Thursday, November 3, 2011

Will Digital Natives Be Technologically Literate?

Yesterday, a headline on one of my iGoogle pages caught my attention: Main Street to Silicon Valley: We don’t even understand PDFs. The post was written by Jessica Stillman on, November 2, 2011. 

The post highlights the results of a poll commissioned by the software firm Nitro coinciding with release of their latest Pro PDF reader. It found that 45.7 percent of a representative sample of Americans are either only somewhat familiar with PDfs or are not familiar with them at all.  According to Nitro, this means, “Don’t assume, train.”  Nitro was shocked by the result, and so was I.  Are we as technologically sophisticated as we like to think?
We all live in information bubbles, and in this very complex and pay-attention-to-me world we only have the capacity to live our lives in a relatively small number of bubbles without being overwhelmed.  Through my work in virtual teaming and collaboration, one of the core information bubbles that forms part of my reality is the technology information bubble, but that is not the case for everyone.  Unfortunately, many of us assume that everyone else shares our bubbles (especially if we are passionate about them, as most tech-enthusiasts are).

This got me thinking about the question: Would greater knowledge about PDFs have made the 45.7 percent more technologically literate? And, what is technological literacy, anyway?

One of the assumptions I encounter a lot is that when the new generation enters the corporate arena there will be few - if any - issues with using the latest and greatest technologies to get work done   (technology use for digital natives is as natural as breathing air).  You just have to look around you to see youngsters everywhere texting and social networking.  My four year old grandchild – who can’t read yet – has no problem downloading TV shows to my iPad.  And so, the evidence supporting technological literacy is right before our eyes; or is it?

It seems to me that being skilled in the functionalities of new technologies (e.g., texting or instant messaging, downloading or sharing) or understanding what a PDF is doesn’t actually mean that much.  The critical question is: Does this this person have the competencies to employ the power of appropriate technologies – independently and with others – to create, access, analyze, process and communicate information and ideas – for improved problem-solving, decision making, and innovating?  

If we just think of technological literacy in terms of skill in the use of tools and functionalities or understanding of technological lingo we’re missing the bigger picture and potential.  Given my view of technological literacy, I’m not convinced digital natives will be as far along as some people might think.  

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