Digital Politics

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As digital technologies expand along with their use new words, phrases and concepts emerge. One such is digital politics.

The phrase can have several meanings:

  • The use of digital media, especially social, to inform, persuade, unite, argue politically.
  • The politics of the internet itself. The power differential between service providers and users. Government policies. Censorship.
  • The ‘digital divide’. How far people globally and locally have access to the internet. How far digital literacy is developed.
  • Cyber warfare.
  • Funding of reasearch into the internet and its future.

In practice today, on may consider such intense issues as how benefit claimants are required to manage claims online and seek jobs. Or how people may be manipulated not only by ‘fake news’ but by unscrupulous commercial websites.

To gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of digital politics have a look at the freely available Handbook of Digital Politics

It is well worth pointing out that digital ‘anything’ is embedded in the overall political, cultural and economic structures of society. For instance, like ‘old fashioned’ literacy, digital literacy for young people cannot be expected to develop in only a classroom. The high number of adults (one in six in the UK) who have difficulty with reading and writing are not the products of poor schooling (although this may be a factor) but of much broader societal dimensions. Addressing these dimensions involves politics.

Children and Social Media (3)

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Do we worry too much about children and the internet, social media especially?

Clearly, there are dangers. Many web-based organisations offer information and support regarding obvious ones such as the risks of disclosing information, predators, bullying, sexting and so on. Then there are worries about children spending too much time in front of screens, and possible cognitive damage and other mental health issues. These sorts of worries are also addressed in schools.

There are particular issues aroud games such as this one which, like some of social media, create great anxiety about body image. Then there are games which may encourage online gambling: the line between fun and monetary gaming is very blurred.

It’s worth bearing in mind some context. New technologies always elicit fears. Socrates worried that the written word was harmful! When printing arrived it caused near meltdown in the Church which wanted to keep a monopoly of reading and writing. Governments taxed radical newspapers, worried about the spread of ‘dangerous ideas’. In Victorian times, the Penny Dreadful comics – full of crime and ‘immoral’ tales – caused widespread condemnation. Remember too that novel reading was once considered morally dangerous. Film created dire warnings of moral collapse, as did television. Then there was video and the ‘video nasties’ corrupting youth. Even today some pastors talk of rock and roll as ‘the devil’s music’ and so on.

Perhaps we need a ‘middle way’.

Sonia Livingstone, who has been researching families and technology for nearly three decades, says that families are getting whipsawed by  “polarized” advice.

And the media, as well as other authorities, are to blame for concentrating on the negative effects of screens on kids without differentiating between potential risks and actual harms, or correlations and cause, and for not talking enough about what constructive role parents can play other than yanking the plug.

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

Livingstone and colleagues took a particular interest in ‘screentime rules’ and the fears that kids spend too much time in fron to screens:

What worried us was that parents seemed to use these rules as a rod with which to beat themselves, worrying how much was too much, whether family TV time or homework ‘counts’ as screen time, or feeling guilty or inadequate as parents when their children watched ‘too much’. Yet, such rules just didn’t seem realistic in this ‘digital age’ when homework, shopping, Skyping with grandparents elsewhere or fathers working away from home.

So, we scoured the internet, and wrote to experts, to discover what advice is being given to parents. We uncovered quite a hodgepodge of advice, not always evidence-based, generally negative in intending to reduce exposure to ‘harmful’ media, and remarkably little of it able to recognize that parents are acquiring digital media at home to enable positive benefits for their children and, furthermore, they are often quite skilled in understanding it, not always being the ‘digital immigrants’ of old. Too much implies comfortable middle-class homes and fails to recognize the constraints or challenges parents often face.

Young people – digital natives – do develop not only skills but understanding. Their interaction with screens is an aspect, a part of their general development as human beings. Almost certainly, the best jobs in the near future will involve such an integration of digital experience with all other educational and human development.

On a very positive note, Mike Crowley writes:

Young people these days are wiser than they are frequently given credit for. According to the age-old generational view, however, our young people are out of control and technology is largely to blame. The reality is that schools today deal with issues pertaining to social choices and interactions that can sometimes be misinterpreted as “technology problems”. The popular view — propagated by some scaremongering media sources — is that inappropriate technology use is rampant among today’s youth. The evidence, however, confirms a very different reality. According to Yalda Uhls:

“We may finally be at a tipping point, one we have seen with every introduction of new media. New data from respected social scientists around the world continues to demonstrate that children are adapting and sometimes thriving as they embrace 21st-century media; these small and incremental changes may be building to permanent change. Perhaps now the hysteria will finally come to an end.”

We’ll be looking at the concept of digital literacy later on. Suffice it to say here that this involves a large spectrum from basic skills and safety right through to deep understanding of  digital production, design and control; then an appreciation of the ways in which digital technology shapes culture, society and politics. To reach the grandiose higher levels, young people will need an education geared to that.