In June 2013 an innovative idea was born at the Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE). For years TIE has been funding cutting edge research and actively supports the advancement of environmental science. However the infamous gap between theory and practice has blocked research results from reaching wider audiences and creating impact beyond the academic bubble.
In the era of social media the evolution of communication is evident and surely creates numerous opportunities for existing practices to be enhanced. Such practice that needs to change is academic research. What if the findings of academic research could be translated in simple language for wider audiences to comprehend? With the goal to leverage the awareness of environmental sustainability issues, the idea to communicate research through social media storytelling was born!
Another July evening in Switzerland…and though I should have been out enjoying the summer day by the lakes in St. Gallen, was in my apartment trying to accept it was 11 degrees of Celsius and rainy. Not much to do besides working on my participatory media research through Facebook, which admittedly can be a great source of entertainment!
Apparently, among others, Facebook had just launched a new notification feature about your friends marital status on the news feed column right on top of the birthday alerts.
While browsing the recent posts, I realized that one of my friends wrote on the wall of a newly wed girl and wished her for her birthday; which were in December. I was confused for a good 30 seconds and then it hit me: he did not interpret the little heart as a marriage indication but simplified it as a birthday reminder. Him being a good friend of mine, I felt I had to save his “Internet dignity” thus I sent him a PM saying that he should not wish happy birthday to a newly wed! Confident in his Facebook literacy, he confronted me saying: “Why do you say this? Is it unacceptable to wish happy birthday to a married woman? I thought you were more progressive than that!”
Few messages later, the confusion was resolved and the outdated post was immediately deleted.
Apparently, the digital divide is not only a matter between people in developing and developed countries or between digital immigrants and natives. The digital divide is evident even across people with the same demographics. Social Media competence and keeping up with the new Internet features is not everyones strongest skill, especially when taking into consideration the constant technological developments. Technological changes make the social media world more interesting but also more challenging to keep up with.
This entertaining example brings to light the true problems citizens face when it comes to on line participation initiatives or even when they just try to manage their own presence on line. Having access to the Internet does not mean that people have the knowledge to use the Internet applications properly or even if they do, they might lack the time to keep up with the software updates of existing applications already in use.
These technological changes should be addressed and approached on a governmental level as Internet literacy is key to citizen empowerment.