The Evolution of Literacy in the Digital Age

September 8, 2017
— Ideas Blog —

It is hard to mark the moment when the Digital Age truly began. It seemed to pop up overnight, shifting the way we view everything from social interaction with family and friends to the skill sets required for an entry-level position. Its influence on society can be seen from business practices to public school education, all the way down to how we define the word “literate.”           

While the Merriam-Webster definition of “literate” includes being “able to read and write,” it is generalized as “having knowledge or competence.” By this definition, today’s world is a very different world than that of 20 years ago. With the growth of the internet, the definition of what it means to be basically knowledgeable has shifted from the ability to read and write to the ability to utilize popular online tools and methods of communication properly and efficiently. The Digital Age has challenged the traditional concept of “literate” to the point that what most of us learned in grade school is far outdated. They don’t even teach cursive handwriting anymore! Children, instead, are being taught how to use technology as a means to function within society, creating the idea that the more experience you have, the more fluently you speak this digital language, and therefor the more valuable you will be to your future employers and, overall, to society.

The breakdown of digital progression can be seen in its growth from personal use to professional use. Twenty years ago, an entry-level position was just that, a position for someone first entering the field, looking for training to supplement their very basic skill set. Typically there was only one requirement: the employee must be literate, meaning they were capable of reading and writing, with speed as an added bonus. Now, an entry-level employee must typically be fluent in Microsoft Office, be MacOS versatile, and have basic knowledge of how to operate popular social networks.

This is especially prevalent in the marketing world, as marketing itself has taken a drastic turn toward digital. This is undoubtedly influenced by the necessity for everything to be “on demand,” progressing swiftly as information becomes more and more readily available. One of the fastest growing fields is Social Media Marketing, a field that derives from a necessity of a company to have an employee not only knowledgeable in various networks’ functionality, but also able to understand the insights given and how to apply other software to better understand reach and other results defining the success of the post. This fact alone speaks to the increase in demand for a digitally literate employee base.         

Digital literacy has cracked the mold of the typical marketer. There has been a shift between the traditional approaches of the occupation to project-based work. In the past, people chose their careers as an end-all decision; you chose the field you wanted to work in, and you stayed there. The past few years have showed a steady decline of salaried positions and a just as steady incline in independent, or freelance, careers. The ability to be fluent in the digital world is so valuable that those with excellent fluency can work on their own time, from wherever they want, and still make the same amount they did on salary (if not more) for the application of their skill set. Not only is it valuable, but it also does not necessarily require a college education. With the growth of the internet, potential employees can become skilled in just about anything related to Information Technologies. With this innovative approach to career choice, there is essentially no correlation between traditional college education and professional results, a fact that 20 years ago was in the reverse.

It is important that we recognize the challenges and the advantages this digital age brings forth, and that we take full advantage of the opportunity to understand the technology in place. To be digitally literate is much more than being a valuable employee; it can make you identifiable as a valuable member of society.

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