Importance of Digital Literacy in the Current Day and Age

In the age of rapid technological transformation, there is a growing importance of digital literacy. Nations that lag behind continue to face challenges and missed opportunities. Pakistan must initiate policies to create a digitally literate society, in order to conform to the changing globalized world.

We are decades into the internet and handheld gadgets, and imagiming life without them seems impossible. Our elders born in the 70s and earlier had to befriend this tech transformation in the early 2000s, but the millennials and Generation Z are growing up with technology all around, who can intuitively do several things the older ones simply struggled to understand.
Fifty years back, the idea of flying cars could have frightened anyone, but its 2022, and our minds can imagine what might come in the future. The good thing is, we are ready for the wonders to happen in our lives. 5G technology will fully embrace the world in a few years and then move on to 6G, and God knows what 10G would bring. Self-driving cars, automated houses, digital currency, virtual shopping malls, and several AI-based products and services will soon become our lifestyle.

Digital literacy is simply about going beyond using our mobile phones, uploading videos, and posting comments. It ensures our economic survival, security, health, and everything we need to live in the present time.

It does not end here; factories will soon replace a significant workforce with more efficient robots, and we might see those machines welcoming us in public places, at our homes, and maybe everywhere. We have already started to see media houses experimenting with using a robotic newscaster on TV channels, and this doesn't look odd; we are pretty used to listening to such developments. Of course, this scares us as humans, and most of us fear thinking about possible machine vs. human wars. The fact is, this is just a glimpse of what we might see in a few years. 
Everything I mentioned above practically exists, and these technologies are working in some parts of the world as prototype or commercial products. One aspect of digital progress is that it will wipe out a significant number of jobs, and a lot of people will become jobless, but at the same time, it will also provide opportunities for a better life. It's a cruel fact and a side effect of tech advancements. Only the people with the best technical knowledge and skill will be more likely to adapt.
The best guard is that one needs to keep up with what is happening around. This is where digital literacy comes in; its understanding starts from the very basics to make us able to do our everyday jobs and goes as high as flying a rocket.
Today, an average work environment uses a myriad of technologies, and employers want to know that their job candidates are well equipped and able to keep up with the trends. It is not limited to emails only; today's communication is much faster. In the post-COVID era, virtual conferences have replaced physical interactions, and businesses have realized the associated costs and benefits of the virtual world. Similarly, a journalist now has to use his smartphone to shoot videos, take images, and upload them back to the office for editorial to work on it. They must be skilled to handle things in the field. It cannot reverse for sure, but we may see another tiny gadget replacing smartphones in the coming years. Maybe something technologists could plant into our bodies. Accepting this tech transformation will be our need and not an option.
So you see, digital literacy is simply about going beyond using our mobile phones, uploading videos, and posting comments. It ensures our economic survival, security, health, and everything we need to live in the present time. It is about your ability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it. American Library Association has defined digital literacy as "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills." The subject is incredibly vast, so considering what's happening around us, it can be defined in many ways.
In my opinion, digital literacy would at least cover the following:
▪ It is about staying up to date with current technologies surrounding your work area.
▪ Your ability to learn and manage your work online. And you should be able to communicate with teams and others online.
▪ It is the ability to find, evaluate, create and communicate information or any content type.
▪ And, of course, it’s about your ability to learn anything new that comes your way.
We Can Use Tech. Aren’t We Digitally Literate?
The answer is YES, and NO.
We are literate to the extent that we use the latest gadgets, but we still don’t understand the specific challenges and needs of the digital world.
We consume tons of digital content every day, and it starts right from the time we pick up our phones in the morning till the time we land in our beds again at night. Facebook, Instagram, news sites, YouTube channels, and whatnot – it becomes gigabytes of data for an average person.

By building a diversified technological eco-system and using AI, blockchain, and virtual technology, Pakistan can generate over $100 billion additional revenue over the next 20 years, as per research done by paklaunch.com.

