Nov 12

Your Experiences + My Knowledge = Awesome Guidebooks

On the Internet no one knows you are a cat

Being a parent in the digital age is just as difficult as being a child growing up in the digital age.  It’s true. None of this communication technology comes with a manual really. Every day there’s a new tool, a new innovation, a new way to communicate and reach others. And somehow as parents, we are supposed to know how to guide our children through it…

Then of course there are those who believe because our children were born in the digital age they somehow have an internal “knowing”  that automagically allows them to fully understand all the communication technologies, know how to fix them, and how to use them accurately, so THEY should be showing their parents how to use them.


There are a host of guidebooks out there on how to keep your children safe from the “internet” and the “evils of Facebook”. There are experts who tell parents what to do, what rules to set, and how to be “age appropriate”. There is software that helps a parent monitor their children online, block content, and send text alerts.

And yet…

Mistakes are made every day. People get fired every day. Children post inappropriate content every day. Sexting, bullying, addiction, oh my….

With all the advice and guidebooks and warnings out there you’d think we would have adjusted by now. You’d think we would have this digital content thing all figured out.  That Emily Post would have written the book.  That the schools would have it all integrated into their curriculum.

Well it’s not happening.  Digital literacy, it turns out, is not easy to teach and certainly not easy to learn.

Why? Let’s see….

  1. No one can agree on the definition of “Digital Literacy”. Does it mean software literacy (like knowing how to use Excel)? Does it mean knowing how to program? Does it mean security and privacy? What about content creation? Or mobile? Is it about policies? Rules? Regulations? Is it all of these?  (here’s some interesting comparison resources: Microsoft, Wikipedia, National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Government.)
  2. It changes. EVERY DAY — seriously. New hardware, software, infrastructure, tools….every single day there is some new thing to learn, to try, to apply.  Who can keep up? Did you ever read about Moore’s Law? Yes, it’s about chips and yet every innovation in computing processing speed means our capacity for digital technologies and innovation increases. Check out this great article from CNET to get some tech perspective and increase YOUR digital literacy.
  3. We are all figuring it out as we go.  Some K-12 schools teach it, some don’t. Some colleges teach it, some don’t. Some people like to learn it…most don’t. Experts are narrowly focused in specific areas and when ever someone writes something about it, refer to item number 2 above.
  4. We are all busy making assumptions. How many of you have heard the term “digital native” and the idea that the “millennial” generation “get’s” technology which of course means that anyone born before 1983 doesn’t understand technology. Naturally because I was born in 1967 I clearly do not understand technology and thankfully made a child in 1996 who helps me navigate my every day life because she was born into all of this (just in case you missed it, that was sarcasm).  Take a minute to read this Population Reference Bureau report from 2009 to get a full sense of generations and the concept of “cohorts”. Once you look at it you will begin to understand why making assumptions about someone’s age and their technology use/comfort level is … well … to put it politely just stupid.  But, we do it all the time. Employers are hiring “young people” who can manage their communication technology because “they just get it” while I watch many of my students self select into majors where there isn’t “technology”. I myself wrote my dissertation topic back in 2007 about this very thing, and in the time that has passed, little has changed when it comes to people and their behavior around technology. Age does not determine anything about it. Period.

As you can see, it’s a complex challenge and there is no simple answer.  However, my goal is to respond to this challenge. With your help.

I’m writing two guidebooks.  One for parents and one for tweens/teens. Using my experiences and knowledge as a Mom and as a professor of digital marketing, coupled with a long history as a communication professional with degrees in communication, public relations, internet strategy management, and organizational behavior, I plan to write guidebooks that will get at the heart of these challenges. Avoiding tool-specific “how-to’s” and focusing more on ways in which to cope with specific situations, I hope to create useful guides that will help families and individuals become comfortable with navigating these ever-changing waters.

The key to all of this are the experiences of individuals just like you. Parents who are on the front lines every day. Young professionals who have survived high school and have successfully launched their professional lives whether that included college or not. Your experiences and advice will help make the vision of these guidebooks a reality.

Today I kick off two surveys:

  1. For young professionals 18 – 26 years old who don’t have children: What advice would you give to tweens/teens to manage their “digital life”? What would you say to parents? http://bit.ly/eybook201218-24
  2. For parents of children any ages: What are you and your child(ren)s experiences with digital communication tools, social networks, online games, mobile communication technologies? http://bit.ly/eybook2012parent

Please take a few minutes to fill out the appropriate survey. Share them with your friends.  Pass them around.  I’ll be collecting responses through December 2, 2012 and will be using them to add depth and context to the two guidebooks I’ve been working on during my sabbatical.

Starting next week I’ll begin blogging my book outlines, interesting facts, experiences and stories as I pull together the content to create the manuscripts.

The manuscripts will be turned over to Champlain College students in the Publishing in the 21st Century class in the spring semester for them to edit, publish, and market.  (I’ll be blogging about that process as well).

So will you join with me and help me write some guidebooks that provide context, advice, and support for families and individuals as we all work together to figure out how to successfully navigate our digital world?  I hope you will — I am very much looking forward to reading about your experiences!

Thank you.