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Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant? The growing importance of digital literacy

As I write this, it is a little over a year since we first went into lockdown and pretty much all forms of contact and communication turned virtual.
Given the preponderance of smart devices and the ever-increasing number of software programs to connect us to friends and family, it has been relatively simple for most people to stay in touch. In some cases, it has even increased levels of contact as people stuck at home have found themselves needing additional human interaction, even if only via a screen.
This is, however, just a very small part of the way technology has become embedded into our lives as we accommodate the digital world being created under the 4th Industrial Revolution. Whilst adapting to video calls may have been relatively easy and new "smart toys" have brought a sense of fun by automating standard tasks, the increasing use of technology is leading to a new form of imbalance in levels of literacy, in the sense of having the skills needed to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information often takes place through digital technologies.
The terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant were coined by Marc Prensky back in 2001 to describe the difference between those people who felt naturally at home in the digital world and those who came from a different "land" and had to adapt themselves, much like immigrants to a foreign country who are used to different ways of being and often, even if they gain fluency in the new language, retain an accent characteristic of their home country. An example of this can be seen in everyday tasks such as reviewing documents – a digital native will comment electronically on the screen and share the document digitally for collaboration with colleagues; a digital immigrant will prefer to print the document out and write comments on it by hand, finding pen and paper easier to work with, as that is how they grew up doing it.
Whilst this may seem quirky and amusing, we must remember that the divide exists and, like all imbalances, can lead to inequality. With inclusion and diversity forming such a core part of many organisations' strategy, it behoves us all, as management consultants, to understand and address the issues of digital literacy, not least in acquiring the skills of the natives ourselves in this brave new world!
Kanan Barot
Third Warden of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants (WCoMC) and Chair of the WCoMC Membership Committee

Monday 31st May 2021
Hands on typewriter