Global Digital Citizenship: Responsible and Remembered

Global Digital Citizenship: Responsible and Remembered

November 24, 2017

Global electronic news media has been overwhelmed in recent weeks with accusations of offensive, even criminal behavior against high-profile figures going back decades. The public outcry over the alleged behavior of these celebrities was largely generated by victims sharing their stories on social media in the first instance, but they quickly spread to every corner of the globe. It reminds us that those with something to hide may seek to bury their past sins, but the Internet is something of a remorseless adversary: the past will live on in virtual form, without a statute of limitations. This phenomenon does shine a very bright light on an important fact of life for 21st century citizens: true anonymity is becoming a very rare commodity.

In a world of almost unfettered access to information, largely unfiltered, it is hard to escape the feeling that we live in a transparent ‗fishbowl‘. Our words and actions are not only open to scrutiny by those present at the time of any event in our lives, they are also available to future scrutiny and judgement in the court of public opinion, for as long as the Internet remembers us. We may be vindicated or condemned by our Tweets, Instagrams, Whatsapp comments, or Facebook posts, but we cannot wish them away. Our ‗fishbowl‘ has an extraordinarily long memory.

There is pressure from all quarters of the community to incorporate the tools of the digital age into education – this is an entirely appropriate demand and schools are working hard to incorporate appropriate digital tools into the classroom. The challenge for everyone – parents, teachers, and particularly children – is the urgent need to create awareness of the risks posed by this amazing capacity to access almost limitless information and arm the young with the means to protect themselves, often from themselves. In the fishbowl, there is nowhere to hide. We must educate the most vulnerable members of our community to inoculate themselves from the worst excesses of this permanent and public electronic record of the excesses of youth: the fossilized reminders to anyone and everyone of their inexperience, youthful exuberance, misjudgments, experiments, errors; the echoes of an earlier, less wise version of themselves, captured forever in images and words.

This is an enormous challenge. We know that the virtual landscape inhabited by our children sustains them socially, providing advice, affirmation, even affection. We also know that this virtual landscape is hazardous: it exposes the naïve to the worst of the adult world, disturbs sleep patterns, creates anxieties, undermines self-esteem, and even facilitates anti-social behaviors, such as bullying. Of course, all of these vices also leave their own digital trail: the digital world, by nature, remembers and records where we have been.

It is an important educational task that lies before us, one to be undertaken in the classrooms and dining rooms of our community. When we open up access to the digital world, by whatever means, we are effectively conferring digital citizenship on those with access. We must help our children understand what global digital citizenship means. It certainly comes with expectations of responsible usage and behavior, but we can also anticipate mistakes along the way. It also exposes the digital citizen, ready or not, to the almost unlimited capacity for the future to recall the past. In the digital fishbowl, we must try to be responsible, but what we do will always be remembered.


Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School

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