OPINION: Why Keeping Digital Skills Up to Date Is Essential Right Now
A 'technological immigrant' on the importance of being tech fluent
I get most of my news from television, radio and newspapers. Sometimes I glance at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I spell out complete words when I text. And for the longest time, I thought “LOL" stood for “lots of love,” not “laugh out loud.”
In other words, although I’ve been a clinical psychologist for 30 years and am in my 60s, I am a technological immigrant — someone still trying to adjust to the digital world of technological natives.
While I complain about my technological challenges (on a daily basis), I have mostly been able to get by. However, in these times of COVID-19 and civil unrest, “getting by” is not enough.
Becoming an Informed Citizen of the World
To become informed citizens of the world in the year 2020, my generation will have to become fluent in technologies that include Twitter feeds, Instagram, Facebook and other decentralized news sources.
Every day, I feel as if as I am learning a new language. And I know that I am not alone.
A technological immigrant is a term coined by the writer Marc Prensky in 2001. He described those born before the 1980s as technological immigrants and those born after as digital natives, because they grew up using technology.
This division made so much sense to me and still helps to explain my technological unease. Every day, I feel as if as I am learning a new language. And I know that I am not alone.
I often talk with others around my age who share this discomfort, which has only been amplified by sheltering in place and working from home. The generational divide is frequently apparent in our work Zoom and Webex meetings. FaceTime and WhatsApp are so easy in comparison.
The Tech Platforms Coming Next
As someone with the privilege of working from home, I have had to learn and become more familiar with many of these new (to me) technologies. And virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms are likely to be next. They let us “travel” and “feel” like we are all in the same space at the same time.
It is up to us technological immigrants to learn the language of technology so we can stay current and informed. Technology allows us to enter into digital conversations with others. And we need to be able to engage in digital intergenerational conversations. As Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in 1965, “the medium is the message.”
Digital natives turn to a wide variety of places to understand the world. They crowdsource information using platforms like YouTube and Twitter. They “Ask Alexa” or say “Hey Siri” rather than look up information online. Their smart speakers respond with a wealth of information. Recently, Gen Zers have smartly used the platform of TikTok videos for social activism, communicating with like-minded other younger people across the country.
Technological Natives Vs. Technological Immigrants
Digital or technological natives use these platforms to bear witness, to find their people, to construct a view of the world. But they are more than just consumers.
They share, post and repost. They start and join conversations that often become the conversation. Conversely, many in my generation read the newspaper (in print or digitally), listen to the radio, watch cable news, and listen to the secondhand retelling of reports from “experts.”
There is value in all of these forms of communication.
Yet, as I watch this political moment, I’ve come to understand that digital fluency isn't a luxury; it is a necessity.
If my generation wants to be a part of conversations that shape our country and world, we need to learn from the people who rightfully demand that their lived experience is newsworthy and make it so. Their experience has, at least in part, been shaped by the very technology I’m talking about.
To be sure, both the pandemic and this period of civil unrest are unprecedented and highlight the uncertainty of the present times and the future. Twitter, mobile-phone videos and the internet have illustrated ways in which systemic racism is insidious and endemic to all our institutions, including the police, the criminal justice system, educational and health care systems, jobs and racial and income-based segregation.
It is not enough to be aware of the technology that exists today; technological immigrants must develop a mindset that expands and grows with this rapidly changing environment.
Only then will we be able to join and support activists, protestors, allies and the technological natives who are on the ground, as we work together to dismantle structural racism and help make the world a better place.