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Illectronism, an issue not to underestimate - By Jean-Claude Elias, Jordan News

 

 

The writer is a computer engineer and a classically trained pianist and guitarist. He has been regularly writing IT articles, reviewing music albums, and covering concerts for more than 30 years.
 
A few years ago, it used to be referred to as “digital illiteracy”. Now the expression has become a single word, a neologism, a portmanteau widely known to as illectronism — illiteracy in electronics, or the inability to deal with digital tools of all kinds. It is almost as crippling as pure language illiteracy. Other terms pertaining new expressions include digital fluency and digital divide.
 
 
 
There is hardly a field, an activity that does not involve some sort of digital tools one way or another, be it for pleasure, for work, to study, to communicate with others, or to take care of your health. It is a daily and constant need.
 
Speaking of Digital Literacy in 2022, avast.com, the website of one of the leading anti-virus software applications, wrote: “Long before the World Health Organization declared an international health crisis in 2020, our lives were moving increasingly online.” But the past couple of years, precisely because of the pandemic, have accelerated the phenomenon.
 
And yet, illectronism is a hard reality, as surely as illiteracy, which has not been eradicated until today. For all of us who are lucky enough to possess the necessary tools (equipment, software, wifi, etc.), along with the ability to make the best out of them, it is hard to imagine that there is still a proportion of the population that does not possess any of these tools or skills.
 
For example, according to a US Department of Education report issued in 2018, 16 percent of working-age adults are not digitally literate. Still mentioning the American population, in 2020, nationalskillscoalition.org reported that 33 percent were advanced, 35 percent proficient, 18 percent limited and 13 percent were totally digitally illiterate. And this is in the US, the country of high-tech! In India, the rate of illectronism is estimated by definida.com to stand at 25 to 30 percent.
 
Edutopia.org considers that the best performing countries in digital literacy are South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Iceland, Sweden, and Belgium.
 
There are two different causes to illectronism. One is the physical unavailability of the digital tools, equipment, software, or networking, the other is the mental or intellectual inability to deal with them sufficiently well, at various degrees, even when they are available.
 
It is up to governments to address the first cause; that would involve several different courses of action, such as reducing poverty, improving living standards, and enhancing networks and infrastructures. Understandably, this can vary tremendously from one country to another.
 
Addressing the second is at least as difficult, if not more, than the first. It does not only entail the introduction of digital literacy as a teaching subject as early and as widely as possible in school curricula, it would also entail educating the senior segment of the population that did not have the chance to study the subject when of school age and finds itself overwhelmed now.
 
Until circa 2000, it was generally accepted that some people are not and will never be tech savvy. Whatever they needed to do with computers or networks would be done for them by someone else, a tech-oriented professional, friend, or relative. Today, this is becoming almost impossible to accept, for, everybody has to interact with digital tools. Incidentally, some cellphone functionalities are still a nightmare for some over-60 people who are otherwise educated and have very decent IQ level.
 
The fact is that dealing with intricate software menus, online applications, data storage, data backup, proper filing, and sorting of contents, with most of the designs changing all the time, from machine to machine and from version to version, shortcuts and icons moving in all direction on screens, and — last but not least — having all this sometime imperfectly designed or implemented with bugs, requires skills and mental flexibility and adaptability that do not come easy to the average citizen.
 
And yet, we all need these skills, regardless of our age, education, or background. Talking about online activity, Joseph Ajami, a scholar who hails from Lebanon, puts it rather unequivocally: “These days, if you’re not online, you don’t exist.”
 
Tech 24, a technology TV program on the France 24 channel, recently reported that the notion of algorithm, a basic, essential element of computer programming that affects virtually all digital systems, their usage, and their understanding, will be the subject of a special education program, and will be taught along with basic reading skills to very young school children.
 
An interesting initiative that significantly contributes to reducing illectronism is the ICDL Foundation. The acronym stands for International Computer Driving License. The foundation introduces itself as a “Global Social Enterprise dedicated to raising digital competence standards in the Workforce, Education, and Society”. The concept was initially launched in 1995 as ECDL (European Computer Driving License). It evolved to ICDL in 1997.
 
The term “driving license” is aptly chosen. Just like you need a driving license to drive your car, without the need to be a car specialist or mechanic, the ICDL program trains you to “drive” the various digital tools one needs to handle today, without necessarily becoming an IT specialist.
 
Global and increasing awareness, updated school curricula, and ICDL are some of the measures and actions that may contribute to reducing illectronism. How fast and to what extent this will succeed remains to be seen.
 
 
Jean-Claude Elias is a computer engineer and a classically trained pianist and guitarist. He has been regularly writing IT articles, reviewing music albums, and covering concerts for more than 30 years.
 

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