My notes on Davies, H. C., & Eynon, R. (2018). Is digital upskilling the next generation our ‘pipeline to prosperity’?. New Media & Society, 20(11), 3961-3979.

It’s so rare for a paper to have such a wonderfully informative title. Huw Davies and Rebecca Eynon interrogate this assumption that “teaching young people digital skills and literacies will help advanced market economies compete with their rivals and deliver prosperity” (3961-3962). Computer Science is now part of the Natural Curriculum for all children in England aged 5-14 after a campaign by a range of actors, underscoring the creative dimension of computing alongside its importance to the economy and status as a life skill. Through doing so, “the creative use of technology was assimilated into a ‘set of capacities’ or skills that professionals acquire in order to participate in the labour market” (3962). Digital skills are framed as the “primary antidote to economic decline” and coming disruptive shocks, with the pipeline becoming “the default metaphor in policy discourse to suggest the economy is a machine that feeds on a fixed, constant supply of digitally up-skilled youngsters” (3692). These skills are presented as a way to enhance social mobility, incorporating digital skills into a particularly narrow and nationalistic  understanding of economic need. In the process, caution Davies and Eynon we see a “highly problematic co-option of important intrinsic or civic benefits of digital engagement into economic discourse” (3963).

Their study was undertaken in two deprived areas of Wales, withe fieldwork in two schools effected by similar inequalities, one in a former mining town and the other in a deprived area of Cardiff. Their questionnaire was administered to one year 9 and one year 10 class each school and one year 12 class in the Cardiff school (the other school had no sixth form). 15% of respondents reported parents who had been to unviersity and around 70% of these parents worked, typically in the manual or service sector. These questionnaires were then supplemented by workshops undertaking as ICT classes in a year 9 and a year 10 group at each school. These activities focused on gaming practice, marketing games and asking students to draw mind maps to represent their digital ecospheres. I thought this was a particularly interesting method and I’ve been thinking recently about how to use creative methods like this to explore people’s platform imaginaries. For the year 9s ICT was compulsory whereas it had been deliberately chosen for the year 10s. The third method was semi structured interviews with 10 students from each year group at each school (n=50) with questions about digital practice, motivations, ambitions and skills. These were used to build a typology of the ways in which young people talk about their technology practice, drawing on the interview and workshop data initially supplemented by additional data from the survey.

The cyber kid discourse seen as the start “tacitly assumes young people’s motivations and the class of conditions that influence these motivations are (or should be) universal” (3966). it goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to homogenise digital technology seeing it in more or less uniform terms. This is belied by their finding that “Digital technology’s multifunctionality is mobilised by young people who have different personalities and socially shaped motivations, incentives and constraints guiding them” (3966). These are the categories they developed for the taxonomy:

  • Non-conformists: mostly young women, experienced a sense of estrangement from the school’s prevailing culture yet were able to find interlocutors online. The majority were in the 15 years old group and were “using social media as a resource to develop their identity” (3967). Their orientation to digital opportunities was entirely on their own terms, including the possibility of entrepreneurial activity through these means.
  • PC gamers: mostly young men, with a passion for gaming and the technical skills that went with it. This included hands on experience building PCs, with CPUs adequate for the intense graphical demands of modern games. Their interest in PCs came from their experience of the limitations of consoles. Interestingly, many reported that it had initially been a way to spend time with their fathers but as they progressed it became a peer-to-peer activity, suggesting game as male sociality. Furthermore, their fathers were more likely to be technical or professional than other children’s, suggesting a vector of class reproduction. The coding they had been presented to them at school was largely unappealing, yet they engaged in highly technical pursuits ranging from the aforementioned PC building through to YouTube channels, writing games in C++ and some minor consulting.
  • Academic conservatives: mostly female, with a shared commitment to formal education which they saw as more important than digital technology. They framed it as a distraction from these much more important ends. They used social media but were measured and controlled in their digital practice, not having friends who they didn’t also know online. Their aspirations lay in what partisans of the digital future would see it as quintessentially 20th cnetury jobs.
  • Pragmatists: their use of technology was restricted to specific purposes, tending to see it as a means to an end rather than end in itself. For example social media would be used to arrange meet ups or reminisce about those that had taken place in the past. They had often experienced digital exclusion (e.g. “limited money for games their friends played, lack of home access to the Internet, feeling behind in terms of digital skills, or having constrained access to the Internet for safe- guarding purposes” 3972) and their pragmatism could be framed as a response to this.
  • Leisurists: the largest group, tending to see the internet primarily for entertainment and cultural consumption. For them technology is a way of pursuing their interests, often happily leaving them within walled gardens and synchronising devices with parents and family. These activities “tended not to translate into pursuing a passion or developing skills that could be monetised in the digital economy” (3973).

The digital skills discourse suggests (a) a convergence between the needs of the economy and the needs of young people which can be met through digital skills (b) a denial of alternative motivations for young people that may not feed into this (c) the lack of structural constraints upon where digital skills can take them in the labour market. Their paper is a challenge to “the deterministic discourses that tell young people learning to code would be an act of economic self-interest that will, in turn, defibrillate the economy” (3976). The fact of having coding skills won’t lead to some magical capacity to transcend structural conditions, particularly for young women in a overwhelmingly male dominated industry.


My notes on Barden, O. (2019). Building the mobile hub: mobile literacies and the construction of a complex academic text. Literacy, 53(1), 22-29.

In spite of the many things which smart phones can do, they have not been welcomed warmly within the classroom with many claiming they are “distracting, promote superficial learning, erode students’ ability to concentrate and teacher’s control over the classroom and entrench socio-economic divisions” (22). This is significant because the most recent figures suggest 90% of 16-34 year olds in the UK own a smartphone, with half reporting they check it within 5 minutes of waking up. They are the primary mode of engagement with digital life which makes the literacy or otherwise which users have crucially significant. But this has not been defined heretofore and this is what Barden sets out to do.

What attempts there have been have tended to focus on mobility for reasons that are probably obvious. But the meaning of mobile literacy has largely been taken for granted. Barden warns that the term ‘literacy’ is often used as a synonym for skill, as in computer literacy. Literacy in the broader sense is a capacity to manipulate symbols in order to communicate, something for which mobility offers “possibilities for different kinds of literacies, shaped by communication forms which are richer, more diverse and more flexible than before and supports multimodality, linguistic innovation, remix, playfulness, participation and connection in the in the production and consumption of texts” (23). He thus defines mobile literacies as “the use and interpretation of written or symbolic representation in texts and practices mediated by mobile digital technologies” (23).

The interview with a student he takes a case study stresses the haptic aspect of producing a text using a mobile phone, stressing the enjoyment and response which can be found through the necessity of continually manipulating a screen. I remember the discovery of this when I first got an iPad and my absolute delight in using mind mapping software, it felt like the structure of my ideas were flowing into the device in a way I hadn’t experienced properly. In this sense, touch is crucial to how we manipulate symbols through mobile computing. It constraints in some ways, providing a smaller and less powerful interface than a keyboard and mouse, but opens up new modes of engagement which are important to recognise.

This is combined with a capacity to work anywhere and at any time which increases the immediacy of the creative activity. The student describes the active working this facilitates, undertaken in the immediate moment of the lecture theatre rather than being displaced until a later date when the student would sit down at a computer. Learning an take place through text, voice, image and text. It involves rapidly moving between apps in an agile fashion, working outside of the institutional provision of computer labs and taught sessions.


My notes on Eshet, Y. (2004). Digital literacy: A conceptual framework for survival skills in the digital era. Journal of educational multimedia and hypermedia, 13(1), 93-106.

There is widespread agreement that the ubiquity of digital technology presents a whole range of challenges to the people living within these newly digital environments, but there is little agreement about what competencies are involved in meeting those challenges. The term ‘digital literacy’ has often been used as a blanket term to cover a range of competencies (technical, cognitive, psychological, sociological) but this ambiguity about which it refers to has created problems. Eshet-Alkalai is seeking to address this problem, as described on pg 94:

Development of a more clear-cut conceptual framework may improve the understanding of the skills encompassed by the term “digital literacy,” and provide designers of digital environments with more precise guidelines for effective planning of learner-oriented digital work environments

His new conceptual framework incorporates five types of literacy which “encompass most of the cognitive skills applied when using digital environments” (pg 94). It’s interesting to note the studies he references that suggest young people show higher photo-visual literacy and branching literacy than adults but adults show higher reproduction literacy and information literacy.

– Photo-visual literacy: whereas writing became more abstract with time in its transition from visual symbols to abstract letters, the opposite trajectory is true with digital technology as text-based interfaces have led to increasingly sophisticated graphical user interfaces which rely on visual language which is familiar and resonant with the user. Photo-visual literacy is what is necessary to “‘read’ intuitively and freely, and to understand the instructions and messages represented visually” (pg 95). It’s a responsiveness to visual cues for practical action and a capacity to form associations on this basis. In its most pronounced form this is a synchronic literacy, in which different modalities contribute simultaneously to the understanding of a multimedia text
– Reproduction literacy: reproduction became possible in a meaningful way with the invention of the printing press, as opposed to simple manual copying or oral reproduction. This went through its next revolution with digitalisation, leading to “new and unlimited possibilities for reproducing and distributing digital information have opened new horizons for scholars and artists, but they have also required the development of a new set of criteria for originality, creativity, and talent in art or academic work” (pg 97). This literacy involves “the ability to create a meaningful, authentic, and creative work or interpretation, by integrating existing independent pieces of information” (pg 98).
– Branching literacy: the replacement of the scroll with the codex book changed how information could be processed, facilitating navigating to particular points in the text rather than being confined to reading it through row-by-row as in a scroll. It made non-linear reading possible for the first time. Digital media offers a radicalisation of this process, providing users ” with a high degree of freedom in navigating through different domains of knowledge, but also presents them with problems arising from the need to construct knowledge from large quantities of independent pieces of information, reached in a nonlinear, “unordered” manner” (pg 99). It should be stressed this is a function of a particular digital environment, as opposed the technology itself. Early computing imposed a linearity on information retrieval (e.g. absence of hypertext, insularity of databases, paucity of metadata) which seems remarkable in the contemporary digital environment. Branching literacy is the skill at retaining orientation when navigating a complex information environment in a multidimensional way.
– Information literacy: even if the challenge of evaluating information isn’t unique to digital technology, the quantity of information which individuals have to evaluative is. As he puts it, “the unlimited exposure to digital information, which can be published easily and manipulated without difficulty, the ability to evaluate and assess information properly has become a ‘survival skill’ for scholars and information consumers” (pg 101). This involves assessing the credibility, originality and presentational integrity of information encountered online. Information literacy encompasses the cognitive skills used to evaluate information and their efficacy at filtering the torrents of information online for that which is biased, untrustworthy or erroneous.
– Socio-emotional literacy: the capacities for communication and collaboration opened up by digital media also present all manner of challenges about managing interactions through these new means. As he puts it, “Socially-literate users of the cyberspace know how to avoid “traps” as well as derive benefits from the advantages of digital communication” who he suggests are those “who are willing to share data and knowledge with others, capable of information evaluation and abstract thinking, and able to collaboratively construct knowledge” (pg 102).

My notes on Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M., Ortega, T., & Wineburg, S. (2018). Why we need a new approach to teaching digital literacy. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(6), 27-32.

The upset of the 2016 American election was immediately followed by a rush to provide guidance on how to negotiate what was widely regarded as a dangerous proliferation of ‘fake news’. However Joel Breakstone et al found the problem was much wider than this in 7,804 responses to tasks which required students to evaluate online content that they collected over 18 months. Media literacy has been widely invoked as the solution to this problem and Google and Facebook have been involved respectively in funding the development of a curriculum in Canada and guidance for students in schools in Italy.

Many of the media literacy initiatives which ensued have relied on checklists, such as the wonderfully named CRAAP Test, inviting students to ask questions such as whether the site is a ‘.com’ and whether a contact person is listed. However this guidance conflicts with what fact checkers do, who immediately begin to read laterally rather than drilling down vertically into the details of the specific site they are looking at. As they describe on pg 28:

When confronted by new information on an unfamiliar web-site, fact-checkers almost instantaneously left the site and read laterally — opening up new browser tabs and searching across the web to see what they could fnd about the trustworthiness of the source of informa-tion. Only after examining other sites did they return to read the material on the original site more closely.

Vertical interrogation leaves an individual easily fooled by simple procedures such as using official-looking logos and buying top level domain names. As they put it, “By focusing on features of websites that are easy to manipulate, checklists are not just ineffective but misleading.” (pg 30). Furthermore, the length of these checklists (e.g. CRAAP has 25 questions) make them unfeasible as practical everyday tools for assessing unfamiliar content online.

In contrast lateral reading involves leaving the site to try and find external sources which offer information about it which can be used to assess its credibility. It is a practical strategy rather than a panacea, taught as part of a broader array of lessons about careful evaluation of online material. Teaching this requires reinforcement across the curriculum rather than a one off class taught by a librarian. This necessitates avoiding “mistaking students’ fluency with digital devices for sophistication at judging the information such devices yield” (pg 31). Teachers need training in these techniques, as well as the time and support needed to apply them across the curriculum.

My notes on Facer, K., & Furlong, R. (2001). Beyond the myth of the’cyberkid’: Young people at the margins of the information revolution. Journal of youth studies, 4(4), 451-469.

In this paper from 2011, Facer and Furlong consider how the assumed digital competence of young people has led them to figure much less heavily in concerns about digital inequality. Schemes were emerging to ensure internet access through public terminals and subsidise computers for those who can’t afford them but these were aimed primarily at at an adult population that was underskilled and deprived of access. Even if the term ‘cyber kid’ they analyse may have passed from use, the series of associations expressed within it feel extremely familiar. From pg 452:

Young people, it is popularly assumed, are part of the new ‘digital generation of cyberkids’, ‘children are at the epicenter of the information revolution, ground zero of the digital world’ (Katz, 1996). The ‘cyberkid’ myth derives from diverse sources: in science ction, notably Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, the term ‘cyborg’ was originated to suggest the fusion between human and machine; more recently, commentators have argued that the ‘cyber’ derives from the Greek ‘kubernan’ or navigator, suggesting that the cyborg signi es full human mastery of technology (Oehlert, 2000). The term ‘cyberkid’, rather than cyborg, however, emphasizes the element of youth in the equation and derives from a long-stand- ing association between ‘youth’ and ‘the future’. Young people, like technolo- gies, are constructed within current popular discourse as the natural inheritors of future societies, and young people’s mastery of technologies is read off as inevitable through a process of con ation of these two ‘future trajectories’ (see Sefton-Green (1998) for a further discussion of this association). The cyberkid myth, then, derives both from future visions of technology–human relations and from long-standing discursive constructions of the role of children in society, generating a ‘shorthand’ for the relationship between children and technology. While the term ‘cyberkid’ is used predominantly within academic discourse, the associations between children, mastery of technology and the future in popular discussions of the ‘information revolution’ can be named the ‘cyberkid myth’.

These are reinforced through the contrast between young people’s assumed enthusiasm for computers and old people’s assumed fear. But this is orientated towards compelling adults to learn and engage, with computers otherwise being framed as a threat to young people. To appropriate computing technology easily is seen as a potent means to accumulate cultural capital. But conversely there is a prevalent fear that to appropriate it too readily undermines the quarantine of childhood from adult life, exposing young people to all manner of threats. The spectre of the ‘cyber kid’ is “a double-edged sword, both the promise of the future and a threat to the security of young people” (pg 453). This is reinforced by academics trends preoccupied on the one hand with the confident adoption of digital technology by young people and their creative uses of it, on the other hand forms of addition, compulsion and harm which young people come to through their use of computing technology. This reflects a broader tendency for youth culture to be banished from public consciousness, described on pg 453:

Namely, that youth cultures are rarely represented within wider popular culture, that their emergence into popular consciousness occurs only when their presence ‘erupts’ into visibility through events such as riots, raves, criminality or other challenges to the stability of everyday life, or when the wider culture is undergoing a significant period of transformation and accordingly invests its hopes and aspirations into the promise of future stability, a future heavily dependent on the role of the children now growing up in its midst.

Unfortunately, researchers ask questions which entail “an engagement only with those children who are thought to be spearheading a spectacular information revolution” (pg 453). In this paper, the young people who are actively dissociating and/or struggling with digital technology are brought to the fore, as figures who tend to be rendered invisible in academic research and popular culture due to the trends described above. They describe this tendency in terms of a deficit or essentialist model, relating young people to a grand narrative of the digital revolution and erasing the meaning which digital technology has for them in their lives and the uses to which they seek to put it or don’t.

Defining a lack of access is more complex than it might seem to be. Having equipment at home doesn’t mean children meaningfully have access to it. It says nothing about the conditions in which confidence with technology can be acquired. Furthermore, competition within the family means what access and expertise is available may be unevenly distributed. The project their findings are from is described on pg 455:

The project included a large-scale survey of the computer use of 855 children in southwest England and South Wales in eight schools (all children were aged between 9 and 14 years at the start of the project), and 18 case studies over an 18-month period of children who were using computers on a regular basis at home [….] On the basis of analysis of 855 questionnaire responses, 46 children were asked to participate in group interviews lasting approximately 1 hour in school. Within this sample, children reporting that they ‘disliked’ computers formed 50 per cent of the interviewees (of whom one-half had access to a computer at home); children reporting that they ‘loved’ computers but did not have access at home formed the remaining 50 per cent of the interviewees.

Three themes emerged from the surveys and interviews: “issues of access”, “issues of relevance to day to day activities” and “the potential of formal educational contexts for reproducing anxieties and inequalities of access”. They found that while income was a significant factor in the likelihood of owning a computer, it was far from the sole determinant. The decision to buy a computer reflects a process of prioritisation which reflects a range of concerns of both adults and children, as well as past experiences and familiarity with computers e.g. if the primary focus was on entertaining the children, games consoles could do this more cheaply. Furthermore, those with access at home are more likely to take advantage of access elsewhere (e.g. at friends houses) while those without are less likely to do so.

Their findings were particularly interesting when it came to mismatches between the perceived functions of the computer and children’s own self conception e.g. it was perceived as indoor and sedentary in a way off putting for those who prioritised outdoor pursuits, or as a ‘friendship supplement’ necessary for those who had an active social life. This could even manifest as social sanction, with one girl describing being seen to voluntary use the library computer as ‘social suicide’. Competing discourses mean young people have to negotiate between their own pleasures, acceptable attitudes and adult interventions when it comes to computers.

Unstructured access to computers at lunchtime and in breaks seems to be taken up unevenly, with children who own computers being more likely to use them. This suggests computer access at school may be reflecting and amplifying inequalities, rather than mitigating them. The authors suggest that the ‘cyber kid’ myth may be reinforcing this by leaving teachers assuming that children’s natural enthusiasm will be sufficient to take advantage of unstructured time with the computer. It means those without access will feel excluded from the authoritative culture, those with inadequacies will feel they are not catered for within school and those who feel they are seen as outside the mainstream will construct themselves as such. The authors link these questions to the issue of what it means to be successfully young in an environment where digital technologies are increasingly ubiquitous. From pg 463:

Embedded at the heart of this debate is a debate on what it means to be ‘successfully young’ in the digital age. In exploring how low computer users express their attitudes towards computer use, it becomes clear that these competing constructions of the ‘cyberkid’ become a battleground on which they construct their de nitions of being ‘successfully young’.

This linkage of computing competence and suggests leaves some young people engage in face saving activity, distancing themselves from computing through the deployment of negative stereotypes towards those who are confident and familiar with the technology. This might include appropriate adult discourses of eye strain, internet addiction and social fragmentation to legitimate their distance. If you assume that giving access is sufficient to ensure engagement then you completely obscure the complexity of who is interested, confident, competent and willing to use computers amongst young people.  They stress the importance of the banal in getting to grips with the complex reality of how young people orientate themselves towards technology. From pg 466:

The term ‘banality’ is used here to generate an engagement with the creative, productive, subversive and conformist day-to-day lives of young people, and to pre-empt a reactive and equally deterministic engagement only with young people who are seen to ‘reject’ the dominant values of digital youth cultures

This focus helps move beyond a focus on the creative achievements of early adopters on the one hand and the problems of the struggling and pathological on the other. It raises the question of how to conduct research with those who lack the spectacular aspects of technological use without merely assuming a deficit as a consequence. It also highlights how other modes of access to technologies (e.g. mobile consoles which those who avoided computers were often familiar with) might become important as points of access to the internet which should not be excluded from the classroom. This seems like a remarkably prescient point when read 18 years from publication when mobile phones have become ubiquitous. They argue that “debates on technological solutions to the digital divide need, therefore, to move away from generalizing statements about ‘access to technologies’ and towards more detailed engagement with the patterns of use of specified software environments” (pg 467) with the potential implications of the aforementioned desktop/mobile divide for capacity to produce and engage as well as to consume content being one such example.

CFP – Special issue of Internet Policy Review on

What do digital inclusion and data literacy mean today?

