First Monday

Hoax E-mails and Bonsai Kittens: Are You E-literate in the Docuverse? by Angela Lewis

Hoax E-mails and Bonsai Kittens: Are You E-literate in the Docuverse? [ 1] by Angela Lewis
As a society we are still to a large degree on that first wave of enchantment and wonder with what the information superhighway has to offer us - instant communication with loved ones and colleagues - either next door, at the next desk or on another continent - beautifully word processed reports, elegant spreadsheets and shopping at midnight in Paris or reading the latest dissertation on Iranian politics.

Our social mantra is very much 'is Internet, is good', and our logic is often placed around a misguided belief that if the information was found on the 'Net, then it must be good'.

This paper discusses the importance of not only having the skills of computer literacy, that is defined as being able to use computers and software to navigate the Internet, but also the importance of information literacy, defined as the skill of being critically literate.


Stop the Modem - I want to get off
Send in the Kids
Surf's Up ... But where is that wave heading?
So ... to click, or not to click
Summary ... File Exit





Last Sunday afternoon I caught myself 'speaking in a raised voice' to my young son over the fact that I never see him use a book for research; his first port of call is the Internet. "Didn't the school encourage him to use printed media for research?" I harangued. Why did he take the easy way out and use the Internet, what was wrong with going to the library? He just rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was from another planet.

The arrival of a plea to save kittens that were being bred in glass jars into my e-mail inbox, combined with worrying about my son's unquestioning acceptance of the 'is Internet, is good' mantra, led me to think further about the concept of being information literate and the attendant issue of the critical examination of information we locate on the Internet.

In all fairness it is not just my young son who accepts anything that emanates from cyberspace as being right and true. Think about how many hoax and crank e-mails come through your e-mail inbox. The people that send them on to us truly believe they are performing a social duty; warning others of the dire consequences that await Babu the elephant if we don't send this email to six of our nearest and dearest, or the damage that will be done to our computers if we don't delete a file off our computers [ 2].

A site where people can supposedly purchase or make their own 'Bonsai Kittens' is a good example of the large scale belief in a completely impossible situation, but one which ensured enough community outrage over a hoax site to make the ISP hosting it pull it off the Internet for a period of time. It was designed precisely to evoke discomfort and indignation, and evidently did its job well; it can still be seen at [ 3].



Stop the Modem - I want to get off

The pace of change combined with the flow of information has never been faster; for some, this has even induced states of 'cyber-overload' or 'cyber-exhaustion' (Lewis, 2001) characterized by individuals feeling like they are on some type of never-ending quest for just the right bit of information. The quest is more like sifting through buckets of sand, as we poke around all the documents floating around on the World Wide Web, or feel constantly harassed by the demands of unrelenting cyber-communication such as e-mail. The Internet has simultaneously made it easier to access information, yet more complicated, by virtue of having to apply critical judgment to such a large volume. Kegan (back in 1994 when the Internet was not yet in our digital backyard) described it as being 'over our heads' as we try to find balance in our life domains, which include other aspects such as pressures of a competitive workplace, upkeep of skills, and educating children.

The state of cyber-overload is referenced by the idea of an 'attention economy' (Lanham, 1993; Gilster, 1997; Drucker, 1993). Put simply this is a concern that information is no longer scarce, and that there is in fact an over-supply of it and what is actually scarce is the human attention required to make sense of the now freely available information. Lanham refers to this as grappling with a 'data tsunami' and Shenk (1998) calls it 'data smog'. Ð Regardless of its label, it is basically access to too much information and the vexing issue of dealing with it.

As economics can be affected by workers having to work in a data smog, corporations are already recognising this problem and have moved quickly by utilising new software, such as products available from Microsoft. Microsoft's product allows an organisation to design a portal akin to an intranet, which changes 'its face' according to the user. This effect screens the user from superfluous information and saves him from having to sift through information which has no direct relevance.

