On Sunday, I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with none other than Duke professor and HASTAC founder Cathy Davidson. At issue was the tone of her recent blog post, “How Digital Humanists Can Lead Us to National Digital Literacy.” I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but you know, it’s been bugging me a little bit. Allow me to quote her introduction to the post…
“Here’s the entrance exam question for 21st century literacy:
QUESTION: If SOPA/PIPA had been passed into U.S. law in 2002, would Wikipedia exist today? If either law had passed in 2012, would Wikipedia exist in 2022? Why or why not? Discuss.
If you cannot answer that question, you are not literate nor are you in control of your life—even if you think you are.” [my emphasis]
Now, I don’t know about you, but when a leading scholar (the leading scholar?) in the digital humanities argues that a nuanced understanding of SOPA and PIPA are necessary conditions for both literacy and personal autonomy, it strikes me as hyperbolic at best, and elitist and condescending at worst. I, for one, have no idea what Wikipedia would be like in 2022 if SOPA had passed. Apparently, I’m an illiterate slave to the system. Surely, Davidson doesn’t really think that personal autonomy is a function of how Web-savvy we are. Well, I posed the question and she responded: ”If we live our lives on the Web and don’t understand its positives AND negatives, we do not control our lives. All of us.” This is equivalent to saying that if we do control our lives, then either we don’t live on the Web or we do understand the positives and negatives of the Web…or both (which is weird).