Predictors of digital fluency
R. Michelle Green, Northwestern University, United States
Northwestern University . Awarded
Digital fluency (the ability to think critically about and productively use Information Technology [IT]) can improve personal and professional outcomes. This analysis studied socio-emotional correlates of digital fluency. Perhaps the analysis of personality and identity could augment understanding of why black Americans tend to lag white Americans in using technology. In Study One, 314 adults ages 21–82 completed personality assessment tools and a questionnaire on computer knowledge, attitudes and behavior. With self-reports of IT skill as the dependent variable, younger age, greater education, openness, extraversion, positive constructions of the earliest technology experience, and belief in the flexibility of one's computer skill predicted digital fluency in a sample diverse in race and age. Unexpectedly, race did not predict fluency after controlling for age and education. Nonetheless, only in the black sample did significant negative personality correlates appear. Personality's influence on digital fluency grew stronger across progressively older age cohorts. Where Study One measured fluency, Study Two examined fluency's development using the life stories of ten IT novices and ten IT adepts from Study One. Participants' narratives were analyzed seeking their constructions of enablers and inhibitors to the development of IT skill over the life course. Novices often suffered from discontinuities in education, limiting the development of the learning identities that support digital fluency. Miscommunication, misunderstandings, and minimal contact between novices and adepts also undermined opportunities for novice learning. The scaffolds to fluency that novices and adepts constructed tended to be race-neutral (i.e., learning identities, early exposure to technology). Black participants constructed some hindrances to IT learning as race-salient (i.e., ‘ghetto’ culture, limited personal or economic resources). Such influences (“racial aerodynamic drag”) could slow the adoption of technology in Blacks without affecting the process in Whites. Non-users often held beliefs about themselves (unlucky, incapable) or about computers (mysterious, too complex) that hindered their development of digital fluency. Motivations to use IT appear to constitute a developmental path beginning with extrinsic motivators like Duty and Need, morphing into an intrinsic/extrinsic mix in Diversion and Entertainment, and culminating in purely intrinsic motivations like Cachet, or membership in a technological Culture.
Green, R.M. Predictors of digital fluency. Ph.D. thesis, Northwestern University.
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