I am currently involved with a global organisation in a large implementation project that involves the integration of one of these portals. Corporations have readily understood the 'info glut' concept and have moved with alacrity in choosing to present each user in the organisation with a desktop/interface which gives them information, announcements, and news releases pertinent to their work unit, hierarchy in the organization and 'need to know' status. The purpose of this internal change is driven by economic imperatives, but does point to the corporation's recognition that people have become or are becoming bored, disinterested consumers of over-information, and the organisation has identified where this can affect their bottom line.

Thus, organisations understand and have identified that the commodity of human attention becomes scarce in the face of endless information. However unlike Goldhaber (1997), who argues that the only way to get that fully-fledged attention is to provide 'endless originality' or at least attempt to do so, corporations will take precisely the opposite approach. They will not provide a smorgasbord of information to get lost in, but 'bread-and-butter', timely, exact and appropriate information targeted at workers, so that they get what they need know, at the time they need it. The commonly term used for this screen top is 'the manager's work bench', based on the philosophy of having the appropriate tools ready metaphorically.

While it is not the purpose of this paper to discuss the 'big brother' aspect of putting the blinkers on what is available, it makes me a little uneasy that this type of solution - which can very easily be seen as a form of social control or enforced consumption - can be offered and so easily accepted by users as a positive and helpful move in dealing with information.

Perhaps being protected from the tidal waves of information is what we seek as a society. After all, the digitized age is a new economic and cultural experience for generations not born into it. Hall and Jacques (1996) use the term 'New Times' to refer to the gamut of social, political and cultural changes that are sweeping the world, and also says that probably the strongest, most discomforting changes are those associated with the new information technologies - computers, the Internet, multimedia, etc. Castells (1996), when speaking about our new 'networked society', says that to most people this social order is more of a 'meta-social disorder', in that the network is so large, uncontrollable and unseen, operating as it does in the large 'out there' of cyberspace. Others such as Gee, Hull and Lankshear (1996) and Gee et al. (1997) speak about these changes as 'Discourse'. In business, we find a pronounced trend away from material production toward information processing activities, a trade in data, words, oral and visual representations, of dealing with information as a tool of economy and trade.

Call it what you may, it is an aspect of life I see daily in my work, the worry and anxiety that dealing with these new technologies in new work structures can cause adults in the workplace. Johnson-Eilola (1997), writing about the fear, uneasiness or shock we can experience in making a transition to being computer literate, characterises it in this way:

"Many adults are terrified of this place; many children live there happily. Those of us raised in the modernist first world tend to deride the second, postmodernist world as superficial, artificial, and dehumanizing (Bloom 1987; Heim 1987; Hairston 1992). We have lived through the shift, and are unfamiliar and uneasy (at best) with what we experience. Surface seems shallow, easy, hollow, flashy. History offers a sense of depth (we think, without irony), of genealogy and belongingness, of seriousness. Understandably, we attempt to teach our children to value history over the easy seductions of space."

In my experience as an IT Educator, the majority of people I deal with are only concerned with technical literacy and not content literacy. It is as though by jumping this major hurdle from being computer illiterate to seeing themselves as a computer user somehow puts blinkers on us Ð we become part of the 'club', we know the secret handshake that will let us find where in the world we can locate the best price on a Fendi handbag, or read about the latest in Iranian politics. We tend not to question anything too closely, perhaps because we are just so relieved to be part of this new community of computer users. There we are, just jogging along, waving to our fellow travelers using the information superhighway, knowing just enough to get by. Indeed why would we question anything we find, when it was so damn hard to get a toe-hold in the cyber-world to begin with?

There are also concerns from others (see, for example, Lankshear and Knobel, 1998; Snyder, 1997), who extend this dilemma of assessing information on the Internet to students and academics, who whilst not being 'cyber newbies' still have to make sense of and choices out of, the plethora of published Internet information.

