3 problems Trump’s victory brought into sharp focus

Image by Crawford Ifland

I’m writing this 12 days after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential Election. By now, the shock is wearing off, and some more nuanced articles are emerging. The first response by most of those I read was an understandable desire to go into some kind of crypto-hibernation. This post by the founder of Cryptocat really opened my eyes as to why that’s a wrong-headed solution.

To my mind, there’s three interrelated problems that people need to address in the overlapping circles of the Venn diagram to which I pay attention: 

  1. Algorithmic news – this election, with pro-Trump bots overwhelming the Clinton campaign messages, fake news farms in Macedonia, and ‘post-truth’ politics, shows how much we in the west are living in an algorithmic democracy. People are consuming less traditional news media, and more via their social media feeds. This has led many outlets into a ‘race to the bottom’ according to the managing editor of Snopes.
  2. Surveillance – one of the most invasive laws ever to have been passed got the final assent it needed this week in the UK. I take it for granted that the US spies on its own citizens in the wake of the Snowden revelations but now, not to be surpassed, GCHQ and the UK government seem to have found a way to bulk-collect data on innocent citizens, prying into the lives of everyday life, as a matter of course. 
  3. New literacies – all of the above can happen because we, as citizens, don’t really understand what is going on with the technological side of our democracy. As I outlined in my thesis and follow-up book, digital literacies have a civic dimension that’s often overlooked. I was glad to see that Audrey Watters has shared some of her initial thoughts about what a syllabus for education technology under Trump might look like.

I’ve said this before, but now it’s becoming now a huge problem for our democracy: we’re not preparing our young people with the digital skills they need for the world they inhabit right now. On the one hand we’ve got functional skills, and on the other, computer science. We haven’t got the capacity to teach the latter, which means it’s largely being taught badly, or not at all.

That huge gulf between the top end and the bottom end just isn’t being addressed. It involves all of the eight elements of digital literacies I’ve identified in my work, but there isn’t a simple magic wand to be waved here. Digital literacies are plural, they’re context-dependent, and it’s not like there’s a one-size-fits-all approach where you can now get people across a line and call them ‘digitally literate’. It’s a way of being, and a constant up-skilling based on understanding, need, and empowerment.

Image by Crawford Ifland. This article is cross-posted on Medium and LinkedIn