You may or may not know that I’m a director of We Share Stuff — a social enterprise that uses social media to address the idea of Digital Inclusion. We firmly believe that technology (and social media in particular)  is not something separate from everyday life, we look to give opportunity, motivation by explaining the possibilities, and ability by real understanding.

I’m rather proud that we’ve developed — what we believe to be — the first accredited course in understanding and using social media. It’s completely platform agnostic — and designed to work with the appropriate tools for the interests and motivation of whoever’s learning, teaching the concepts of the social web rather than the tools.

Why not the tools? Well, here’s a lovingly extended metaphor I wrote for a talk Stu Parker gave at the WMRO Conference today:

Learning to use technology is like learning to drive — the rules, the highway code, being safe and not hurting yourself or others, are more the focus than what each control does. Not that learning to drive isn’t learning to use the controls, it is, but it’s only a start. Your teacher, your mum, your dad or a paid-for-instructor will focus on what’s happening around you rather than learning by rote what pedal to press when. Once you’ve mastered the gear change, it’s all about observation and reaction.

Think about what happens when you get into a different car to drive it, you might spend a little bit of time getting comfortable in the seat, working out on which stalk the lights are, reading the manual to make sure the radio doesn’t keep flicking to Saga FM — but in a few seconds, because the controls are basically the same (and the rules of the road are exactly the same – unless you’re one of those people that think porsches are allowed to park on double yellows) you’re off.

And this is what real technological inclusion is. It’s the confidence to move from one technology to another, to be confident that you know enough to make sure you’re safe — that there isn’t going to be a crash. We don’t spend time and effort teaching people to drive a Renault Clio, only for them to be foxed by a Fiat Punto. And we shouldn’t teach people Word or Excel only for another word processor or spreadsheet to stump them — or in the case of Microsoft Office a simple upgrade.

And so digital inclusion is platform agnostic, we need to define it as a confidence. You may well need help to get you to the basic level — to pass your test to continue the driving analogy — but it’s then that you can really start using the ‘net or any other technology you want to. And it’s then that you can do it without thinking about the buttons, wheels, pedals, but concentrating on your destination, reacting to others. It’s then that you can rush down the motorway to work, or take a casual meandering drive around pleasant country lanes, Linked In or Cute Overload — you can go where you like.