What suffers most, in our rush to click the next link as we lurch around cyberspace, is the ability to foster the skill of information or content literacy. Most of us are familiar with the concept of literacy as it applies to reading and writing and it is generally accepted that being literate means being able to decipher the written word and compose written work. However there is a new skill that is fast becoming a mandatory requirement for everyone, known variously as e-literacy, Hyper-literacy, or information or cyber-literacy. This skill requires a person to be both information literate and computer literate. Computer literacy can be defined as being able to operate programs on the computer as well as being familiar with the use of computer hardware, such as the computer itself, printer, and modem. Cynthia Selfe (1999) terms this 'screen literacy'. For the definition of Information literacy I prefer Bundy's (1998) definition: "... to locate, evaluate, manage and use information in a range of contexts".

In fact the 1992 Mayer Report on key competencies for Australians - a report written as a type of 'blueprint' for a 'clever Australia' - lists as the number one key competency ... "the capacity to locate information, sift and sort information in order to select what is required and present it in a useful way and evaluate the information itself and the sources and methods used to obtain it". This still remains true, I believe, in the digital or electronic environment. However the challenge is in decoding and understanding the additional unwritten media (visual, oral, and symbolic) as well as the written text and the agendas behind them. To be information literate in an electronic environment, i.e. e-literate, then means to read, write and interpret texts of a wide genre, i.e. words, sounds, pictures, symbols, iconic representations, video symbols, in a cyber or electronic environment, i.e. the Internet.



Send in the Kids

Interestingly, in almost direct opposition to the adult outlook towards computer use, you would rarely find that children are happy, grateful or in awe of the state of being a multimedia user, they just use the medium. This is a generation who could handle the buttons on a Nintendo control before they could manipulate a knife and fork. In fact their attitude could be construed as being too cavalier, because their first introduction to computers was/is almost always via games of some description, the entire World Wide Web is, or can be, their big playground [ 4]. They skim, they jump, they click, they scroll - when it doesn't excite them, they move on, surfing that next page, link or Web site. Burbles and Callister (1996) say that having a 'game like' orientation to using the Internet leaves users open to developing a 'trivialising attitude' to what is encountered and speaks about the attendant danger of reducing the ability of users to concentrate on less stimulating information They also maintain that having this game-like outlook to Internet use (typical of children, teens and young adults) can mean that the user's approach to the information is uncritical (except perhaps being critical of it not being 'interesting', colourful or musical enough), which by default also involves an uncritical approach to utilising the hyperlinks presented [5].

In relation to Burbles and Callister's concerns with 'jump here, click there' use of the Internet, there is an interesting online essay by a New York DJ, Adario Strange (2002), who manages to draw a connection between music sampling (where the DJ plays bits and pieces of music, talking and sound all interspersed) and social nihilism, which draws many parallels to the concept of 'sampling' links and Web sites.

So on one hand we have some of the adult population seeing the Internet still as some type of marvel, gift or ogre and children/teens simply accepting it as one of life's tools. Either approach has inherent problems but basically it is the same problem - one that revolves around a lack of critical appraisal and both generations do seem to share the assumption that because this information is 'published' it must be OK.

The Internet is a mass of information (that is the nature of the beast) - statistics, stories, pictures, research, and unfortunately, myths and lies. Everything is given 'equal billing', there is no five-star rating system that tells us that information on Web site A is of more value or credence than Web site B. It is up to us as the consumers of information to reflect and assess what is right and true ... to develop 'information literacy' [ 6].

The reason I found myself uncomfortable with my son indiscriminately gathering information from the cyber-world was precisely because of its 'free for all' nature, with murky boundaries and unclear associations. It is a medium which allows anyone to publish their point of view, with no caveats on the veracity of the information, nor its agenda. True, one could say that anyone can publish a book, but it is a far more rigid process that requires auditing of information and has a better chance of ensuring the information will have some reliability. Compare this to posting information on the Web. It is an easy process that allows anyone, anywhere in the world to anoint themselves as an 'expert' in any given field and to present information with any chosen agenda and with cleverly located hyperlinks lead the user where they will ... somewhat like electronic breadcrumbs, except these are pixels. Hyperlinks operate in a 'rhizomatic' (Deleuze and Guatarri, 1983) fashion, which is essentially an environment that has no beginning, no end, no middle - it just 'is' - sort of like the root system of the common garden mint herb, you pull it out in one section of the garden, but the rest of the plant continues to grow unimpeded [ 7]. Depending on who you talk to, this rhizomatic aspect is both its salvation and damnation.

