Digital literacy is a necessary life skill

First in a series on digital literacy and the senior population

If you thought this article was going to be about electronic books, aka eBooks, I don’t blame you.

However “digital literacy” is about being able to use digital-world tools such as computers, tablets or smartphones to consume information, receive products and services while connected to the internet (yes, an eBook is one of those products delivered in the digital world).

Five “real world” years ago, which is like a fraction of a year in the digital world (akin to human vs. dog years), many aging baby boomer friends and acquaintances waved me off at the suggestion of becoming digitally literate. Their reasons mostly centered around “not necessary” and “too complex,” with “never again!” being the unanimous parting shot reflecting their frustrating experience of trying to embrace the digital world in the first place.

Their sentiment was understandable since senior-appropriate tools like tablets, aka power of one devices that have a touchscreen for user inputs and an intuitive user interface, didn’t hit the market until 2010. Probably many were still wrestling with personal computers, fueling their frustration.

The internet continues to change how businesses, organizations and even governments deliver products and services. Remember those entities see the same benefits, such as cost savings, as us – albeit at a larger scale.

Borrowing a famous line from Kevin Costner’s 1989 blockbuster "Field of Dreams": "If you build it, they will come" seems to be the strategy employed when, for example, instead of mailing monthly statements they send electronic statements, thereby saving production and mailing costs.

This strategy works because for certain demographics, like millennials, they were born into an era of technological progress and are more attuned to doing things in the digital world. It may even be the only way they know how to operate, while preceding demographics, such as Generation X and Baby Boomers, went through disruptive changes and had to try and learn new ways of doing things in the digital world.

The same strategy of "if you build it, they will come" doesn't really work when addressing the senior demographic. Pew Research and other studies have shown that digital literacy among the senior population is comparatively lower than the millennial generation.

Have you had an experience where you call into a service provider, business or government, only to be told that they don’t mail out their forms anymore? Instead they advise you to download them from their website. So what will seniors do if Medicare forms are delivered only through the digital world yet they never owned any internet-connected devices?

Seniors continuing to wave off digital literacy will only widen the chasm of disconnect as digital literacy has become an important “life skill” that knows no generational borders. Digital illiteracy has become a social issue and we can't pretend that "If you build it, they will come" works unconditionally in the digital world.

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, Schools, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

Read More on The Digital World
Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 10:02 AM, 04.05.2016