Use digital tools thoughtfully - being aware of the tools available to you and how to use them effectively and appropriately is crucial.

Being familiar with digital tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and Youtube, for example, is only the start of digital literacy. Knowing how to use these tools effectively, responsibly and creatively is the next important step.

Most of us would consider ourselves to be 'digital natives', confidently using smart devices and online resources to help improve our lives. However, simply being familiar with digital tools does not necessarily make us effective or expert users of  these tools, any more than being a native speaker of English makes us effective communicators. As with most things we need to develop and enhance our skills and use the tools available to us with care. There is no point being loaded up with the latest smart devices if we aren't smart ourselves.


Checklist guide

At the heart of digital literacy are three basic elements:

Function: This is to do with finding out how certain digital and online resources actually work. It's one thing to have a smartphone or a tablet with all the latest functions and apps, but it is quite another to know how to use them. Familiarity with digital tools such as browsers, cameras, editing software, social media apps, media streaming clients and communication software, is vital in an age when a great deal of our information, entertainment and social interaction takes place in a digital space. In a social context, we might look amusing as we fumble with our new tech, trying to get it to find a tune or video we would like to share with friends however, in a professional context, we will look genuinely foolish and uninformed if we can't upload a file to the cloud and make it available to a client or a colleague. Using your time at university to train yourself to use cutting edge, mission critical tech with confidence, is time well spent. Cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox, social media platforms such as Facebook, presentation tools such as Prezi and messaging clients such as Whatsapp, ought be second nature to any graduate. 

Cultural awareness: Of course knowing how a tool can be used is not the same as knowing when it ought to be used. Firing off a Snapchat of yourself in a bar on Saturday night to a friend may be perfectly appropriate, while the same image might well get you fired, or involved in a disciplinary tribunal, if sent to your boss or a colleague. Email written in anger, ill considered opinions posted on a public forum, photographs of an intimate nature uploaded to Instagram and swiping the wrong way on Tinder,  all of these things can land us in trouble and label us as unprofessional, inappropriate and possibly even offensive. Use of digital tech needs to be handled with great sensitivity and care as everything you say and do online has a potential audience that includes all genders, orientations, age groups, religious convictions, social and economic statuses and political opinions. Even your email address is critical in a digital age - "" might look really cool as a teen address, but is unlikely to be viewed positively by a company looking to employ a mature and professional new member of staff.  Smart technology opens a window to the world, but just as we can see out, the whole world can see in.


Creativity: All tools, digital or analogue, are designed for a purpose. A hammer is pointless unless it is used to bang in nails, an oven does not serve its primary purpose unless it is used to cook food, a vehicle is largely redundant unless it is used to transport people or things from one point to another. With easy access to a wealth of digital tools and apps, it is tempting simply to download and install them all without ever using them to create something interesting, or design something to deal with a specific problem. It is important to learn how to take a task based approach to digital tools and ask the question "what do I want to achieve and what tools will best equip me for the task?" The tasks don't necessarily have to be professional ones, you may be thinking about uploading a collection of photos from a party, or trying to organise a social event. It may be that you want to post some poetry for a select group to read online, or you may simply want to crop an image on your phone to cut out the annoying photo bomber. Of course, it is quite likely that you may become involved in an industry or profession that requires you to deal with particular issues in a digital way - creating a website, designing a poster, starting a Kickstarter campaign, setting up a database of clients, or getting a video game accepted on to Steam's 'early access' programme. Whatever the task it is important that you select the right tools for the job, as choosing the wrong ones will most likely have you wasting a great deal of valuable time, struggling with the application, when you could be creating your solution. Trying to bang a nail in with your shoe, or put a screw in the wall with a spoon are certainly options and you may even, eventually, gain some level of success, but not without a huge amount of frustration and inappropriate language.

Final Comments

Knowing how to navigate your way through the digital world is as important today as knowing how to find your way to work or to the shops. Understanding the most appropriate routes to take (sometimes the prettiest most romantic route, other times the most direct and efficient) to get to where you need to be is vital if you don't want to feel, and appear, lost, confused and aimless. Being aware of the huge quantity of information and opinion at your digital finger tips, but at the same time being able to filter this information and identify the genuinely valuable and authoritative from the uninformed and opinionated has become an important survival skill in the digital age. It is a skill that marks you out as being either digitally savvy, or digitally gullible and easily manipulated.

Further Information

The Guardian: Digital literacy in universities

Definitions of digital literacy