Digital literacy, politics and democracy

When it comes to digital literacy, two questions have popped up.
1. Are every person obligated to acquire digital skills and literacy, or is this a much deeper and a more political issue?
2. Could digital skills and literacies develop democracy and human rights?

I’m an historian. Usually I start a discussion with the old greeks! But this time I will not begin with Platon and Aristotle. Literacy, the capacity to read and write and knowing how to handle texts, were in western Europe developed with increasing speed from late 1600s into modern times. Even if it began at a very slow pace, it increased gradually and in late 1900th century, literacy became possible to achieve for every man and woman. But it took some time further before it became a democratic right to be able to get a proper education in the art of reading and writing. At first, literacy only contributed to a wider gap between those in power and those that had no power.

We can now see that what we today call digital literacy has evolved radically in just one or two decades. But is this, as the art of read and write was in the 19th century, in focus for the education system today? Could we in HE expect that students should have sufficient knowledge in digital literacies? I would say, despite all good texts that have been written on digital literacies in higher education, they are poorly developed amongst our students. To be able to use more digital tools, read and write, in a more digital world we must get the issue on digital literacies into every curriculum and make it a political question, not an exclusively individual question.  Morover, as has been proposed at least since the beginning av 21st century, we have to take a leap from a ‘weak’ digital literacy (skills of interpretation and strategies of reception) to strong digital literacy (authorship and autonomous skills and capacities). (1)

How about digital literacies and democracy? Al Gore once said in a well known speech, called Information Superhighways Speech, held on Monday March 21, 1994:

”I see a new Athenian Age of democracy forged in the fora the Global Information Infrastructure will create.” That was a very promesing speech. Since the, all over the world the computer, internet and cell phone has given rise to the interactive and participatory role of youth in many political actions. (2) To analyze the meaning of this we should try to keep two things in mind at the same time: first there is the development of higher speed internet and the usage of computers and internet; then there is the question of learning how to ”read and write” in the digital world, the digital literacies. If we look at the use of the computer and of the internet it looks very promesing:

Global Internet usage – from Wikipedia – let us know that the developing world developes at a higher speed then the rest of the world, which is very promising.

Global Internet usage

Source:, 2017-03-06

Internet Users by Country (2016)

Source:, 2017-03-06

In both India and China the internet users exceeds the people without internet, and both this countries saw the largest number of people in the whole world getting access to the internet last year. In China there was over 500 millions internet user 2015, whereas USA only got some 200 millions internet users – although there in these countries still are many people left without internet acess. In China this could become very important and promising for next young internet generation, despite the fact that free internet access is questioned by those in power,
whereas India have a growing middle class that soon will ask for – or claim – to get some influence over political decisions.

This was two examples of how this will influence coming generations of policy makers. More examples could be mentioned. They have in common that they gives us the potential to change things. To realize this potential, coming generations of people have to get involved in different activities concerning how to ”read and write” on the internet – otherwise they will not succeed to get control of policy makers more skilled ways of presenting political decisions.


(1) Breaking Radical Monopolies: towards political economy of digital literacy TERE VADÉN University of Tampere, Finland JUHA SUORANTA University of Joensuu, Finland , in E-Learning and Digital Media, Volume 1, Number 2, 2004

(2) Digital-Literacy as the Predictor of Political- Participation a Survey of University Graduates in Dikhan, KP, Pakistan By Zafar Abbas & Dr. Allah Nawaz , in  Global Journal of HUMAN-SOCIAL SCIENCE: F Political Science, Volume 14, Issue 8, Version 1.0, Year 2014


2 reaktioner på ”Digital literacy, politics and democracy

  1. Thanks for bringing this topic up. I like to think of the internet as something in favor of democracy and transparency, however observing what is happening in Trump´s corporate America and other places of the world it is obvious that it can be used for opposite tendencies too. There are interesting tools out there to be used for democratic decision making but there are also ways to manipulate, spread alternative facts and lock us up in filter bubbles. I like to think of every act we do – or not do – as a political act. Even to chose to be ignorant is apolitical act. I 100% agree with you that we need to bring that perspective into discussion. As you say: To be able to use more digital tools, read and write, in a more digital world we must get the issue on digital literacies into every curriculum and make it a political question, not an exclusively individual question. I agree, we usually see things from an individualistic perspective not aware how our actions on-line are part of a system that we not fully comprehend and we seem to accept this even if we are being targets for advertising or propaganda and/ or manipulated and surveyed in different ways. How can we as teachers in Academia rise to occasion – any role models to lean on, any blogs or think tanks that you can recommend?


    • Thank you for your feedback on this. At the end of your comment you ask how we as teachers in Academia can act and if there are something to lean on. Yes, that’s an important question, but I – as maybe also you – don’t have an answer to that. Honestly, I haven’t searched for an answer. But now the question is up, so we better start finding more information on this issue!

      Liked by 2 people


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