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My Brief History in the Woods

As a child in the early 2000’s, media literacy was always a part of my education. I’ve previously compared my media literacy education like the story of Little Red Riding Hood. This to me remains the most appropriate description. The conversations always presented the Internet as something to be feared. It was as dark and scary as the woods. It was best if I just stayed out of them. There were multiple Big Bad Wolves lurking and waiting to prey on me. If I absolutely needed to journey into the woods the path I needed to walk was narrow.

narrow trail with dark woods
Photo by Abagail Eastvold

Most of the conversations that I remember having about media literacy was that people on the Internet may not be who they claim to be. They were wolves in Grandma’s clothes. It’s not hard to imagine why educators found this to be an important point to make. Anonymity was fairly easy. Stories about malicious users posing as innocuous peers were common. The death of Megan Meier was the most famous. Her story confirmed teachers’ and parents’ worst fears about social media in particular. Even with supervision, kids could still fall prey to what today would be considered a troll. The safest option seemed to be to stay out of the woods altogether and to never journey in alone.

By the time I reached my senior year in 2012, many of my peers and I had been running through the woods unsupervised for some time. According to Pew Research, 77% of teens at the time had cellphones and one in four had smartphones. By this point, a cellphone without a camera was unheard of. We could send and receive pictures in moments. The conversations shifted with the technology. Instead of being told to stay out of the woods, we were told to take caution in how we behaved. We were warned that what we post on the Internet could hurt our ability to get jobs later. Another danger was the fact that the information could be shared outside of our intended audience. Instead of being told to stay out of the woods, we were told to journey cautiously.

photo of Abby Eastvold in the woods
Photo Courtesy of Beca Putnam

Today, the Internet is a part of everyday life for most Americans. Staying out of the woods is no long an option. Concerns over who has access to information online is more complex. If the Internet is like the woods, new trees are constantly growing, old ones are falling, and we don’t know all of the wildlife living in them. Media literacy needs to evolve with the Internet. Now that I have shared my history with media literacy I feel confident to share the tools and principles I have learned and am continuing to learn to navigate the landscape.

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