Spread social media literacy (and save the world)

Image: Howard Rheingold says "Spread the (social media) love"
Image: Howard Rheingold says spread the (social media) love

Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for you that might do some real good: teach someone at work or in your family how to use social media tools.

Actually New Year’s Resolution is too weak a way to frame this. It’s a call to arms. A plea to your humanity.

Feeling revolutionary itch but not sure how to start scratching with a mortgage/student debts/rent to pay? This is how.

Why? Because our future’s at stake…

Howard Rheingold‘s written an essay with the catchily academic title “Partcipative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies“:

The alphabet did not cause the Roman Empire, but made it possible. Printing did not cause democracy or science, but literate populations, enabled by the printing press, devised systems for citizen governance and collective knowledge creation. The Internet did not cause open source production, Wikipedia or emergent collective responses to natural disasters, but it made it possible for people to act together in new ways, with people they weren’t able to organize action with before, in places and at paces for which collective action had never been possible. Literacies are the prerequisite for the human agency that used alphabets, presses and digital networks to create wealth, alleviate suffering and invent new institutions.

Helping others to understand how to use a wiki or create a Facebook group and you are spreading a new kind of literacy.

A literacy in participative media, or for the sake of not clouding the terminology in this blog, a social media literacy.

A widespread ability to use social computing tools will be the basis for a New Enlightenment of sorts:

The more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation. Such literacy can only make action possible, however, it is not in the technology, or even in the knowledge of how to use it, but in the ways people use knowledge and technology to create wealth, secure freedom, resist tyranny.

Image: Facebook groups - one small step...
Image: Facebook groups - one small step...

It reminds me how some friends of mine used Facebook – about which a year or two back they were very sceptical, to organise a protest. It worked, insofar as it gained momentum, grew, sustained itself and attracted attention.

The lessons from that are with them always. And next time, if their neighbourhood is threatened by some planning travesty, or their lives are affected by bureacratic stupidity they have a network and knowledge of networks and social media tools that they will be even quicker to pick up and more adept at using when they do so…

Responding to Howard Rheingold’s essay, Prof Mike Wesch says: “I employ social media in the classroom with a sense of urgency”.

It’s not just that we have so much to gain by as many people as possible being literate in this new medium, but that we have much to lose by there not being mass social media literacy.

Wesch says:

We use social media in the classroom not because our students use it, but because we are afraid that social media might be using them – that they are using social media blindly, without recognition of the new challenges and opportunities they might create.

So here’s some simple ideas that I might try out to spread social media literacy…

  • Help someone set up an RSS reader to get all their news and blogs…
  • Record a brilliant presentation or speech and distribute it on SlideShare, a blog, a podcast, a video..
  • Show them how to organise that event or holiday on a wiki…
  • Help someone looking for a job or freelancing to make more of LinkedIn and a couple of other tools (BTW this article, written about journalism, can teach any freelancer or contractor a thing or two)
  • Volunteer to help a sports or cultural club to get some of their stuff online in a better way…
  • Show someone who has set up a cause on Facebook to set up their own blog / website and use other tools to further their activism…

With the iCrossing team I published What is Social Media? a while back – maybe I should start a project to add to that with more “how to” examples…

It’s not just that one project that you’ll be supporting, you’ll be spreading a new kind of web literacy that really will change the world.

What else can we do? Run some evening classes? Offer online coaching…

Via John Naughton.

: : Bonus social media literacy links… One of the nicest and most practical resources for getting up to speed on social media tools and other web-related stuff is the set videos from the Commoncraft Show. One of my favourites is the wiki video, which does a perfect job of simplifying and explaining a powerful online tool: