12.0046 review of Glister, Digital Literacy

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 26 May 1998 20:11:29 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 46.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 26 May 1998 13:19:08 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: Gilster, Digital Literacy

> ... from the NETTRAIN list's LISTSERV@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu ...
> %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
> Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 09:54:52 -0400
> From: "Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor" <rslade@sprint.ca>
> >
> "Digital Literacy", Paul Gilster, 1997, 0-471-24952-1,U$12.95/C$18.50
> %A Paul Gilster gilster@mindspring.com
> %C 5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON M9B 6H8
> %D 1997
> %G 0-471-24952-1
> %I Wiley > %O U$12.95/C$18.50 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448
> %P 276 p. > %T "Digital Literacy"
> Having said many unkind things about the hype surrounding the World
> Wide Web, I *do* acknowledge that the Web is useful. Its value,
> however, lies not in graphics or a WIMP (Windows, Icon, Mouse,
> Pointer) interface, but in the invention of the URL: the Uniform
> Resource Locator. Text based dinosaur that I am, I find URLs in mail
> messages to be more useful than almost any approach to the Xanadu of
> hypertext. Utility lies in informational substance and ease of access
> thereto, not in multimedia style.
> As a card carrying propellorhead, therefore, I greatly appreciate
> Gilster's avowed non-technical approach to the net. "The Internet
> Navigator" (cf. BKINTNAV.RVW), despite the efforts of literally
> hundreds of authors, is still the most mature general guide to the
> Internet. "Finding it on the Internet" (cf. BKFNDINT.RVW) stands
> alone after all this time as the only solid answer to the second
> question every net novice asks. Now, in this present work, Gilster
> once again draws back the unnoticed curtain behind the smoke and noise
> to reveal that which we truly need to make the Internet work: critical
> analysis. (I should note that it is not quite present: this is a
> reissue, for some reason, of a book I somehow missed two years ago.
> In responding to the draft of this review, Gilster has said that he
> would have made some additions if he had been given the opportunity.)
> The first chapter introduces digital literacy as a new skill made
> necessary by a new type of information utility: the computer, and more
> particularly the computer network. The text briefly looks at the
> changes in style and even substance of data in the new medium, and at
> those who use, do not use, praise, and decry the net. Yet this is
> mere introduction, for all that it covers the total contents of most
> "information superhighway" books. Chapter two develops a definition
> of this new literacy. Drawing upon the historical changes from speech
> to phonetic writing, from scrolls to codex, and from hand copying to
> moveable type, Gilster demonstrates that it is the interaction with
> content that changes. And, whereas in the immediately previous media
> information could not be questioned, on the net, information not only
> can be critiqued, but must be. Chapter three seems to be somewhat of
> a digression as Gilster describes a day using the Internet. It does,
> however, give a quick and realistic picture of what information use on
> the net is like in reality right now. In one sense, though, it does a
> minor disservice to the book. All of the information Gilster obtains
> is deemed to be trustworthy. There is little mention of spam and
> other junk, nor of the ubiquitous "404" indicator of abandoned sites
> on the Web, nor of the assessment, in terms of a Usenet news posting,
> of whether this shrill electronic cry is a vital warning or an ill-
> tempered complaint. While some evaluation is done, the critical
> analysis promoted in the first two chapters is missing.
> Chapter four, however, takes up the slack. Most of the details here;
> and the chapter is very detailed; are concerned with determining the
> identity, background, and credentials of providers of content on the
> net. Even when all the information is available on the Internet,
> chapter five notes that perception can be distorted by presentation.
> Web pages linked to supporting materials lend credibility to proposals
> that may very well be built on thin air, or at least badly lopsided
> foundations.
> Chapter six is an examination of the various models of libraries,
> traditional, online commercial, and Internet, that are developing in
> the current environment. Ultimately Gilster proposes a design that
> may not be fully supported by either the installed base of technology
> nor social will, but the discussion is a definite wakeup call for many
> information providers. But it is chapter seven that demonstrates the
> real strength of the net: the multiplicity of voices that can be
> accessed in any situation. This strength carries the inevitable
> downside and caveat: the reader/user is fully responsible for pursuing
> and judging the data. The price of being informed is eternal
> searching.
> As a singular book on a vital topic, this work is not written to the
> excellent standard of "Finding it on the Internet." A number of
> resources for analysis and information gathering are either missed, or
> mentioned only briefly. Time, of course, is one of the most
> important. Contrary to popular impression, the Internet is not
> necessarily a source of instant or ready answers. Development of
> resources is indispensable. While note was made of the need for
> search engines to check material presented on Web pages, the DejaNews
> and Rendezvous sites are useful as search engines on another matter:
> the determination of the history, interests, expertise, and biases of
> individuals. Mailing list archives can be another source of similar
> information. The last, best resource any seasoned netizen has is a
> circle of acquaintances; personal contacts with a range of experts in
> a variety of fields that would astound the literati of any pre-digital
> age.
> Gilster's look to the future, in chapter eight, is disappointing in
> light of the insightful work that preceded it. While fair and
> balanced, avoiding both the rose coloured digital crystal ball and the
> mechanized cyberpunk dystopia, this final piece in the book does not
> travel much beyond a generally informed look at short range futures in
> technology. Still, while the tag end does not provide you with any
> last minute advice or guidance, the book overall gives much useful
> advice on developing the new literacy of the digitally networked age.
> copyright Robert M. Slade, 1998 BKDGTLIT.RVW 980322
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

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