I imagine myself opening up a browser window. Everything has a dull, grayish tinge about it. Even my confused expression seems dull. I stare at the screen and wonder aloud to no one in particular, “Where’s the context?”
I have three email accounts and two blogs, as well as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Pinterest. I subscribe to countless listservs and discussion groups mostly relating to my professional interests and follow a handful of other blogs, some out of a sense of obligation to friends. I know I have access to the cloud, but I’m not sure how or why, it’s just sort of there. I can sync iTunes from my laptop with my cell phone and my iPad, but rarely do aside from a few beloved podcasts for my ride to work. I cut the cord to cable before it became trendy and rely on my Roku to watch programs through Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime. I have an antenna to pick up signals for the basic channels, but the only live TV I watch is the news and even with that there’s typically a lot of interference…from the children.
It’s a highly personalized media world. We can select what we want, how much and when we retrieve it. No one is creating the context and handing it to us, which is both liberating and troubling. It’s liberating to tailor information to meet individual interests and needs. However, more freedom doesn’t always lead to better choices, but it does mean more responsibility. We have to create our own context and that’s not an innate skill. When today’s adults were kids, a certain level of trust was included with the book that was picked off the shelf in the library. The same level of trust does not apply to the Internet and so today’s children have more to learn about the massive amount of data pouring out of their computers. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family, frenemies and exes appear all together on our social media pages. As soon as one context has been established, it shifts to become something totally different. It can be overwhelming quite frankly.
So, the societal issue is youth are growing up with less built-in context and adults need to teach them the skills to create it. Information and media literacy skills, inquiry-based learning; these terms are hyped up in education today for good reason. Libraries and librarians are critical to delivering these skills.
We can be masters of our own information universe, but, like anything in life, to become a true master one must first employ hard work and practice.