Social work and the digital – part 3
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Social work should embrace the digital!
A useful, socially acceptable and effective use of the internet for social work has yet to be developed. This cannot be centrally controlled, but is the result of a multitude of projects and initiatives by individuals and institutions. This can give rise to new perspectives which are particularly important in the context of social work. Here are five related theses:
- Digital media boost participation, transparency and inclusion: the internet connects people as equals. The idea of a democratic internet may seem romantic, given its commercial usage and the distortions caused by bots. In principle, however, the internet gives everyone the opportunity to speak up and get involved in sociopolitical discourses. Furthermore, the internet offers people who are marginalized for various reasons new opportunities to participate.
- Social work can help to overcome the digital divide. In the discussion about young people and their media use, it is often assumed that the widespread adoption of smartphones comes with knowledge about sensible ways to use them (media education). Yes, the smartphone (or tablet, or laptop) is a device that gives access to culture, but culture is diverse, and so are the things smartphones are used for. Numerous studies offer evidence of major differences in the use of the internet, which are closely linked with the educational level of the users. The ICILS study (a kind of PISA for digital literacy) showed that just under 30 % of 15-year-olds in Germany attain the lowest two stages of competence (of a total of five stages) in matters of digital literacy (Bos et al. 2014). Thus social inequalities are reproduced on the internet (Kutscher 2012). Reducing these inequalities is an important concern of social work. Media education projects with children and young people, and the routine integration of digital media – as a form of media mainstreaming – can make a major contribution to overcoming this digital divide.
- Digital technology can be used to develop tools that help people to cope with life – and supporting people as they cope with the demands of everyday life is a core objective of social work. In the past, numerous projects have shown that internet services or apps can be a helpful component of this. One example is the projects of http://sozialhelden.de, who, for example, promote greater accessibility by developing interactive city maps (“MapMyDay“).
- The digital world should not be left to the IT specialists: “If you want to change society, become a programmer” writes Christoph Keese, describing a basic principle of Silicon Valley (here is the book review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). There is no doubt that social change is also important to many of those involved in social work. The possibilities of the internet are created by humans and follow their way of thinking. Would it not be desirable to include social-work-influenced thinking in the newly developed services and apps?
- Social work can offer alternatives to commercial services. In Germany we like to complain about the excessive power of American internet companies. Of course we can try to live without Google, Facebook and Apple. But we can also try to develop alternatives. Non-commercial, social alternatives. A dream? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
Bos, Wilfried, Eickelmann, Birgit, Gerick, Julia, Goldhammer, Frank, Schaumburg, Heike., Schwippert, Knut, et al. (2014). ICILS 2013: Computer- und informationsbezogene Kompetenzen von Schülerinnen und Schülern in der 8. Jahrgangsstufe im internationalen Vergleich. https://www.waxmann.com/fileadmin/media/zusatztexte/ICILS_2013_Berichtsband.pdf
Eickelmann, Birgit (2015). Bildungsgerechtigkeit 4.0. Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Online: https://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/04/2015-04-eickelmann_-_bildungsgerechtigkeit-4.0.pdf
Kutscher, Nadja (2012). Medienbildung und soziale Ungleichheit. In: Ingo Bosse (ed.): Medienbildung im Zeitalter der Inklusion. Düsseldorf: Landesanstalt für Medien in Nordrhein-Westfalen, pp. 58-63. Online: http://lfmpublikationen.lfm-nrw.de/index.php?view=product_detail&product_id=299