Jump to content

“Digital iteracy” denotes the renewed importance of intellectual tooling to navigate an increasingly computerized society. The expression is articulated by David M. Berry in the introduction of Understanding Digital Humanities (also published in the form of an article, Computational Subjectivities):

I want to propose that, rather than learning a practice for the digital … we should be thinking about what reading and writing actually should mean in a computational age—which I call “iteracy”, drawing on the use of the term iteration within computation. This is to argue for critical understanding of the literature of the digital, and through that develop a shared digital culture through a form of digital Bildung.1

David M. Berry, 2015

The “literature” put forward by David M. Berry is neither vaporous nor particularly specialized: it concerns very concrete and varied issues such as personal finances, consumption of cultural products or interaction with others.

Within the digital realm, experiences are governed by computational logics, algorithms fed by data (whose given-ness must be critically challenged) modeled according to particular schemas. Digital environments are eminently constructed: everything must be formulated using the means of computation. In a game like Angry Birds in which ballistic laws are simulated by algorithmic modeling, the real laws of chemistry (to grow grass) or physics (which explain why the eggs break) are never actually involved but only simulated by mathematical equations, algorithmic models.2

Additionally, for people in everyday life who need the skills that enable them to negotiate an increasingly computational field—one need only think of the amount of data in regard to managing personal money, music, film, text, news, email, pensions and so forth—there will be calls for new skills of financial and technical literacy, or, more generally, a computational literacy—in other words, “iteracy” or computational pedagogy that the digital humanities could contribute to.

David M. Berry, 2015

Most of the everyday is reconstructed through machines (and thus by those who are entrusted with such complex tasks), having a grasp on one’s own life through algorithmic environments requires a certain reading knowledge of digital objects, a minimal understanding of the functioning of software,3 beyond the mere graphical representation that is given to see—otherwise, human agency is reduced to a set of clicks, scrolls, and gestures, marked out by the restrictive modalities of “pretty” tightly polished interfaces which cancel out the conditions for the emergence of a critical mind.

The aim of digital iteracy is as much philosophical as social, and pedagogical as political: ensuring, or least permitting, the formation of “computational thinking” which becomes a (technical) means for autonomous subjects to blossom. Paying attention to the different materialities of the digital; experimental programming, with critical and creative intents; thinking with code in order to think differently about the very activity of thought: such are some of the possibilities proposed by the concept of iteracy.

  1. Bildung: The author cites: “The German Idealists propose that the way to reintegrate the simplicity of known facts into a unified cultural science is through Bildung, the ennoblement of character. … The University produces not servants but subjects. That is the point of the pedagogy of Bildung, which teaches knowledge acquisition as a process rather than the acquisition of knowledge as a product. (Bill Readings, 1996, The University in Ruins, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, p. 65–67) ↩︎

  2. Angry Birds: The example is borrowed from Professor Jean-Guy Meunier. ↩︎

  3. Functioning of software: The author states many fundamental concepts which enable the understanding of how software functions, such as: loops, repetition, recursion; modularity, encapsulation, abstraction layers; procedural, functional or object-oriented nature of a programming paradigm. ↩︎