Do you think consuming this much data makes you digitally literate? Someone who has never used a smartphone might be more digitally literate than you are. Interestingly, many users lack the skills to analyze and deeply understand what we read and see online. Every other day, we come across a cloaked link camouflaged in a social media post, our emails, and even phone messages, and we don’t know how to deal with them.
Only a fraction of the digital audience understands they are scams, but most of us unknowingly share personal data by getting trapped into the sender’s net. Similarly, lack of knowledge also makes things easier for hackers.
Ask yourself a few more things.
▪ How often have you refrained from answering a prize or lottery-winning message from an unknown source and opted to report it to some authority?
▪ Do you brush aside a heated comment or turn a blind eye to a forged claim in a video and image that looks real, and you don’t forward it many times just to avoid social unrest? Take the case of the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict. Each side is bombarding social media with their version of the story. Hundreds and thousands of groups are in action with a specific task to create phony information and brainwash the world.
▪ How many times have you reconfirmed false claims coming your way from TV anchors or political leaders’ tweets?
▪ Do you just start believing in any other social media post right away?
▪ Do you respect the privacy of others?
▪ Does your child use smart devices within a specific moral boundary?
▪ Do you know how to maintain privacy online?
▪ If someone has abused you online or threatened you, do you know ways to address the problem right away?
Your answer will determine your need for digital literacy.
Digital Education for Children
Digital literacy is essential for every age group, but children need special attention. To cope with this situation and increase awareness, different governments and even the United Nations have launched several digital literacy programs for children of varying age groups in various countries.
Such programs aim to improve the students' analytical skills to mature their minds for surviving in the digital world. Some of the things students must learn are:
▪ Students should not assume that whatever they come across is factual. They must ask questions. No matter how much content they read and see online, they must question its authenticity.
▪ We need to encourage students to compare the source of information. It must be cross-checked. Articles from other sources on similar topics will always speak a different language and tell the inside story.
▪ Students must scan articles. It would be easier to find the author, date of publication, sources, and references on a reputed site. If things are harder to find, students should know it's against the journalistic norms. Pay attention to the headlines and see if they are outrageous, go against the context, raise too many questions, or lure the audience with something that doesn't sound right.
▪ Students must work together and share information. In a group, it's much easier to verify contents’ health by comparing different articles.
Digital Norms for the Family
Our children get hold of gadgets much earlier, even before going to school. A family can start digital education independently and take preemptive measures to make technology friendlier and more productive for all family members.
▪ Allow your children to use gadgets alongside you. Spend time with them and try to play with them online. Discourage them from playing online alone. Monitor all their online interactions, so you are well aware of the unwanted threats beforehand.
▪ Children that are a little older should be allowed to use mobile apps that are safe and don't require submitting irrelevant personal information. Make sure all parental controls are active.
▪ Children should know how to create a secure password to avoid a possible password leak or hack, and they should also be taught how to maintain anonymity online.
▪ Whatever we do online, we leave a digital footprint, and it stays there. Children should know their IP can be traced back by any government authority should they need it. Therefore, they must not be rude and abusive to anyone online, and they shouldn't harm anyone in the digital world.
▪ If something needs to be shared with friends and family, educate them on how to ensure that your family’s moments, photos, and videos are secure.
▪ There needs to be an agreement at your house, which allow all family members to use devices for a specific time. It is important to spend less time on the device and more time with each other. Make sure everyone honors the agreement.
▪ Make things friendlier within the family so that children can discuss anything that happens to them online with you. And if someone unknown approaches them with an evil intention, children need to be educated enough to counter it within the limits.
In addition to the moral, behavioral and social aspects, digital illiteracy raises alarm for the developing nations.
Pakistan Has Much To Do; We Are Lagging Behind
Unlike the tech-driven economies, Pakistan faces extra challenges. It's time to rush, but our snail pace isn't helping us catch the bus yet.
Web 3.0 is knocking at the door, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Pakistan to break the shackles. It has an opportunity to transform itself into a stable and dependable economic power that any honorable country would wish to become.
By building a diversified technological ecosystem and using AI, blockchain, and virtual technology, Pakistan can generate over $100 billion additional revenue over the next 20 years, as per research done by paklaunch.com.
It can become a reality, but only if we don't waste the opportunity. We have some of the right ingredients on the table, but we need to create a well-coordinated digital culture, a culture that partially exists in Pakistan but is no way near what it takes to be called a truly digital nation. A serious effort is needed from all the stakeholders.
Talking about the ingredients, we have some exciting statistics that greatly favor Pakistan.
▪ A country of over 220 million population enjoys over 191 million cellular subscribers, and out of them, 110 million use 3G and 4G services on their mobile phones. Additionally, there are 113 million broadband subscribers in the country as per a PTA report.
▪ As per the State Bank of Pakistan, digital banking is witnessing brisk growth in Pakistan. Only in the first quarter of the fiscal year 2021-2022, Pakistanis conducted 79.1 million mobile banking transactions amounting to PKR 2.2 trillion.
▪ Pakistan features one of the largest freelancing workforces globally, making it a solid global contender.
▪ The digitally connected young audience likes to take risks and focuses more on entrepreneurship, which increases the chances of business innovation.
▪ Global mobile phones brands and automakers are pouring in and establishing their assembly units.
Blend everything, and we have the perfect time to launch ourselves as the fastest growing nation, at least in Asia. Take India's example where in the rural schools of Tamil Nadu, the tenth grade students learn advanced technologies like drones, 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and animation as a part of the digital literacy program, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology. Pakistan is yet to start a similar program to educate its future force right from the start. 
It's worth mentioning that an in-practice program from the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on digital literacy teaches MS Office, social media ethics, monetization and land commercialization to its eighth grade students in 324 schools. It's an inadequate effort that doesn't match the potential I mentioned earlier. Let me give you another trivial example. In 2020 National IT Board, an arm of the Ministry of Information Technology, developed a mobile app to help Pakistani women to get information on several women-related matters, including health services, entrepreneurship, job training opportunities, and studies, etc.
A description on Google Play Store reveals the following about the mobile app: "Baytee mobile app is designed, developed, and maintained by passionate Pakistani female professionals to empower business-oriented and domestic women."
It was a moment of joy and achievement for many government officials. No doubt it's a must-have solution for women in Pakistan, but the entire exercise turned out to be futile as the app remained insufficient in terms of data. The app was also not updated, making it difficult for its users to benefit from it.
The government needs to adopt a realistic approach, and no matter who comes into power, the state needs to be consistent. This will ensure our growth because we have a chance today that we don't want to miss.

The author is a tech journalist and the founder of More Magazine, phoneyear.com, and outlookpakistan.com.
E-mail: [email protected]

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