Digital Literacy: Its Importance in the Modern World
In the 21st century, the Internet has evolved to become as necessary to everyday life the way the telephone and television became important in the 20th century. Technology, it seems, is constantly evolving faster and faster with new forms of social media, news outlets, apps, and even how we connect to the Internet itself. This makes the importance of understanding how the digital world works critical for people young and old.
Digital literacy is described by Common Sense Media as “the ability to effectively find, identify, evaluate, and use information.” The ALA, or American Library Association, describes it as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” Back in the early days of technology, the simplistic definition of digital literacy amounted to nothing more than knowing how to use certain computer programs like a word processor or spreadsheet program.
But what does this mean for someone who isn’t up to date on all the latest tech lingo and barely knows how to use their DVR, let alone know the inner workings of the Internet? Why is digital literacy important to the everyday consumer or student and how is having a grasp of digital literacy going to improve the quality of our digital personas?
Digital Literacy Explained
To put it simply, digital literacy is almost as simple a concept as the literacy we learn in school. Literacy in regards to books is the ability to read, comprehend, absorb the knowledge, and know how to find more information. In some regard, one could say the goal of literacy is to also give an appreciation for reading and develop a love of learning.
Digital literacy for the everyday Joe is about being able to find information on the internet, identify the source of the information, evaluate the information and determine if it’s credible, and then use the information effectively or share it. When it comes to the younger generations, being digital literacy also requires being able to understand how technology works and how to use it to share or create content.
For example, if you were looking for a news clip about something that happened recently, you would first have to know how to find that information. For most people, this means using a search engine like Google and typing in keywords relevant to what you’re looking for or simply going to a news website and skipping the search feature.
But perhaps you’re like the millions of other internet users who simply search Google and click on the top link in the list to find the information you requested. The first part of digital literacy is being able to understand the type of website where the information has been posted, whether it’s a social media page, reputable news website, video sharing site, or personal blog. Based on where you found the information, it’s important to know whether the information you’ve found seems credible. While social media may be a main source for news for many people, it is often not the most credible source. Social media often leads many people to websites with non-credible information, creating a global epidemic of disinformation for internet users everywhere.
Finally, if you feel the information is credible and useful, the ability to use that information. This means either using it for yourself as part of a research assignment which would require you to site your sources or sharing that information somehow, such as on a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter.
Where this differs from the ALA explanation is when you add in being able to know how to use various forms of technology and forms of communication in order to create your own content. For most people, this is not a necessary skill they will likely ever need unless they intend to work in digital media where having these skills is critical.
How Does Digital Literacy Affect Us
As mentioned before, the Internet is now part of practically every single thing we do. You may not realize it, but even buying groceries requires people to be connected online.
The cashier’s computer is likely connected to a network that not only can recall prices for the millions of products in the store, it also may be connected to an inventory monitoring system that lets the persons ordering item know when it may be time to order more of a certain item. People who use apps on their phones for digital coupons bring the internet into the store with them, who may end up being connected to the store’s wi-fi signal. Can’t find something in the store? The hand-held machines stockers use for inventory can let you know whether a certain product is available at your current location or at another nearby.
Even the most basic understanding of digital literacy is important as our society progresses more and more to using the internet to conduct commerce and communication. Just recently, the idea of cashless businesses has started to become more mainstream. Commerce may one day switch from paper money and checks to paying with banking apps or tapping a bank card on a card reader. Without the basic understanding of how this technology works, you could find yourself frustrated at the checkout line, on the phone with customer service, or even a broken cell phone from not being able to understand how to use it properly.
Digital literacy also keeps us safe from online dangers as well, not just from things such as disinformation as mentioned earlier. Part of digital literacy is also being able to spot the obvious scams, lies, and criminals all over the Internet. Being able to spot a fake website encouraging you to enter your private information, telemarketing phone scams, and fake emails from reputable services you know and trust are just a few things that will keep you from the financial and mental headache of having to repair the damage caused by internet thieves.
Why Should We be Digitally Literate
As explained previously about how the Internet is now part of our daily lives, the future of industry is going to become heavily reliant on young people who have more than a firm grasp of both academic literacy and digital literacy. That casual trip to the grocery store requiring various pieces of technology being connected to the Internet requires countless man hours of programmers and technicians keeping things running as flawlessly as possible.
With machines doing the repetitive tasks humans no longer want to do or are no longer able to do, programmers are needed to make sure the machines continue to operate at peak efficiency.
Entertainment is now heavily reliant on digital literacy. The average football game requires a ton of technology to provide you as much real-time information as possible. The same can be said about basketball, baseball, soccer, and other sports. But it’s the video game industry that takes the lion’s share of a digitally literate workforce. The video game industry makes more revenue than both the movie and music industry combined. The technology created in the industry isn’t just used for entertainment purposes, however. Rendering technology is used by everyone from the military to internet security companies.
What do these examples mean? The old way of business and making a living is starting to slowly transform into a more technologically advanced one. Businesses are changing to conform to a society which spends hours on the internet, cell phones, and social media. They’re making conducting business easier and faster for younger generations who have zero patience.
In the 20th century, information flowed from television, radio, and newspapers. In the 21st century, it comes from news apps, websites, and social media. The 24 hour news cycle is constantly churning out stories and people want to be informed constantly, not just when the news comes on in the evenings. Time is now just as valuable as money in the 21st century. Waiting for news is so 21st century.
But having access to so much information comes at a high cost. Without a digitally literate society, the internet is a dangerous tool. People will begin any source of information they’re told to believe on social media, regardless of where it came from or who told them to read it. People share misleading or incorrect information everyday and it leads to an almost unstoppable epidemic of disinformation. People become distrustful of each other and of their own governments. Societies become paranoid about the world around them simply because they believe everything they read on the internet and don’t have the skills to determine if what they’re true is real.
Digital literacy is now equally as important as academic literacy. Whether you’re young or old, having a basic understanding of how technology and the internet works will make sure you’re prepared for the ever changing world ahead of us. Where embracing academic literacy created a word of great thinkers and philosophers, digital literacy will eventually lead to massive technological evolutions that could benefit all of humanity.
But like all things, we must begin with the basics. We must first have a foundation of knowledge to work with before we can have our own share of the technological world being created for us every single day. Even though there are many people who may long for the old ways of doing things, digital literacy today can prepare us for the days when the old ways no longer work for society at large.