I also find that there is a tendency for some people - and children in particular - to view any information coming from the computer as having an intrinsic worth above other sources (e.g. books) specifically because it is online, and therefore somehow more current or valuable. The point that we shouldn't forget is that not 'everything' is online. There are organisations, businesses and written works that exist outside of the cyber-world, because that is the way people have chosen [ 8]. Lester Faigley (1999) makes the point that while we as a society see pornography as the great risk to children on the Internet, the threat of misinformation should be viewed as a far greater or equal risk.

Marshall (1996) sees a confusion of knowledge with information as a prime miscreant in this argument, and that our continuing societal requirement with knowing 'how' (information) as opposed to knowing that something is in fact the case (knowledge), has led us to confuse the two and be comfortable with it. Or perhaps in our attention economy, we don't have time to work out which is which and the delineation between the two is not seen as being so relevant anymore. Lankshear (1999) says that when reframing an epistemology for education in the current age, that "... the primary concern of professionally-oriented students, the state and education institutions will be whether the learning or information is of any use", in the sense of what is it worth, is commodafiable/saleable, not whether it is true.

I would also add that compounding the problem is a concept I call 'authenticity by association'. This is a representation on a Web site by one individual/organisation that it either belongs to, is part of or is endorsed by, another external source. This can be done by hyper-linking directly to another site, having logos to another business with imbedded links, deep links which take the user into the body of an external Web site or framing, which is the process of framing an external site's information in the user's own frame (i.e. surrounded by your own logo and realted graphics). So for example, I might be a questionable operator, but have links to stalwarts in the computing industry on my site, (which is still legally acceptable depending on how I do it), and by the subliminal message of portraying myself as belonging to the larger more prestigious organisation, I am authenticating myself on the credentials of others [ 9].

Many academics (for example Kerka, 2000; Peters and Lankshear, 1996; Knobel and Lankshear, 1998) say that the time has come for us to develop a 'critical literacy' in electronic environments. It will require us to question Internet media with these sorts of queries: How good is the information, can I trust it? What agenda is being served by the originators of the information? How does the text position the reader? What value systems does the information espouse? Who is in the text and who is written out of it? Who is communicating and why? Who would find this information offensive? What type of readers would find this text acceptable? What sort of value and belief systems would they espouse?

A pro-digital reading argument might be that the Internet and electronic information changes the way we assimilate information, in that it is a way of reading text that is dominated by the reader, who utilises hypertext to jump from one piece of textual material to another, and by taking this path the reader encounters the text in a way that allows them to construct a 'version' of the text (i.e. the reader can almost become the writer). However the critically-literate hyper-reader should be asking why am I being led or invited down this path and not another? A thoughtful hyper-reader also recognises and accepts the answer to this question: 'who put the hypertexts into the documents in the first place?' While we may think we are creating our own information, we are merely being led in a direction (hyper-textually) that the author intended.

The upbeat, positive side of the hyperlinks argument may well be that hyperlinks challenge us to abandon conceptual systems based on the idea of centre, margin, and linearity and invites us to consider instead connectedness, decenteredness, and multi-linearity [ 10]. This may be seen as the birth of Roland Barthes' (1974) dream of the 'writerly' text where the goal is to make the reader the writer of the text. But this in itself can be problematic for generations that have grown up with the safety and orderliness of the linear arrangement of print media. It may well become the 'raison d'être' for the current generation who are more comfortable with the concept of making their own interests the 'defacto organising principle' that Landow (1992) speaks of when describing the fluidity of hyperlink reading.



Surf's Up ... But where is that wave heading?

