21st Century Literacy

A video of dealing with technological change in the Middle ages. Click to view.

A video of dealing with technological change in the Middle ages. Click to view.

There are many words in the English language that hearken back to an age when the ability to read and write was the province of a privileged few, even though the importance of this skill was appreciated by all. An “auditor,” for example was a “receiver and examiner of accounts,” a person who would read aloud written proofs of transactions to the satisfaction of a local population. Once they were heard, they became accepted, or at least debatable. The person who could read was the person who held the power, and thus the ability to read and write became, and remains to this day, essential to survival.

The period that followed, now known as the Renaissance, ushered in the age of almost universal literacy, allowing even common people the power of recognizing the authority of the written word, and from this we developed and enjoyed the fruits of science, technology, commerce and the arts, to name just a few.

Literacy in this 21st Century, however means far more than just being able to read or write. It is about understanding the speed of information, and being able to parse the appropriate amounts from a never-ending onslaught. It is about being comfortable with momentum, interaction and change.

On a more practical basis it is about being able to use Twitter, for example, with the same ease that you currently use a business card.

Although social media technologies are comparatively new, their influence on business is huge. Social media is not a fad; it is a renewed approach to connecting with the people who are important to your profession or business: clients, colleagues, suppliers, other professionals, and the community at large. It is quickly becoming the information avenue of choice for most working people, replacing newspapers, newsletters and even TV. Social media usage is prevalent across all demographics, with younger professionals being most active, but with older professionals adapting easily.

Social media is about engagement and interaction, not merely “copying and pasting” text from a newsletter. Organizations that employ social media must make users want to engage; they must manage their users’ expectations, keep people interested, and above all offer something of value in a bi-directional, conversational manner.

Many people, especially those who grew up in an age before personal computers or the Internet, find it hard to see past their initial perceptions that social media is a time waster and an invitation to trouble. But the truth is these technologies taken as a whole represent a quantum leap forward in the way in which people communicate and interact. It is the “printing press” of our era. Just as the original printing press of the 1500’s made the written word available to the world, so has social media made communication that much more available and useable.

So what does this mean for job-hunting? A few things actually.

  • First, it changes the way you’ll market yourself
  • Second, it changes the way companies look for people
  • Third, it adds extra skills to your professional profile: having and demonstrating comfort with social media technologies will be critical to your potential success as a member of and leader in your next workplace.

Here are five things that eevry professional should have comfort with in order to move forward with their career.

  • The ability to use Twitter as a personal newsfeed
  • An active presence on LinkedIn (this means commenting, not just posting your resume)
  • An understanding of what apps are and how they differ from traditional media
  • An awareness that people are fractionalized – generational, cultural and personality differences mean a “workforce” is no longer a single cohesive mass
  • The willingness to remain open-minded regarding change.

All of these attributes can be developed and mastered at no financial cost, but their importance is immeasurable since they represent literacy in this new age.

(Excerpted and abridged from my book “Work Like a Wolf.” To purchase the book visit www.worklikeawolf.com)


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