Digital Literacy for Caribbean Youth

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 29, 2015

By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

Traditional Literacy as Foundation
All of us who achieve any level of digital literacy will know straight off that we could not effectively use our cell phones, tablets, lap tops, or desk tops or skilfully navigate and make meaning of the Internet, if we were not able to read and write and to understand words, numbers and symbols.

So we realize that traditional literacy, often described as ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’, is an essential foundation for digital literacy.

As we make the transition to the digital domain, via the Internet and all it has to offer, we must be able to read, but no longer via printed pages, instead via some sort of screen –whether it’s the screen on our cell phone or on our tablet or bigger computers.

We have to be able to write but not on paper, instead by way of some sort of keyboard that is attached to our digital devices, whether as a physical keyboard or a virtual one that we touch on a screen.

Some of us, like me, will go as far as to say that Digital Literacy is built on the foundation of Traditional Literacy.

And the same way that you can’t build a house without a foundation, so it is that you can’t achieve digital literacy without some measure of competence in traditional literacy – reading, writing and arithmetic – as a foundation.

From Traditional to Digital Literacy
In the digital domain, some of the signs that migrate from traditional literacy may take on new meanings. For example when asterisks are used in front of and after words on Twitter they denote an action that is being taken by the person who is tweeting.

Importantly, digital literacy is not just about being able to push the buttons. You need to understand why you click or swipe or like or write and the consequences or outcomes and even repercussions you may face.

This level of understanding and insight is critical in both traditional and digital literacy. You must understand why you do what you do, and how your actions may affect others.

Importantly as well, digital literacy goes far beyond being able to use social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as important as those sites may be to your social life. Note carefully that there is much more to the Internet than social networks. You need to get to know the Internet and the possibilities it offers.

DuttyBerry – An Ace Content Creation
Digital Literacy requires a wide variety of new skills beyond what we learn via traditional literacy. One very important digital skill is learning to upload content to sites such as YouTube, Blogs, Vlogs, Periscope (a newly launched live video streaming site), instead of merely downloading and consuming what others create. So, I implore Caribbean youths to become Content Creators!!

DuttyBerry (Russhaine Jonoy Berry) is an excellent example of a content creator. In 2013 his Vlog (video log) propelled him to national recognition in Jamaica, and quite likely other Caribbean countries, when Tessanne Chin was competing on NBC’s show The Voice. Remember though that DuttyBerry had been blogging for about four years before that. So it wasn’t an overnight success. He had to lay the foundation for success by putting in the work.

The DuttyBerry Vlog is a clear demonstration of how creativity, hard word and a deep knowledge of how to use digital technologies can pay off. Russhaine Berry is very digitally literate and talented. In each show he displays deep knowledge of Jamaican culture and of current affairs. He captures himself narrating his stories with a simple one-camera set up – nothing complicated. Then he grabs online footage and images to bring his stories to life.

DuttyBerry, is a master of language, creating new words, like ‘Chinita Goodaz’, playing on Tessanne’s last name ‘Chin’ and adding a little something to it to show affection. Throwing in ‘Goodaz’ was a master-stroke as all Jamaicans know what it means when a woman is called a ‘Goodaz’.

Russhaine Berry continued his digital and word-craft with Kaci Fennell, Miss Jamaica World 2014, who became ‘Good Body Kaci’, ‘FenFen’ and ‘Kaci Strutters’ with her ‘ukku properness’. Again most Jamaicans would relate to the last phrase as the lyrics of dancehall DJ Aidonia had long established the ‘proper ukku’.

DuttyBerry is a university graduate with a degree in language and communication from UWI. I learnt that he sent out over 100 resumes and couldn’t get a job. Now he’s a star and making money by using online and other resources. Digital literacy has paid off handsomely for him as we now see him hosting shows, taking part in TV commercials and other projects. Note carefully Caribbean youths that Digital Literacy can pay off for you do!!

Many of you will also know of Wally British and how she has created an online persona. I see a number of ads in her videos so she’s earning from her postings.

Content Curation/Aggregation & Copyright
Other digital skills such as content aggregation or curation are extremely useful. We see a lot of this in the DuttyBerry show. He pulls content from all over the Internet. But if you are going to aggregate or curate or use content from others, then you need to be aware of copyright issues. You also need to know how to examine your sources and verify that they not fake.

As students, this is an essential aspect of your growth toward greater digital literacy. You have to learn to not just swallow everything you read online but to be critical and to evaluate what you read and to be mindful of those who post things online and what their motivation might be. You have to evaluate your sources.

Online Identity/Reputation
Some of you may have heard of a blog posted a couple years ago saying that Kartel had escaped from jail. You may have heard how overseas news organizations picked it up and ran this as a true news story. When he came under a lot of pressure, the blogger admitted that he made it all up just to get more people to read his blog.

Always consider the kind of online identity you want to create and your online reputation as you become more involved with the Internet. Remember employers search the Internet to learn about you.

Digital Literacy Essential for Youths
I see digital literacy, similar to traditional literacy, as existing along a continuum. Some people are more advanced than others in using all sorts of online tools and being very creative and successful in their use of the Internet. Others of us struggle to keep abreast and are not as advanced. But digital literacy is vital for 21st century life, and all of us need to try to become as literate as we can.

Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Caribbean Institute of Media & Communication, University of the West Indies, Mona. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.

Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes

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