Alan Bundy (1998) examines the role of libraries and librarians in relation to information literacy in these words: "there are two certainties about the 21st century - change will be constant and it will be a century of data and information abundance". To use the 'surfing' analogy so popular on the Internet, perhaps before we drown in a sea of data we have to start being discriminating about which wave we catch. Or to use Lester Faigley's (1999) analogy, "finding information on the Internet is like drinking from a fire-hose". With that simile in mind maybe we should start taking small sips and evaluating the information like a good wine, rather than gulping madly at what is being blasted at us.

We cannot assume that just because we found some information on the Internet, that it somehow makes it automatically real, right or a sound source of knowledge. Web sites are designed to sell a message to us as potential consumers of a point of view, a product or a concept - it is more a marketing than an information age in that respect. And in a virtual environment that is attractive and fun to use, we probably have to be a little more discriminating than usual when researching information because of its 'visual packaging'.

In the 1980's when I did my Graduate Diploma in Information Technology, there was an emphasis on teaching children the mechanics of programming, using programs such as Logo, which taught a student to issue programming commands to move a virtual turtle around. This type of approach is no longer in fashion; like Sherry Turkle (1997), most educators see the computer in terms of an appliance or tool and the more pressing issue is that of teaching students how to use computer applications so they can have a mastery of what is required in the workplace. However some academics are still (20 years later) suggesting a Logo-like approach to teaching would be of benefit in the virtual world. This tactic encourages students to learn the mechanics of making Web pages and Web authoring as a means to critically understanding links and reading on the Internet.

While as an IT trainer I find this a good suggestion, as an individual I find it a completely ridiculous notion. Marketing, selling, demographics, psychology - a plethora of skills go into the design of Web pages. There is no research - yet - that shows that being able to author a Web site is going to make you a more critical judge of information. It's like saying you couldn't possibly shop for a medical doctor unless you did two years of biology, or that you can't buy a new car unless you have passed a basic mechanics course. It is possible - though unproven - that if we have a rudimentary understanding about issues like meta-links on a Web page, then we comprehend a little of our use of the Internet. Burbles and Callister (1996) also supports this stance that we all cannot be Web designers in order to understand hypertext and the Internet. Most readers will be "browsers" or at most "users".



So ... to click, or not to click

It is as equally acceptable to be a 'techno-basher' or Luddite as it is to be a 'Lunatech' (a proponent of all that emanates from technology and the cyber-world) - obviously for different and opposing reasons. In an article called "Cyber Democracy", Mark Poster (1995) alludes to this, when speaking of the difficulty in having the either/or left/right position in relation to liberation, equality and freedom for all on the Internet. There appear to be few that fall into the middle of the for and against argument when it relates to information technology.

My position is that there is no point criticising the Internet and everything related to it - hypertext, online reading, learning, living and romancing in a cyberspace - wishing it would go away. Many - and as I speak, millions in offices and schools are going about their business utilising electronic tools to create documents, do searches, and reply to e-mails - have invested heavily into the vision of a cyber-dominated future, of e-commerce and e-learning. The arguments of those 'anti-technology' are a teensy bit too late; that baby has well gone out with the bathwater. What we all need to do is think about how to best deal with this plethora of information. This state positions us somewhere between Birkerts' (1994) cyber-cynicism, Poster's (1995) musing on the potential of the Internet degenerating into some type of 'gigantic virtual theme park', Stoll's (1994) 'silicon snake-oil' and the proponents of the digital age, such as Rheingold (1993), Negroponte (1995) and Landow (1992), who respectively speak glowingly of a global village, an agora for the world, and information for all. The proponents not only see hypertext as challenging us to write documents where we share agency with the reader, but also an opportunity for writers to diffuse the authorial power that has traditionally been assumed in print culture. Well, that last one is going to happen, because power is power, and nobody likes giving it away, hyper-textually or not.

