A varied and sometimes erratic record of what I'm learning inside and outside of the classroom

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Digital Illiterates Anonymous (But I Don't Want To Be!)

So you know how the first step of those recovery programs is admitting you have a problem? Here goes my confession.

I am digitally illiterate. I read Dr. Burton's post on social discovery, and my thoughts were, "Wow--I'm guilty." Of what, you ask? Of writing research papers in isolation. Of not taking my own ideas seriously. Of blogging "into the void." Of not connecting well with other people via technological reasons and just in general. Guilty of the whole gamut. ("Guilty, guilty, GUILTY!" I can hear Bernie from Pixar's Incredibles yelling in my head.) So, to paraphrase Dr. Burton's concluding question, what is keeping students like me from connecting to other people out there? Well, I'll tell you.

  • First of all, like Dr. Burton said, learning through social discovery requires us to "change the way we think about searching and researching." Many students are locked into the traditional modes of learning and never even think about using social connectedness as a resource in their journeys of discovery. I think the first big hurdle to connecting to other people and sharing knowledge is to change this paradigm. I'm learning to, but I'm not there yet. It's a work in progress.
  • Second, not knowing how the heck to connect to people. So I have this idea, or I'm really interested in this subject, but who do I talk to about it? How do I sift through the massive amounts of digital information and find people who have knowledge that will be useful to me? What are the tools I can use to connect to them? 
  • As listed above, a lot of students don't take their ideas seriously. I know I don't a lot of the time. I feel like I don't know enough to participate in a meaningful discussion with people who obviously know a lot more than I do. I'm just an undergrad in my second year of school--why would people care what I have to say? Besides, can my ideas really make a difference?
  • Not having a goal is a major obstacle to connecting. There has to be a purpose. You have to actually CARE. Your learning has to be directed and have focus. If it is, you know better who to contact or even just what kind of person to search for in order to discuss your ideas with them and have meaningful discourse.
  • Personality. Some people are natural extroverts, gifted at the art of making connections and easily conversing with people. I am not one of those people. But that is no excuse. Reaching out to people might be a little out of my comfort zone, but that is no reason not to do it.
  • FEAR. It's a big one. What if no one cares what I have to say? What if I'm completely wrong and get ridiculed by someone who actually knows something? What if none of my ideas even matter anyway? To that I say, "Cast it out!" Overcoming fear in this arena builds character as well as connections. 
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I can hear you saying. "You've told us all your reasons about why you stink at social discovery/connecting with people--now WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?" Well, I'll tell you.

  • Share my knowledge and things I'm learning with people I already know. I'm going to connect my blogs to Facebook following the instructions on Professor Zappala's post, and invite my friends and family to read my blog and my classmates' blogs, pointing them to digital tools that will help them in their own learning. I've done some of this already. *small personal pat on back*
  • Follow up on contacts already made. One of my big goals is to get an editing internship with the Church magazines, and through my uncle's cousin I was put in contact with the editor-in-chief of the Ensign magazine; I've emailed her, and actually should be able to talk to her on the phone tomorrow. I also met a student here at BYU as I was standing at a crosswalk one day who shares both my major (English) and minor (editing) and had lots of good advice about internships and getting experience. I'm going to hunt down her contact information and send her an email.
  • Use search tools like the ones Dr. Burton listed in his post to expand my Internet horizons (done some of that), look for people behind the information I'm interested in, and have the courage to contact them if they look like they might be able to help me.
  • Try out Twitter, and revisit my profile on LinkedIn. Find people interested in my chosen field, editing and publishing, and follow their Internet activity through these sites. I gotta learn how to do an RSS feed...
  • Hie my humble little self over to the Mormon Media Symposium next week--I'm in the group that's making a Mormon Message for a final project, and I gratefully accept Dr. Burton's advice to take advantage of this opportunity. I'm hoping to connect with people who will help us make our final project more meaningful.
  • Build up my online presence. Keep up with my blogs, at least my personal one. Use Facebook not only for keeping up with my friends, but for learning about events and sharing things I'm learning and things that are important to me. Finish my Mormon.org profile. Maybe even create the wiki for writers I was thinking about doing as a final project. Create an online profile of myself that will be interesting to other people and motivate them to perhaps make connections with me.
  • Any other ideas, O illustrious classmates and professors more digitally literate than I?
I'm sure everyone has heard a student in one of their classes ask the professor, "So what? Why does this matter? When will I ever use this in real life?" Well, let me tell you something. Our learning gains significance and becomes important through meaningful connections with other people. Because even if we can't directly apply our knowledge, through social discovery we may be able to share it with someone who can. We become a part of the massive discourse of human knowledge by sharing with others the things we know and learning things from them as well. Our own understanding and that of others is expanded, making us more resourceful at solving problems, and enabling us to better serve others.

You know the most scary thing about this whole social discovery process? Wanting to make a difference in the world, and through social discovery, being faced with the very real possibility that you actually might.


  1. Twitter is awesome, especially if you are following the right people. Since Prof Burton's blog post, I have already found some great people/sites to follow in my current field of exoplanet research.

  2. Ariel, I love this post! Thanks so much. I think you and I have a lot in common, by the way :)

    One time, I could not for the life of me figure out some computer problem. I finally turned to Google, the fountain of all knowledge, and found some random blog post that explained how I could fix my problem. Isn't that great? I love social discovery!

    I also have an idea for you, something that has been very important to me. You mentioned using Facebook for friends, events, and sharing ideas, but I've found that it's also very important for family (you probably included them in your head just not in your post). I have around 90 first cousins (all of whom I love dearly) because my daddy comes from a family of 13 and my mother from a family of 9. I don't really worry about losing track of my family anymore because I see their faces and updates on my Facebook feed.

    Sorry, this comment turned out to be really long. We should just talk sometime!

  3. I'm glad to see you thinking about so many things that you might or should do. But with all of your proposed directions, just try to keep the general principle in mind -- in this case, connecting with others to do social discovery. Lots of tools are available, but you don't need them all. In fact, you might not even need the Internet or any electronic service or tool. Social discovery is as simple as making the effort to talk to someone in the library, across the aisle, or in an office. Watch for opportunities within your normal routine, and not just by way of new digital pathways (as important as those can be).

  4. Thanks, Dr. Burton, for the reminder to make sure I'm focusing on the core principle. I would not wish to be over-zealous in pursuing lots of different digital tools in order to be more connected socially. :) I'm learning to make my social discovery more focused in pursuing connections with people I come across day-to-day who are interested in the same kinds of things I am.