Parallel to the digitalization of the means and modes of functioning of the various sectors of society, there is also a digitalization of language. In coffee shops, on the radio, at the bank, at a conference or in a conversation in the park, at any moment a word may appear that refers to the digital world. And if what refers to is unknown, the understanding of the message may be affected. What does that word mean? And what is behind it? Bearing this in mind, we can ask: In what everyday situations can someone be confronted with a “digital word” which meaning is unknown? And what difficulties can this bring to digital immigrants in their everyday lives? Let us think, for example, about the news.
Currently, every day we hear expressions on the TV news such as “social networks”, “post”, “facebook”, “email”, “like” or “google”. To what extent can the fact of not knowing or understanding what they are and how is the activity behind them (e.g. what is a ‘post’ and how does one ‘post’ something) affects the way the news are apprehended?
We tend to think about the importance of learning to use digital tools, but the repertoire of a ‘language of the digital’ is no less important for the daily lives of digital immigrants. In fact, digital literacy is not just about how to use it. We can even say that if the concept of a given tool and / or designation is better understood, then the use of digital means may gain meaningfulness for the user.
Analogies with experiences of the physical world can help explain the digital. It can be an interesting exercise to think about how we would explain to someone what Google is, for example, using an analogy with tangible life. Perhaps we can say that Google is a librarian, to whom we say something like “Good morning. Could you please gather all the books you have that talk about flowers?” And the librarian collects all the books in the library that contain reference to the subject flowers. It takes less than a second for the librarian to run through the shelves of a library the size of the world.
Perhaps analogy is a helpful resource for the improvement of digital literacy, bridging the understanding between two apparently so different universes.
Try this challenge out: What analog experience would you use to illustrate what Facebook is? And YouTube? And a blog? And what about the internet itself?
It would be interesting to discuss analogies between the digital and the analog in Open Educational Resource courses for adults, thus contributing to easier border crossings, language negotiations, and bridging the gap between digital immigrants and digital residents, allowing both to learn from the languages they possess to understand the world.
by Joana Manarte and Pedro Ferreira, University of Porto