What I personally find troubling in my readings on this subject, is that even those who take a conservative view towards the potential of the Internet for learning appear on some level beguiled by the 'hype' of hypertext (specifically linked blocks of text). They believe in the promise of hypertext being some type of yellow brick road to the rainbow of educational riches. They view hyperlinks as being able to provide the opportunity for the 'student to become the author/teacher', for the student to become an independent thinker. I am thinking, for example, of Ilana Snyder (1997), who while taking the cautionary stance, goes so far as to say that "... hypertext enables students to assimilate large bodies of information while simultaneously developing those analytic habits they need for thinking critically about information". Where does this fact come from? Is it indeed a fact? How does Snyder know this to be the case? My experience with both adults and children - while not empirically based - tells me exactly the opposite. They click and move on; a hyperlink in a document is an invitation to keep moving - and fast - there might be something else more interesting on another page. Indeed research done in the past few years (see shows that the average user in Australia spends 58 seconds viewing an Internet page (a page not being a page as we know it, an online page can take up more than a screen of information). On a global basis a user averages 47 seconds scanning/viewing/reading (call it what you will) per Web page, before moving on [11].



Summary ... File Exit

So, let's not forget what we are dealing with. It is, after all, the Internet - a heady mixture of commerce, education, infotainment, tricksters, agendas, games and entertainment. Enter at your own risk, reflect, think and pay attention, without suspending belief once you have logged on. For those of us who are educators (in IT or not - let's face it any educator is dealing with cyber-information to some degree), probably the best we can hope for is to help others know enough about the system to find what they are looking for and to understand that not only might they have not found all there is to know, but to realise what they are looking at might be information, or at worst mis-information, not necessarily knowledge. Sometimes information is all we want, but we have to know the difference. We need to become literate "readers" of a new medium, without the burden of checking every link and Web site.

We managed as a society to get the hang of libraries and treat them as facts of life. The time is coming to think in a similar fashion about the hyperlinks on the Internet - and the younger generation already do, despite their quick clicking. In essence it is a simple premise. As Sherry Turkle (1997) noted, we came to written text with centuries-long habits of readership that began with traditional questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how. Hopefully we ask/asked of the printed media questions such as who wrote these words, what is their message, why were they written, how are they situated in time and place, politically and socially? We simply need to carry these thought processes across to a different medium, rather than suspending critical examination when we type in a password. The goal should be to develop habits of readership appropriate to a medium of simulation [ 12].

It might also be time for a younger generation to start examining the World Wide Web and its constructs academically. So much of what has been written to date comes from an older generation that have not grown up in a digital universe, or whose exposure has been limited. If you can remember when man first walked on the moon then it is likely that your attitude to new technology is different from a Generation Xer or Net-Generation member who think it all began with the first Star Wars movie. Smith and Curtin (1998) argue "that because students are immersed in a time of ever-increasing technological development, it is possible that their methods of thinking and processing information differ from those of past generations".

The 'Net-Gen' (Tapscott, 1998) is described as a markedly different generation because it is the first to grow up surrounded by digital media. And I think we also need their input, rather than just the input of those who can draw the long academic bow between Barthes, Foucault and the flow of hypertext links. There is a new generation that may be able to critique current Internet constructs such as the Alien Adoption Agency [ 13], and by doing so contribute to expanding our knowledge of what it means to be wholly digital.

As one of those among the generations that have experienced both the paper-based writing/working process and the computer-based writing/working process, my generation steps on the boundaries between the dinosaur of "traditional" literacy and "new" literacy. It is worth remembering that it won't be long before the new literacy will be the post-modern literacy, as the current 'print literate only' generations die off.

As for my own son, he feels that he is presently the only child at his school who is forced to take the archaic path to the library door, and utilise printed media along side what he finds on the Internet. That is a burden he will have to stoically bear! End of article


About the Author

Angela has run an IT Education business for the past 12 years in Melbourne which has given her the opportunity to share her skills with thousands of Australians from all walks of life. She is listed in the prestigious Lexington's Who's Who as a leading professional in her field, is the Winner of the 2001 Australian Achievers Award (for Consultancy and Training), an industry award for customer service, and is also IT Adviser to the Australian Counselling Association. Her academic background includes a Masters Degree in Professional Education and Training; she is currently in the second year of a Doctor of Education degree. She is also an accredited Counsellor.


