The New Illiteracy: The Absence of Critical Thinking in The Age of Digital Credulity

October 18, 2017 6:46 am || By

Literacy, numeracy and digital skills are required for everyone to store, process and communicate information.[i] Computational thinking and computing science have been embedded in the core curriculum of the 21st-Century digital society.[ii] The term ‘digital literacy’ is often used to encompass both an understanding of how to use digital devices and how to find, evaluate and use information online.[iii] The fear of fake news, hate speech, unwanted exploitation of privacy and radicalization are some of the adverse effects in our increasingly connected digital age.[iv] Digital literacy is necessary to equip individuals for becoming digital citizens truly; individuals who are responsible for how they use technology to interact with the world around them.[v]  

Along with the development of communication technology, media and information users, particularly young people, will face many challenges. Supercomputers with their capability to ‘think the unthinkable’ may lead to the emergence of new theories, ideas, ideologies, technical advances, and economic innovations.[vi] The phenomenon of “Googlization”, a state in which it is so convenient to go online and search the Web that people no longer feel the need to memorize things, is globally established.[vii] Because of this inurement, heavy search engine users will suffer from memory loss and may also ultimately find themselves unable to read long, in-depth articles.[viii] Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Centre, Los Angeles, stated that our skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined as technology has played a bigger role in our lives.[ix] Another recent study by MindEdge showed that many millennials lack critical thinking skills.[x] The inability to discern false information among millennials is problematic in which 55% of millennials rely on social media for news, 51% share social media content very often, and 36% have accidentally shared inaccurate information.[xi] These findings are consistent with a Stanford University survey that found the middle school, high school, and college students were unable to distinguish between a news story, an ad, and an opinion piece.[xii]

Technology and critical thinking tend to have a counteracting influence on most people.[xiii] Modern day search engine algorithms, like Google, play a part in narrowing people’s opinion by catering information based on our search history.[xiv] This attempt to optimize our user-experience has an unexpected side effect; it influences bias.[xv] What we decide to believe is limited by the partial information that we receive.[xvi] Furthermore, this facility will cause the new illiteracy that can be described as the inability to tell fact from fiction in which people lose their critical thinking.[xvii] Critical thinking is generally thought as a mode of thinking in which one improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analysing, assessing, reconstructing his or her thought and it must be self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective.[xviii] Critical thinking is a useful tool in developing literacy in a time of dominance by the mass media.[xix] Critical thinking is transformational, and it requires each of us to become something of an expert on figuring out when we’re being misled or lied to.[xx] The responsibility for distinguishing between accurate, credible, true information and misinformation or disinformation, however, is no longer vested in trained and vetted experts — editors, publishers, critics, librarians, professors, subject-matter specialists. [xxi]

With the spirit of eradicating the diffusion of negative contents in social media, while forming critical thinking within the society, a movement called the Digital Literacy National Movement #SiBerkreasi was initiated. The #SiBerkreasi movement is a collaboration of various government and private institutions, communities and digital literacy activists. This movement is part of the joint commitment of various parties to increase digital literacy in the community through the invitation to share positive contents through creativity and to use the Internet responsibly. The movement has the full support from the Ministry of Communication and Informatics, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of State Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia, Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy (Bekraf). Moreover, various communities are also involved, such as the Internet Governance Forum, ICT Watch, PANDI (Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia), Nawala.org, Indonesia Child Online Protection (ID-COP), ECPAT Indonesia, RAS Foundation, Yayasan Sejiwa, Internet Sahabat Anak, IWITA Jakarta, ID Talent, Sebangsa, PARFI 56, Center for Digital Society of Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesian ICT Volunteers, MAFINDO (Masyarakat Anti-Fitnah Indonesia), Japelidi (Jaringan Pegiat Literasi Digital), Kumpulan Emak Blogger, and Layaria. The #SiBerkreasi movement also has the full support from influencers and content creators such as Marcella Zalianty, Yosi Mokalu (Project Pop), Marsha Tengker, Dennis Adhiswara, and many more. [xxii]

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[i] The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ‘Education, skills and training.’ Available at: https://www.rse.org.uk/cms/files/advice-papers/inquiry/digitalparticipation/pages/j321440/j321440-09.htm. Accessed: 28 August 2017.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] European Commission Strategy of Digital Single Market. ‘What Future Internet?’ Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/blog/what-future-internet Accessed: 23 August 2017.

[v] Classflow. (2017). ‘Digital literacy in the classroom. How important is it?’ Available at: https://resourced.classflow.co.uk/digital-literacy-classroom-important/. Accessed: 23 August 2017.

[vi] Lee, Alice. World Summit in the Information Society: Series of Research Paper, Page 15. ‘Literacies and Competencies Required to Participate in Knowledge Societies.’ Available at: http://www.globalmediapolicy.net/sites/default/files/WSIS_-_Series_of_research_papers_-_Conceptual_Relationship_between_Information_Literacy_and_Media_Literacy.pdf#page=4 Accessed: 31 August 2017.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Wolpert, Stuart. ‘Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis?’ Available at: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127. Accessed: 27 September 2017.

[x] MindEdge Online Survey of Critical Thinking Skills. Available at: https://mindedge.com/page/dig-deeper Accessed: 27 September 2017.

[xi] Williams, Terri. ‘Study: Nearly Half of Millennials Get an ‘F’ in Critical Thinking.’ Available at: https://www.goodcall.com/news/critical-thinking-011043. Accessed: 29 September 2017.

[xii] Stanford History Education Group. ‘Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.’ Available at: https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf Accessed: 29 September 2017.

[xiii] Mialki, Stephanie. ‘How Does Technology Affect Teens’ Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills?’ Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-does-technology-affect-teens-critical-thinking-problem-mialki. Accessed: 10 October 2017.

[xiv] Tang, Meena. ‘How to think critically in the digital age, as told by a neuroscientist.’ Available at: http://flipthemedia.com/2016/09/think-critically-digital-age-told-neuroscientist/. Accessed: 9 October 2017.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] European Commission Strategy of Digital Single Market. ‘What Future Internet?’ Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/blog/what-future-internet Accessed: 23 August 2017.

[xviii] Mialki, Stephanie. ‘How Does Technology Affect Teens’ Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills?’ Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-does-technology-affect-teens-critical-thinking-problem-mialki. Accessed: 10 October 2017.

[xix] Goodnight, G. Thomas. ‘Critical Thinking in A Digital Age: Argumentation and the projects of new media literacy.’ Available at: http://scholar.uwindsor.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1143&context=ossaarchive. Accessed: 10 October 2017.

[xx] Rheingold, Howard. ‘Teaching Critical Thinking in Age of Digital Credulity.’ Available at: https://dmlcentral.net/teaching-critical-thinking-in-age-of-digital-credulity/. Accessed: 10 October 2017.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Putra, Putu Merta Surya. ‘Siberkreasi, Strategi Pemerintah Lawan Konten Negatif di Internet.’ Available at: http://news.liputan6.com/read/3114901/siberkreasi-strategi-pemerintah-lawan-konten-negatif-di-internet. Accessed: 10 October 2017.