I did not grow up with a cell phone or the Internet. When the digital world disrupted my world of land line telephones and computers with perfunctory word processing capabilities, it took me a while to adapt. But I did. Survival in the digital world requires constant adaptation and openness to learning new things, often from those who are much younger.
Pew brings this point home in a new report on Digital Readiness. It looks at the digital world from a new angle; not just if people have access to the internet and digital technology, but whether or not they are able to effectively use these tools to get jobs, improve their skill set, or pursue online learning.
Five things determine if someone is digitally ready:
- Their confidence in using computers
- Their facility with getting new technology to work
- Their use of digital tools for learning
- Their ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information
- Their familiarity with contemporary “education tech” terms
Pew profiled survey respondents along a continuum of “relatively hesitant” to “relatively more prepared.” What might come as a surprise is that the majority of the U.S. population (52%) falls into the “relatively hesitant” pool. This pool includes women, minorities, seniors, low income households, and households with lower levels of formal education. They express low levels of comfort with technology and are not likely to use it to pursue personal learning opportunities. They do not know if they can trust information they find online.
The “relatively more prepared” (48%) come from higher income households, with some college experience. They are likely to be in the age groups of 30’s and 40’s. This pool embraces technology for personal enrichment and learning opportunities. They are confident about their digital skills and know how to assess information they find online as credible or not.
What is important about the Pew report is that it shows digital readiness runs along a spectrum. Everyone is improving their skills with repeated use, but for those who rate themselves as “hesitant” the barriers to using technology may be insurmountable. They may not have someone more digitally savvy around to assist them with setting up new technology or walking them through the nuances of online information.
Organizations teaching the “hesitant” how to become more digitally ready, like Senior Planet NYC, serve an important role. Disadvantaged populations in regards to digital readiness need tailored support. For seniors, barriers to adoption might be as simple to solve as adjusting the font size of text so it is larger and easier to read.
Technology can be a very scary thing for those who did not grow up with it or who were not exposed to it through their job. But love it or hate it, the need to be digitally ready is not going away. Teaching people how to adapt to it, gives them the chance of one day embracing it.