What I Did On My Summer Vacation: My Experience as a Digital Protégé (Summer 2010)

18 April 2012

This post was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on August 20, 2010.

Earlier this year, a mere two months ago in fact, I graduated from university with an honours degree in English and history.

And so did thousands of other 22-year-olds all across Canada.

To say my outlook on the job market was bleak would be an understatement. Society is still in the throes of a global recession and unemployment is a reality for eight percent of the Canadian population. Standing out from the crowd of other recent grads would be a mighty feat, but common sense and guidance counsellors have always told me that in order to get ahead in the job market, you need to have the right skills set to offer potential employers.

I doubt anyone would be shocked to hear me say that the Internet is officially a fixture in our modern world, so it should come as no surprise to hear me say that my generation, Generation Y, should be honing a very specific set of skills to meet the demand for an increasingly digital world of work. We have an advantage in that, for many of us, there has never been a world without the World Wide Web at our fingertips – but digital literacy is so much more than knowing how to run a Google search.

Digital literacy is code. Digital literacy is design. Digital literacy is critical thinking.

Digital literacy is original content and collaborative creation.

Digital literacy is knowing where the real world and the digital world meet, and being able to traverse the border between them with the greatest of ease.

But how is someone like me, a university student in a non-digitized field of study, supposed to keep up with the standards of a tech savvy society if none of the necessary training factors into my program’s curriculum?

I think, in the long run, the solution is to alter traditional modes of learning to reflect the shift from pen and paper to Twitter and Wikis. This will, of course, take time – probably a lot of time – to figure out. The content of curriculum for university-level programs need not change – social media doesn’t make Shakespeare or the Pythagorean Theorem obsolete – but the methods of teaching and learning information will need to adapt to the prevailing digital culture.

And what about life after school? The old adage is experience makes the best teacher, and every inexperienced job seeker knows experience is what employers are looking for. Clearly learning and work experience ought to go hand-in-hand. Another option I propose universities consider (and I single out universities because most college programs seem to have figured this out years ago) is an exploration of mentorships and/or work opportunities for students.

I will use my own experience this summer as a case study for my argument. In my second year of university I flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in PR after graduation, and in my quest for more information on the field, I happened across a new online phenomenon: social media. It had probably been around for at least a little while, but it was really gaining momentum in 2008 and I was completely absorbed by its possibilities. Fast forward two years and I find myself accepting a graduate fellowship to study online communities and social media, in particular blogging. At this point, I have had no formal training in social media, digital literacy, or tech research of any kind. I had never cited Wikipedia in an essay for any of my English courses, but I had also never considered writing and essay about Wikipedia, either.

I took a chance and tried a little social media networking of my own to help me find a summer job that would both pay the bills and give me some insight (I hoped) into the world of post-graduate academia that was looming somewhere in my not-so-distant future. I tweeted a professor I knew shared some of my research interests and hoped for the best.

The best turned out to be a summer internship that allowed me not only the opportunity to learn how to conduct research on digital culture, but one that also immersed me completely in the digital workplace. I learned how to use Google properly. I learned how to read information posted online with a more critical eye. I also learned how the Internet can make research more efficient, and why Twitter exists – a question my non-social media junkie friends ask me all the time. At the moment, I suppose I’m still in the minority in terms of adopters of social media and individuals interested in digital culture – at least within my personal network. But my research this summer also revealed to me that this is changing, and quickly, and if my friends and I want to be employable in the future, we need to keep up with what is now known as the Social Media Revolution.

My career aspirations are academic at the moment, so it was an added bonus that the person in charge of my crash course in digital media is a noted researcher in the field. The skills I acquired working under Sidneyeve Matrix will continue to serve me in any number of jobs as the workplace as a whole becomes increasingly digitized, but working with someone in my field of interest, in an occupation that appeals to me, has proven to be even more valuable. This summer I was given my dream job: work and research experience in a field of study I care about, but the cherry on top was my boss – a living example of where my interests can potentially take me.

I’m one of the lucky ones, and I know that, but I think that should change. A more digital-friendly learning environment paired with mentoring opportunities for students is the way of the future. I sincerely hope universities take note, and soon, because the world isn’t waiting, and it needs a digitally savvy workforce now.

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