Going fishing with our Rangatahi

Article | 2021-05-15 | By: The Digital Council for Aotearoa
Source: Shutterstock

On the 17th of March and the 5th of May we hosted an array of youth organisations to our Youth Town Hall sessions to discuss the nexus of youth, technology and New Zealand society. Having grown up around technology, youth are often perceived as being an exemplar of the digitally included. However, we found out that the reality is more complicated.

At our second session, participants echoed some of the insights from our first Youth Town Hall, where it was highlighted that digital technologies often magnify existing inequalities. We heard many examples where technology was provided to those who most needed it, but with little or no consideration on whether the user could maximise the benefit of the technology. A participant described how even though their university had provided an amazing platform to enable digital learning throughout lockdown, they gave students very little education on how to use these tools. This issue was unfortunately particularly prevalent in education, where many of our participants shared their personal experience.

We heard that while the digital tools are there, there is a lack of support to truly maximise the benefits of these tools. Participants often felt that there was a status quo of transactional relationships where as soon as devices and tools were provided, that was the ‘end’ of the support. But how do we move away from this?

It turns out this digital analogy is strangely relevant to a very famous quote from Lao Tzu:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

It seems right now, society tends to give out fish (digital tools) rather than empowering people to use the rod (technology) for themselves. Participants believed this was a systemic issue and one that government had to address through funding, support and training for those who needed it most. More importantly, government must make sure they are giving people the right tools that work for them, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

After all, we can’t expect our rangatahi to catch fish without a lesson or two first, right?

We also asked our participants how digital harm is a barrier to meaningful inclusion. Once again, our youth had plenty to say on this topic.

We heard some valuable points around digital harm and how the lines between digital and physical become blurred in this space. A participant working in student support highlighted how gossip, rumours and even assignment cheating are being easily enabled digitally which is largely unregulated, resulting in physical harm. The group raised that this is in part because the traditional policies in education designed to mitigate harm have not been properly adapted to deal with online harm. Again, this is an example of the operating environment not enabling meaningful inclusion.

Digital harms also exist independently from major institutions and many of our participants are already working to educate young people about the risks of online harms to their personal life such as scams, identity theft and their digital footprint.

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from the session was that solutions that would help move towards inclusion need to have the voices of those who are currently excluded at the table.

These conversations were particularly relevant seeing that this week was Youth Week. We reflected on these amazing insights shared by participants, and we’re inspired by the depth and practically of their feedback. Hearing their views makes us optimistic that the digital future is bright if guided by the aspirations of our Rangatahi.