Explanatory notes

I have chosen to use the more commonly used term 'Internet' when speaking about information available in a cyber-format, as opposed to 'World Wide Web'. The World Wide Web is our common interface to the Internet, which is a network in itself - a series of connections of many computers around the world. The Web is the method of presenting the information available on this network and is based on a protocol of using hyperlinks to connect to content on these various computers. The common colloquially used term for working with hyperlinked documents is to say 'using the Internet', or 'on the Internet' or 'surfing the 'net'', as opposed to for example saying, 'I am going to look it up on the World Wide Web', or 'when I was using the World Wide Web'.

On hyperlinks, a hyperlink is a way of moving around documents or files that are either on a computer or out on the Internet. The Internet exists on a system of links between documents and files that a user will click to jump into another domain, Web page or document. When speaking about hypertext, it refers specifically to blocks of text connected by hyperlinks. A hyperlink can be easily attached by anyone, for example with the program Microsoft Word [ 14].

In a home or work environment most people refer to these links as hyperlinks, understanding that it refers to any type of media, text, sound, graphics, etc. which have a 'jump point' to somewhere else attached to them electronically. In academia these hyperlinks are further classified, that is hypertext refers to text links and hypermedia for links that include sound, text, graphics, etc. I am choosing to use the term accepted by society in general, which is simply 'hyperlinks'.



1. Ted Nelson coined the term Docuverse to describe a global distributed electronic library of interconnected documents.

2. I am thinking most recently of the Sulfbnk.exe scare, where most of the computer using world were exhorted to delete what was a genuine operating file from Microsoft Windows - and many of us did - including me.

3. It's actually a bit of fictional humor put up just before the end of the year 2000 by some American university students to satirize "the human belief of nature as commodity" and to "punish the hypocritical and easily offended by upsetting them, and to amuse those who understand".

4. There are many studies and articles on this subject - see for example the NAEYC Technology & Young Children Interest Forum at, Alliance for Childhood's Computers and Children at, and Sherry Turkle's "Seeing Through Computers: Education in a Culture of Simulation" at

5. Something I do find interesting, is that children do not appear to get annoyed or flustered by this overabudance of information the way adults do, they just continue the information chase - again more of the 'game mentality'. Contrast this with the beginning of an essay by Nicholas Burbles (1997), where he talks about his experiences and the frustrations of getting lost on the Web - a situation every adult would have experienced.

6. Though really, having large segments of the population believing that you can stuff a kitten into a jar and just by ensuring it has air it will grow and mold its body to the glass jar takes the knowledge is information is knowledge argument absolutely to the brink!

7. The opposite to this type of rhizomatic growth or 'being' is a structure like a tree for example, that has one central root system, which grows from bottom upwards; see

8. I see by the way, that Dr. Stephen Downes, international guestspeaker/academic from Alberta University in Canada, speaking in a radio interview in Melbourne now proudly calls himself an information architect - and says he must be the only one - as he couldn't find any others on the Internet.

9. Probably the most comprehensive resource on this topic for Australian users can be found at and a very good, easy-to-read article at

10. The hyperlinks all over the place also make it near impossible (unless you sit behind the child's shoulder) to see where else the hyperlinks are leading, and where the hyperlinks that the hyperlinks led to are leading you ... rhizomatics gone mad.

11. See the site for a comprehensive range of data, or for similar information.

12. See Baudrillard's theory of simulacra in Jean Baudrillard, 1988. The Ecstasy of communication. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Autonomedia.

13. A game popular with teens on the Internet, where you adopt alien figures and bring them up.

14. Simply create a bookmark to the text and then Choose Insert Hyperlink and choose the address or bookmark where you wish to send your reader.



S. Birkerts, 1994. The Gutenberg elegies: The Fate of reading in the electronic age. Boston: Faber and Faber.

A. Bundy, 1998. "Information Literacy: The Key competency for the 21st century," paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Association of Technological University Libraries, Pretoria, South Africa (June), at, accessed 2 August 2002.

