We have all heard the buzz: How the Internet has changed the world; how social networks are allowing young people to voice their aspirations and organize to bring real changes on the ground; and how the developing world is awash in mobile phones and hyper-connected youngsters.
Yes, many possibilities have opened up, even in remote parts of the world, because of the Internet. Recently I was in the mountain town of Phaplu, forced to stay way longer than expected, due to weather related airline delays. Yet the (albeit terribly slow) Internet connection ensured I could be somewhat productive.
But I had never paused to think about the value of my ability to harness the Internet, or the process by which I had acquired it, until I saw my friend having difficulties with that process. She is navigating applications to the United States for a higher education degree. She is more privileged than most, graduating from a prestigious medical school in Nepal, and having constant access to the Internet at home.
Yet, until her graduate school application process, she had never used the Internet as a resource that could help further her education or career. For her, it was a way to connect with friends and relatives on Facebook (nothing wrong with that) and a place to watch funny videos, or play games.
I realized that many in Nepal look for study-abroad opportunities through higher education consultancies that charge hefty fees, in part because they are unaware that this information is available on those universities’ websites, for FREE.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that learning how to use the Internet as a resource was almost like learning a language -- it required immersion. I acquired this skill through my research assignments, where I was expected to mine the Internet; from the various links sent to me by my very resourceful friends and colleagues; from a gradual discovery of things such as news feeds and advanced search, and from the familiarity that makes me recognize subtle cues that help me see whether a site is credible.
It has been an exceedingly valuable skill for me to have. So, I am interested in hearing from you. Since you read the Youthink! Blog, you are probably already using the Internet to educate yourself, find new opportunities, and connect with others who care about similar issues.
Do you think knowing how to navigate the Internet is a worthwhile skill to have? How do you think you acquired it? Do you see other young people around you using the Internet in similar ways? Do you think harnessing the power of the Internet is a skill that can be taught and learned?