We talk a lot with our clients about the need for digital fluency, which is the ability to understand why to use digital technologies and when to use them to accomplish things. Before a person can start to build their fluency with anything (a language, a set of tools or practices), though, we have to overcome the human tendency to feel fear or prejudice toward people, technologies, or practices that we perceive as “foreign” or “other.” As it happens, this fear and prejudice has a name: Xenophobia.
If i want to become fluent enough in German to live and work in Germany, i first have to get over my xenophobic fear of German culture, or my feeling that their way of speaking, their way of living, is lesser than mine.
I will probably figure out later that there are some parts of the German language and culture which are to be feared (like the alpenhat in the picture above), or loved (like the real German preztels and weissbier) more than my own, but going in with that prejudice before i understand it will keep me from becoming fully fluent.
The same goes for my relationship with my students at Indiana University. If i want to become fluent enough in “student language” to live among and connect with them, i first have to get over my xenophobic fear of their ways of interacting, or the feeling that i am somehow better or smarter or wiser than they are.
To become digitally fluent enough to thrive in today’s world, i have to first overcome my xenophobic fear of people who live lives of always-on mobility, who share massive amounts of personal information, who use Internet slang, who love and share silly-seeming photos and videos, etc. (the list goes on). I also have to overcome the feeling that my preferred alternatives to these things, like face-to-face conversations, reasoned long-form discussions, non-slang language, etc. are automatically better.
Once my xenophobia is lessened or removed, i can then start my journey to digital fluency. Along the way i will adopt some of the new tools and practices (i have begun using Twitter quite regularly over the last several years to connect with other researchers, family and friends, and i have come to appreciate the art in many silly-seeming YouTube videos) and reject others (after trying out the game World of Warcraft for a bit, i did not find it enjoyable or useful, and i rarely break out a digital device in meetings or in social settings), but i can do this from a place of knowledge and reason, rather than from a place of fear and prejudice.