficiency, access to the language of the powerful. Practically speaking, these criteria may manifest themselves in users’ awareness of what computers are good at and what they are not good at, and in users’ ability to maximize software capabilities, understand social conventions, and deal with technological obstacles.
In this week’s article “Why Youth <3 Social Network Sites,” boyd describes how MySpace teens “pimp out” their profile pages by adding CSS and HTML code. Directions for these modifications are not provided by MySpace and teens must go elsewhere to find the code, as well as how to use it. Boyd argues that “it is important to not assume technological literacy” for these teens, since “few teens hand-code their pages,” instead employing the aid of “helper sites” (11). Although boyd does admit that teens are learning both social and technological codes, (s)he seems to discount the value of that.
It seems to me that the skills teens learn in creating their decorated profile pages are precisely the ones that will propel them toward the sort of computer literacy that Selber wants to see. These teens learn what the computer is good at in the way of graphical display and self-expression; they learn how to maximize the software capabilities in their online environment (the code insertion takes advantage of programming loopholes left by the site’s developers); they are learning social conventions through the networked publics (boyd’s main focus); and they are learning how to surmount technical obstacles in navigating this quasi-programming agenda. No, they are not necessarily learning to code HTML, but does on need such specialized knowledge to be considered literate? We are generally considered literate as readers and writers though we may not know the deeper intricacies of grammar or layout design conventions for periodicals. But more than any of these specific skills, these teens on MySpace are learning that they can interact and master the online environment. They learn not to be afraid to alter it to their own purposes–the language that leads to power. Those seem like characteristics of computer literacy to me.