Topic and relevance

As more of our everyday lives become digital, from paying bills, reading news, to contacting companies and services, keeping in touch with your friends and family, and even voting – it has become crucial to include everyone in the online world. But the meaning of digital inclusion keeps on changing and with it also the set of skills that are necessary to be ‘digital’ (Jaeger et al., 2012). What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’ today? Is access to the internet enough, or do people need to understand how the internet works as well? Which kind of training programmes should be developed? Should there be one type of skills and training programme or different ones who cater to people from different backgrounds and needs (ableism, age, education, gender, race, religion)? With the automation of many jobs, how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? These questions have been occupying the private sector and policy makers, and as more tasks become automated and digitalised, addressing them becomes ever more crucial.

Discussions of inequality in the use of digital media and systems have predominantly focused on issues measured by access to the internet and skills such as checking emails, finding information and downloading music (van Dijk and Hacker, 2003, van Dijk, 2005). These topics have been key issues for policymakers (Yates et al., 2014; 2015a; 2015b) and are central to the development of many governmental digital strategies in Europe, the UK, and the USA (Mawson, 2001). Recent academic work on issues of digital inclusion and inequalities has shifted the focused from quantitative indicators and looks at issues of digital skills in relation to the social support networks people receive (Helsper & Van Deursen, 2017). As such research shows, there is strong evidence that the quality of support people have access to is unequally distributed and replicate existing inequalities. Evidence shows that inequalities in access to and use of digital media have measurable impacts on the life chances, health and economic wellbeing of citizens. In other words, it is not only a matter of skills but also the context and communities people live in that influences people’s inclusion in the ‘digital’.

Scope of the special issue

Since the introduction and widespread use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in different decision making processes relating to citizens’ life (health, justice, policing) and onto entertainment (e.g., Netflix and Spotify) and news, research on digital skills has shifted. This is because inequalities now involve more complex issues of how these technologies work and what they can influence and manipulate. In addition, as ‘fake news’ and misinformation have become common practices by various entities, new avenues in the types of digital literacies citizens need have been introduced. These include digital understanding of how the internet works (Doteveryone, 2018), how to engage with online news (e.g., fact checking), how digital advertising / adtech works (ICO, 2019) and how to use different tools to be able to control and manage the type of information shared with other parties. This shift has become central to some governmental digital strategies, such as those of the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (2019) and their equivalents around the globe, in countries such as Brazil, India, and the USA, or the Norwegian Ombudsman (Forbrukerrådet, 2018). After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, governments have realised the power of technology giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, to shape and influence people’s behaviour. Consequently, many aim to regulate and force them to change how they are designed and the way they present information (from content to advertisements).

This special issue draws on over two decades of research, policy, and practice. Over this time digital inequalities, digital inclusion and digital literacies have changed in response to developments in digital technologies and media. Key themes have remained, such as: material and financial access to technological devices and services; skills and digital literacy; effective use by citizens and communities to participate in political and civic discussions and activities; the impact of socio-economic factors; motivation and attitudes; and, more recently socio-economic and socio-cultural variations in patterns of usage. Digital inequalities therefore have become an important part of broader persistent issues of social equity and justice.

Focus of the papers

The primary aim of this special issue is to link up international policy efforts to address contemporary and future digital inequalities, access and skills with the outcomes of research from around the globe. The intention is on sharing best practice and research insights, while acknowledging that these problems are not the same in different parts of the world and so there are no universal solutions. We invite authors to submit papers that cover empirical research as well as policy and practice interventions, such as:

● Data analysis of levels of digital inclusion / exclusion and engagement

● Studies on the link between misinformation and data literacies

● Studies of the impacts of digital exclusion

● Policy interventions

● Case studies of initiatives and programmes

● Case studies of community impact

Special issue editors

Dr Elinor Carmi (<>)

Postdoc Research Associate – Digital Media & Society,
Department of Communication and Media,
Faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences,
School of the Arts, Liverpool University, UK.

Professor Simeon Yates
Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor
Research Environment and Postgraduate Research
Liverpool University, UK.

