SOCIETY | Feb 6, 2019

Five lessons from the book “Cittadini ai tempi di Internet” (Citizens in the age of Internet)

From the need for education to the promotion of culture. The new book by Alfonso Fuggetta provides a reflection on conscious citizenship in the digital age

The title of the new book by Alfonso Fuggetta, full professor of Computer Science at the Politecnico di Milano and CEO and scientific director of Cefriel, is Citizens in the age of Internet. Almost 200 pages of thoughts on “conscious citizenship in the digital age” and on how to facilitate the process which leads to the growth not so much of digital citizens, but of people capable of consciously living new contexts in which Internet and digital technologies are not just available tools, but a particularly important key component of existence.

There are many pages of the book which you can mark or underline with a pencil to highlight a passage that is an impetus for reflection but, should we wish to synthesize, we could say that these are the 5 lessons that remain carved into the mind once the last page of the book has been closed.

1. We should not talk of digital culture and citizenship, but of culture and citizenship in the digital age

“Digital technology is not simply a powerful and pervasive tool, but it leads to a radical and structural change in the foundations, in the organization and dynamics of our society”. It is precisely because of the complexity inherent in the processes of digital transformation that, according to Fuggetta, it is not possible to simplify it in the sense of trivializing it. “Digital technology is an intrinsic and constitutive element of the culture and citizenship of our times and not simply a sector or a field that is parallel and / or separate from the rest of society”. This is how the context in which people move, live, grow, should be viewed. A context which must take into account the pervasiveness of digital technology, which requires “new models of conflict management and of interest balancing.

2. An essential lever is education (not simply training)

The theme of education re-emerges in every chapter, page, sentence of the book as “only more mature and informed citizens will be able to move in an increasingly complex and articulated world”. Education is also and especially necessary for those so-called digital natives, who are much less mature from a digital perspective than is assumed, and who “need a new educational path which goes well beyond simple training to use an app or the study of technology, because the power and pervasiveness of digital tools and paradigms require a qualitative leap in the level of maturity, skills and general knowledge and in cognitive and behavioral models”. You cannot fall into the trap of confusing ease of use of the interfaces with a conceptual triviality of the tools: “the power and immediacy of the medium require even greater education and sensitivity”.

3. Dexterity is not mastery and training is not learning

How often is education confused with training, particularly in the field of digital technology? How often, even at school, do we hear about lessons concerning a specific software rather than of trying to make students understand the potential of a new tool? The problem of confusing between how knowing how to use a device and actually understanding it, between the speed in doing something and doing something in an efficient and qualitatively satisfying manner, between research and the ability to discover, between communicating and relating to others, is well explained in the book. In the case of digital technology, it is essential to convey the concept that indiscriminately copying and pasting contents is not enough, because, today, much more than yesterday, it is necessary “to study and critically analyze facts, concepts, data”.

4. The learning model is completely different

Companies, and schools and families, need to rethink how people are trained and updated, bearing in mind that this activity represents a social responsibility as well as an investment. People need to learn how to learn. “We study and are educated throughout our whole lives; it is vital that during the established years of study we should ensure that people have learned how to learn; work and organizational models must be designed so that they are themselves an opportunity and a learning tool”. These are the points on which to build innovative models, bearing in mind that the skills which characterize the mature person are: “the ability to research, analyze and study the universe of information; the ability to learn by reflecting on what has been done; the ability to share with others what has been learned”.

5. All the players who operate in our society are responsible for promoting culture in the digital age

The issue of accountability for promoting modern culture in the age of Internet is not particularly debated. This is why the last part of the book dedicates an interesting analysis to the issue, identifying and describing the players and the possible actions that they can implement to develop better citizens. It begins with the elites, to then move on to family, school, politics, business, media, intermediate bodies, such as trade unions and associations. At the base of each reasoning there is intellectual honesty, indispensable also on the Net. “The ability to judge the issues presented to us in a coherent and transparent manner, regardless of time, context and the people who propose these”. A virtue which is difficult to pursue, but which is necessary to develop a mature (digital) citizenship. “To recognize others, even before their ideas; to study, understand, listen, build reasoned positions; to not be afraid of debate; to have the courage to recognize one’s mistakes and to change one’s mind”. All players can contribute to developing honest intellectuals. “We are the State, a community in which we take care of the problems of all, without the handouts or paternalisms of the past, which ensures that everyone has the same starting point, public services worthy of a modern country, opportunities to achieve one’s ambitions and dreams in a responsible manner”.

Sonia Montegiove