Technology literacy has been on my mind. My definition is inexact, but I can recognize it in people. You might be able to judge your own technology literacy by reflecting on how you react to new technology. For this post, I am going to ignore those who enthusiastically accept any new device. These folks are goo to have around, but they are not very interesting to me. We become aware of new tools through them, but many are on to the next “shiny new technology” before they truly understand it.
That leaves us with two other typical reactions to new technologies. The individuals who pay the closest attention to the enthusiastic first adopters tend to approach technology with a purposeful curiosity. They look the new stuff, especially that which seems to be sticking around and that serves a purpose, and they learn to use it independently. They may never become the “power users” that some are, but they demonstrate excellent competency—they know what it does and how to do it. These folks have an operational level of technology literacy.
The folks who are most concerning to me right now are those who are functionally technology illiterate. These folks may use technology—they may even use it in a facile manner—but how they come to be users it different from those who are literate. The technology illiterate will do whatever they are taught to do, but they cannot or do not learn to do anything more.
In much of life today, technology illiteracy is not problematic. We can live happy and content lives without technology. I think this is less true now than it was before cell phones and video conferencing become (for many) the only way to connect with others, but I know the value of dropping technologies to read books, tend the garden, and walk outside.
In professional life, however, technology literacy can become problematic. Let us consider the technologically illiterate individual who arranges a Zoom meeting. That individual may be comfortable scheduling the meeting, emailing the link, but may be uncomfortable with configuring security settings. The individual may be uncomfortable with changing setting out of concern they may “break something,” they may be unable to accurately interpret the labels on the controls (we have all been there!), or they may be unaware of the importance of setting security settings to protect the meeting.
If that person schedules and invites others to a meeting, but does not take precautions to secure it, and then the meeting is “Zoom bombed,” then the participants in the meeting can have a very unpleasant experience. For me, that unpleasantness was directly caused by the technological illiteracy of the individual who failed to secure the meeting.
In my opinion, it has become essential that we hire only those who demonstrate technology literacy. They must be competent and confident and independent when they are faced with new technology. Leaders and technology professionals must support their continued learning about technology, but they must arrive to work with the habits of technology users and active learners about it.