N.C. Burbles, 1997. "Aporia: Webs, getting lost and learning to go on," Philosophy of Education, at, accessed 2 August 2002.

N.C. Burbles and T.A. Callister, Jr., 1996. "Knowledge at the crossroads: Alternative futures of hypertext environments for learning," Educational Theory, volume 46, number 1, pp. 23-50.

M. Castells, 1996. The Rise of the networked society. Oxford: Blackwell.

G. Deleuze and F. Guatarri, 1983. "Rhizome," In: On the line. New York: Semiotext; see also their Web portal at

P.F. Drucker, 1993. Post-capitalist society. New York: HarperBusiness.

L. Faigley, 1999. "Beyond information: The Internet and global literacy," In: G.E. Hawisher and C.L. Selfe (editors). Passions, pedagogies and the 21st century technologies. Logan: Utah University Press.

J.P. Gee, G. Hull and C. Lankshear, 1996. The New world order: Beyond the language of the new capitalism. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin.

J.P. Gee, G. Hull, C. Lankshear, M. Knobel and C. Searle, 1997. Changing literacies. Buckingham: Open University Press.

P. Gilster, 1997. Digital literacy. New York: Wiley.

M.H. Goldhaber, 1997. "The Attention economy and the Net," First Monday, volume 2, number 4 (April), at

S. Hall and M. Jacques (editors), 1996. New times: The Changing face of politics in the 1990s. New York: Verso.

J. Johnson-Eilola, 1997. "Living on the surface: Learning in the age of global communication networks," In: Ilana Snyder (editor). Page to screen: Taking literacy into the electronic era. New York: Routledge, pp. 185-210.

R. Kegan, 1994. In over our heads: The Mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

S. Kerka, 2000. "Extending information literacy in electronic environments," New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, volume 88, pp. 27-38.

G.P. Landow, 1992. "Hypertext and De-Centering," at, accessed 2 August 2002.

R.A. Lanham, 1993. The Electronic word: Democracy, technology, and the arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

C. Lankshear and M. Knobel, 1998. "Critical literacies and new technology," paper presented at the American Education Research Association conference, San Diego.

A. Lewis, 2001. "Email overload," Journal of the Australian Counselling Association, volume 1 (Summer), and at, accessed 2 August 2002.

J.D. Marshall, 1996. "Education in the mode of information: Some philosophical considerations," Philosophy of Education, at, accessed 2 August 2002.

E. Mayer, 1992. Employment related key competencies: A Proposal for consultation. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

N. Negroponte, 1995. Being Digital. Alfred. A.Knopf.

M. Peters and C. Lankashear, 1996. "Critical literacy and digital texts," Educational Theory, volume 46, number 1, pp. 51-70.

M. Poster, 1995. "CyberDemocracy: Internet and the public sphere," at, accessed 2 August 2002.

H. Rheingold, 1993. The Virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

C.L. Selfe. 1999. Technology and literacy in the 21st century: The Importance of paying attention. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press.

R. Smith and P. Curtin, 1998. "Children, computers and life online: Education in a cyber-world," In: Ilana Snyder (editor). Page to screen: Taking literacy into the electronic era. New York: Routledge, pp. 211-233.

I. Snyder, 1997. Hypertext: The Electronic labyrinth. New York: New York University Press.

A. Strange, 2002. "Paradise pirates: Intellectual nihilism in the 21st century," at, accessed 2 August 2002.

C. Stoll, 1995. Silicon snake oil: Second thoughts on the information highway. New York: Doubleday.

D. Tapscott, 1998. Growing up digital: The Rise of the Net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

S. Turkle, 1997. "Seeing through computers: Education in a culture of simulation," American Prospect, volume 8, number 31, at, accessed 2 August 2002.

Editorial history

Paper received 8 May 2002; revised version received 10 July 2002; accepted 22 July 2002.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Copyright ©2002, Angela Lewis

Hoax E-mails and Bonsai Kittens: Are You E-literate in the Docuverse? by Angela Lewis
First Monday, volume 7, number 8 (August 2002),