Important dates

Release of the call for papers April 2019

Deadline for full text submissions / All details on text submissions can be found under 25 August 2019

Comprehensive peer review feedback by October 2019

Deadline for submission of revised papers November 2019

Preparation for publication April 2020

Publication of the special issue May 2020


DCMS (2019). Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report. Available at:

Doteveryone (2018). People, Power and Technology: The 2018 Digital Understanding Report. Available at:

Forbrukerrådet. (2018). Deceived by Design: How tech companies use dark patterns to discourage us from exercising our rights to privacy. Available at: f

GoodThings Foundation (2018). The economic impact of Digital Inclusion in the UK. Available at: pact_of_digital_inclusion_in_the_uk_final_submission_stc_0.pdf

Helsper, E.J. and Van Deursen, A.J. (2017). Do the rich get digitally richer? Quantity and quality of support for digital engagement. Information, Communication & Society, 20(5), pp.700-714.

ICO (2019). Internet users’ experience of online advertising. Available at:

Jaeger, P. T., Bertot, J. C., Thompson, K. M., Katz, S. M., & DeCoster, E. J., 2012. The intersection of public policy and public access: Digital divides, digital literacy, digital inclusion, and public libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 31(1), 1-20.

Mawson, J. (2001) ‘The end of social exclusion? On information technology policy as a key to social inclusion in large European cities’, Regional Studies Journal, 35(9), 861–877.

Van Dijk, J., & Hacker, K. (2003). The digital divide as a complex and dynamic phenomenon. The information society, 19(4), 315-326.

Van Dijk, J. A. (2005). The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. Sage Publications.

Yates, S., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2014). Supporting digital engagement: final report to Sheffield City Council. Supporting Digital Engagement: Final Report to Sheffield City Council.

Yates, S., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2015a). Digital media use: Differences and inequalities in relation to class and age. Sociological Research Online, 20(4), 12.

Yates, S. J., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2015b). ‘Digital-by-default’: reinforcing exclusion through technology. IN DEFENCE OF WELFARE 2, 158.

My notes on Njenga, J. K. (2018). Digital literacy: The quest of an inclusive definition. Reading & Writing, 9(1), 1-7.\

On a view which associates digitalisation with the globalisation of the economy, digital literacy is “synonymous with the ability of individuals to participate in the economy through skills and creativity enabled by the digital technologies” (1). In spite of the many definitions which can be found of digital literacy, Njenga argues that they converge on a focus on “essential competencies of the present-day citizens’ success in today’s highly competitive and globalised market, which often require the performance of basic tasks using technology” (2). It is a competence view of literacy.

However there is good reason to be sceptical of this view: a lack of socio-economic development arising amongst the marginalised from their use of digital technology, the gap between a macro focus on economic indicators & the reality on the ground, the circumscribed character of investigations into digital impact which focus narrowly on field sites and fail to grasp dynamics which unfold beyond and past the field. If we develop these criticisms, Njenga argues we can see a way to a view of digital literacy which is emancipatory, realising the potential benefits of digital technology for marginalised and indigenous communities. Instead we need a contextualised definition of digital literacy, liable to reveal the material inequalities which shape the situational challenges people face as well as the capacity of digital competency to help realise benefits for them within these contexts.

Unfortunately a dichotomy between production and consumption in existing definitions of DL gets in the way of building such an approach. This implicitly valorised production, relegating the rural and the marginalised to the status of mere consumers. If we can retain a sense of the context within which digital activity takes place, we can resit the reduction of digital literacy to mere competency. This helps us recover the critical aspects of learning (problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and self-regulation) and the contextual features (social, economic and cultural) which shape the use of digital technology within particular social contexts. This leaves us with the social model of digital literacy rather than the competency model.

As well as the aforementioned advantages, the social media also helps us recognise the variability in how social and digital factors interact, leaving us with a much more refined empirical picture of the the reality of digital technology use (or its absence). In doing so, we can grasp the uses that are made of a technology ‘on the ground’ which might exceed or trouble the intentions of its designers and those with a material interest in maintaining it. This opens up the question of how uses of digital technology might be empowering or otherwise, defined in the terms of the individuals and groups taking it up.

I found this comparison by Robin Wilton extremely thought-provoking. It’s correct as a statement about why we should treat these skills as fundamental to education. However it glosses over a number of differences and we should be cautious about the comparison:

  1. While there are corporate interests involved in reading, writing and arithmetic they exercise less power in society at large than big tech
  2. Connected to this is the fact that these corporate interests in no way control the infrastructure of reading, writing and arithmetic whereas big tech does, at least in a collective sense
  3. The harms children face in their future use of reading, writing and arithmetic have no connection to the firms who produce instruments for these purposes, as opposed to big tech which is itself a source of the privacy harms it seeks to educate children about