Gurak proposes that there is an increasing need for a new kind of literacy, known as cyberliteracy, because there is a huge lack of understanding of how to use Internet technologies and how to live, participate, and take control of them. It is often not thought of because these technologies have become banal parts of our daily lives. A lot of the time we don’t see the changes that these technologies are making because we are living amidst them (16). For example, Christina Haas did some research in an attempt to record this change—“The people she studied indicated that when they used the computer to write, they had a ‘hard time knowing where [they were]’ and often felt disconnected and lost in the screen text” (19). But think about the people of today; is this still a problem? Do we still have a problem knowing where we are? Gurak suggests, “Unless people become familiar with the social, rhetorical, and political features of digital communication, they will be led into cyberspace with only a limited understanding of both the power and the problems of this technology” (11).
So what are the essential things you need to know to be cyberliterate? Gurak says that there are four main components or features of the Internet and similar technologies that you need to know in order to “live, participate, and take control”—speed, reach, anonymity, and interactivity.
Though this technology has grown a lot since Gurak’s book was published in 2001, most of what she says is still relevant today. Speed for example is still the cause of a lot anger created online—what Gurak calls “flaming” (50), the misdirected anger you might experience when a webpage doesn’t load as quickly as it should. Coincidentally, while reading this book I was moving out of my old place of residence, happy to get out because of how awfully slow the Internet was; I wasted a lot of time cursing and banging a fist on the desk while waiting for Facebook to load.
It’s not that hard to figure out what Gurak meant about anonymity (38-43) and interactivity (44-46); anyone who has ever logged into an online chat room—of course you have, you don’t live under a rock, you’ve visited one of the millions of online communities where you interacted with others who didn’t know who you were. But what about reach? In a world where you never know the extent to how much influence the government or other power structures have on the internet, Gurak writes, “The reach of online communication means that traditional gatekeepers—news editors, government censors, parents—probably cannot control information much longer…Countries that place tight restrictions on information, like China, have difficulty dealing with the power of reach. If just one email posting or Web site from a country under siege makes it onto the Internet, it will reach far and wide in just minutes or, at most, hours” (35). This sounds a lot like the restrictions the US government proposed in the SOPA and PIPA bills. Though the internet is subject to being controlled by government agencies, because of the Internet’s reach we get back a lot of the control.