It doesn't take a lot of exploration to hear the idea that we are experiencing a digital or information revolution. Parallels are drawn between the famous Industrial Revolution of the late 1800's. Unfortunately, it is a natural part of the human condition to feel 'left behind' as technology leaps forward. One of the best ways that we can combat this feeling is to improve a certain aspect of our knowledge known as our Digital Literacy.
Most people aren't even aware that they have a specific literacy in the digital realm. People are very aware of their language literacy, with reading and writing. There is also numeracy, our fluency and literacy with numbers and mathematics. We may rate our literacy in areas like sports, tools, driving, and other proficiencies that we may have. However, given the pervasive level of technology in our everyday lives, it is more important than ever before that we pay attention to our digital literacy.
Let's take a step back and define what Digital Literacy is, as that can help us to determine what are the best routes that a person can take to improve their literacy. Recently, the British Columbia Ministry of Education released a new definition of Digital Literacy as part of the initiative to include Computational Thinking and Coding as part of the K-12 curriculum:
Digital literacy builds on traditional definitions of literacy. It involves the interest, attitude, and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology and communication tools to access, manage, integrate, analyze, and evaluate information; construct new knowledge; create; and communicate with others.
There is a lot there in that definition, a wealth of opportunity for anyone who wants to delve into the various ways in which they can leverage technology to improve their every day lives. That's the end goal, of course, to improve our every day lives.
A lot of people have been trained into the traditional technology model of installing applications on a single machine, and only having access to the documents and projects on that specific machine. However, with the introduction of SaaS (Software as a Service) products and cloud storage, users have been freed from the relative tyranny of being anchored at a single workstation.
Tools like Google Drive and Office365 have empowered users to be able to work on their professional and creative projects from any workstation, accessing the powerful suite of tools through the web instead of having to have an installed application bringing that functionality.
Communication tools like Slack, Telegram, and Flock are opening doors for companies, community groups, and even families to be able to stay in communication and share the messages and media with each other that improves their level of real-time communication every day. There is a wealth of tools from other platforms as well, such as Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and others.
Another tremendous category of tools that are available allow users to improve their online experiences. While many web users stick with Microsoft Edge and Safari, as the default web browsers in Windows and OSX respectively, there are many other browsers available which can enrich and expand your ability to browse the web safely and swiftly. Google Chrome is definitely the industry leader, with Mozilla's Firefox being a constant competitor. The venerable Opera browser has released a new version including news feeds, instant messaging, and other functionality built in to the browser.
Last, but certainly not least, are a vast selection of online tools which are available that can provide a great deal of value to your every day life. IFTTT, or If-This-Then-That, is an online application which allows you to trigger events based on online activities. You can get an SMS sent to you when it's going to rain the next day. When your co-worker uploads a new file to Dropbox, you can get an e-mail with a link to the file. You can easily sync your iOS contacts with a Google Docs spreadsheet. IFTTT has recipes which allow you to connect dozens of different online services together.
A lot of opportunities for expanding your digital literacy are listed above, but what matters the most is your mindset. Be willing to explore resources, be open to the small learning curve that each experience and utility will require, and more than anything, ignore the voice in your head that says it is too complicated or too "techie" for you. No one knows how any of these tools work before they use them. It's up to each person to dive into a resource and have the courage to spend the time getting past the initial discomfort of discovering a new tool.
Overall, your digital literacy is your responsibility to build. It is easy to play it safe and never explore the wealth of resources that are available to you that will definitely improve your life. However, the more digital tools you use, the more fluency you build, and the easier that future tools are to use. In no time at all, you can be the one that people are coming to for help with their own digital challenges.