Most of us in Western countries lead very insular lives. We understand, on an intellectual level, that not everyone has the same standard of living or access to technology that we do, but fail to really comprehend what that means. We also may fail to understand exactly how other people, other societies and cultures, interact with the technology that is available to them. This insulated perspective can have numerous repercussions for people who live and breathe technology, specifically for those people who work in the Information Technology field.
Information Technology is no longer a local field of employment or study. It is almost impossible to work at any level within the IT field and not have a global presence to some degree. And it is becoming more and more vital that we learn to interact as global citizens since the World Wide Web, and the technologies that are associated with it, are breaking boundaries and national borders faster than anything we have ever dreamed of in the past.
Digital Citizenship is a way of looking at our lives – specifically at that point where information technology begins to define our place in the world. Digital citizenship is all about how to be appropriate, responsible, and ethical, within the boundaries of cyberspace. Digital citizenship is the new Emily Post for the Matrix and while it may sound funny, it is absolutely crucial to today’s marketplace and to the economic wellbeing of our companies and countries.
We need to understand that our presence online isn’t the same as the neighborhood presence of a local store. The grocery store on the corner is marketing to a very specific demographic, the people who live within a few miles. No one else in world probably even knows about that store. But build a website, develop an ecommerce shop, and suddenly you are available to everyone everywhere, suddenly you are a global citizen with a digital presence. Now people in England, Oman, or Thailand, can shop your store. You are no longer simply selling to a small community, you are selling to every community. What exactly does this mean for us and what are the implications of digital citizenship?
First, we have to learn to communicate on a global level, and we have to realize that communication is not about talking, it is about sharing ideas. Unfortunately, at this time, I am limited to English so I cannot carry a conversation with anyone unless they happen to speak my language. But that does not stop me from communicating. We can share ideas through the magic of information technology, through the digital sharing of pictures and graphics, through the use of online translators and with the help of a myriad of people who are also online and willing to help facilitate communication. But we have to remember that communication is not occurring between two computers, or two smart phones, but that these are just the devices that are allowing two human beings to interact at a distance. We need to treat our digital communication as if it were a face to face meeting.
Which leads to the discussion of etiquette. You simply cannot treat people differently online, than you would in person. As we spend more and more time immersed in a digital world, it seems as if people are developing these digital personas, masks that they hide behind, and then acting out in the most inappropriate ways. Our failure to grasp the importance of treating other people fairly, with respect, is probably the single biggest obstacle that we face as citizens of a digital world. Perhaps we really do need an Emily Post for the Matrix. And not just for our words, but we need to be aware of our virtual actions, the way we present ourselves, the images we post online.
Digital commerce is rapidly becoming the norm for shopping. It is so much more convenient, with better prices and more selection, than driving up the street to a small store and being forced to choose from their limited stock. But commerce online can be inhibited by a failure to properly present what you are selling. If you are unable to communicate the precise nature of what you offer, how do you expect anyone to purchase it? And how many times have we had to deal with a lack of communication between buyer and seller or with rude help desks that simply don’t seem interested in your lack of ability to understand what a particular website is unsuccessfully attempting to sell. We need to look at the bigger picture and not limit ourselves to a local mindset. Even if you are selling to a particular demographic or region, the ability to communicate your wares, your ideas, your skills, to a global audience will better present your product to a local audience.
We tend to think that we have a right to do whatever we like when we are online as if the Internet were some giant free-for-all. But our rights have to be tempered with responsibility. Our rights should never allow us to run roughshod over other people, nor allow us to bully or denigrate them. Speak freely certainly, but don’t yell fire in a crowded theater.
If we can learn to be better digital citizens in a World Wide ‘Globe’ we can increase our ability to collaborate with others. We can improve marketplaces and honest competitiveness between businesses. We can help others in ways and to degrees never before possible. We can change the world for the better.
Ribble, Mike (2014) Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship. Retrieved from: http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html