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Theoretical Perspectives of Digital Literacy and the Digital World

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Knowledge as Power: A New Freedom in the Information Age

Similar to theories about literacy, prior to the introduction of digital media, theoretical approaches to digital literacy rely on the philosophy that access to information is power, and when information is accessible, and the proper techniques have been developed to comprehend and think critically about the information available, a certain kind of intellectual freedom is attained. However, with the introduction of digital media there have been shifts. Digital technology, with an emphasis on information sharing sites and databases, have introduced the idea of collective intelligence. Prior intellectual pursuits were often solitary and private affairs. The introduction of Wikipedia and other similar applications has made the intellectual and information sharing world a collaborative experience, making it a participatory freedom, rather then a private one.

The cyber world has also been theorized to have the potential to create digital identities free from gender, embodiment, and traditional patriarchal values. It is proposed that these digital identities (cyborgs) and the communities they create can be freed from traditional boundaries to create a space that is not concerned with creating wholeness, or the idea of being completed, but rather, embraces the squishy gray areas of identity and existence.

Entering the Knowledge Space: Collective Intelligence in Cyber Communities

Cyberspace is unquestionably challenging the ways in which humans see ourselves in a philosophical sense. Drawing on the work of Pierre Lévy, a philosopher attributed to predicting Wikipedia and other free web-based information sharing sites, I hope to explore the shift from analogue and industrial conventions and standpoints in favor of digital ones.

In Levy's work Collective Intelligence he creates a Utopian space, free from global politics, poverty, and injustice to explore the idea of the "knowledge space" which he believes will create a universal collective intelligence that will lead to the mutual enrichment of all human beings. To understand Levy's interpretation of the "knowledge space" Levy sets up three prior "anthropological" spaces to understand intellectual development of humanity. The first is the "earth space" which is distinguished by the development of language, early technology, and social organizations such as tribes. Participation in religious or spiritual activity is the intellectual wealth in this space. The second space described is the "territory space" which emerged with agriculture, the city, the state, and writing. Affiliation and control of borders became the intellectual wealth in this time period. The "commodity space" which is the one which we are currently transferring out of deals with flows of energy, labor, materials, and capital. Intellectual wealth and personal identity are defined by the flow of these resources and one's place in the cycle of production.

The "knowledge space," since it is currently in development, is not as neatly defined. Levy posits that the with the development of so many new communication tools such as personal computers, cell phones, email, blogs, social networking sites etc. we will be able to share our collective abilities, thoughts, and imaginings to create a collective intellect. Levy rejects the common idea that information technology and digital communications seek to replace humanity. Rather, Levy predicts that as we enter the "knowledge space" the impetus will be to create a ever changing and evolving cyber world that will move past it's current purpose as a spectacle to become an intelligent community using internetworked data to create a collective "brain."

Feminist Cyborgs and Freedom from Traditional Boundaries of Self

"The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence." [1]

In the late twentieth century, Donna Haraway created a manifesto that imagines a new identity in the digital world; the cyborg. In her myth, Haraway describes the cyborg as an entity that is free from embodiment, Western understandings of naturalism, and legitimacy. They are part human, part machine. Her cyborgs are without traditional families, the mother and father become irrelevant to identity, as well as other traditional systems of religion and politics. Creating boundaries, and attempting to hold together incompatible ideologies in hopes of making something whole become unimportant. Not all of the pieces need to fit together. The goal is no longer to create a family unit to achieve wholeness in one's identiy.

Technology has opened up many new avenues for communication, information sharing, and identity. Haraway hopes that with the introduction of these new forums and digital worlds people will be able to find new ways to oppose traditional, patriarchal systems and create new transgressive identities free from the confines of gender, race, economic status, and patriarchal religious and political ideologies. She envisions within technologically mediated spaces a space without boundaries, a place that embraces the gray area, where identity, values, and politics can be comfortably contradictory and a new freedom can be achieved.

Works Cited

Cyborg Manifesto
by Haraway, Donna

Collective Intelligence
by Levy, Pierre

Further Reading

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

You are Cyborg
by Kunzru, Hari