It never fails that there’s a great question posted at the Ideas Project and I’m on a mobile device. Problem. Their site always defaults mobile devices to a mobile version of the site that’s not interactive enough to answer the question(s). Well, on a PC now, let’s see what I can do about this week’s question.

This week’s question was posed by Juliette Powell and states:

What does it mean to be literate in the digital age?

This is a core question that seems to have been coming around to me from several ends. There’s the side of thought=leadership and skills building with web and mobile. There’s that literacy that’s described by application in the work with MMM, Brighthand, and other groups. And then there’s what I leave with others – mentoring and discipling. Literacy not just being defined by an ability to read words, but the ability to read life and then make intelligent decisions about what you will do in it.

So, this is how I answered:

Literacy is always a challenge of two approaches, those who were literate who aren’t and those born into new literacy methods. Digital literacy therefore is the challenge for existing leadership generations to acquire the scoping, skills, and knowledge of tools, while setting frameworks for understanding implications. On the latter side, those born into today’s world will describe literacy as adeptness in using tools, ability to teach change/implications, and maintaining basic functional knowledge of systems that have passed on (whether hardware, software, services, or infrastructure).

OK, so that says a lot. What does it mean?

In simpler terms, literacy is not defined just by what we can pull into our lives as contextual knowledge. Yes, being able to read a sign, Bible, or the pages of a journal are important. But literacy is beyond that into application. And depending on generation (speaking digital literacy), literacy will look different.

For those Generation X and older, digital literacy means relearning tools so that you can maintain a semblance of life that you are used to. Things move faster, and so you have to read and analyze faster. Computer technology’s advances dictate that you have to not just learn how to type faster, but to create content, become a marketer, and filter through all of this as you set and establish some ground rules for Generation Y and later.

Generation Y and later will see digital literacy as a consistent honing of skills and functions. They will largely know of an analog world as an accessory to a digital one (not the digital as an accessory to analog as previous generations do). They will have to not just understand how to read and analyze, but compute the implications based on more information than other generations ever had to deal with. They will have to know how to put together puzzles faster without knowing the entire picture, or take apart puzzles knowing that the picture isn’t of best course. Critical thinking needs to become a basic educational element – not just recognizing glyphs and recalling spatial/logical formulas.

To that, Ms. Powell’s question isn’t so simple. It is not just about reading, using a spell checker proficiently, and then enabling some means of life. Literacy is going to be redefined by the generation(s) after the Generations Y and i (?) as there will be more cases to reexamine what it means to prosper and to sustain life around us.

Digital literacy is a layer on top of what lessons we’ve had before. And it will also open a book to teach us some new tricks as well.