Today’s youth are often called ‘digital natives’ by adults because of the seemingly effortless way they engage with all things digital. It’s easy to see why: Canadian youth live in an interactive, “on demand” digital culture where they are used to accessing media whenever and wherever they want. Instant-messaging, photo sharing, texting, social networking, video-streaming, and mobile Internet use are all examples where youth have led the charge in new ways of engaging online.
But this enthusiasm masks a potential problem: although young people don’t need coaxing to take up Internet technologies and their skills quickly improve relative to their elders, without guidance they remain amateur users of information and communications technology (ICT), which raises concerns about a generation of youth who are not fully digitally literate, yet are deeply immersed in cyberspace.
In order to be literate in today’s media-rich environments, young people need to develop knowledge, values and a whole range of critical thinking, communication and information management skills for the digital age. As increasing numbers of businesses, services and even democratic processes migrate online, citizens who lack digital literacy skills risk being disadvantaged when it comes to accessing healthcare and government services and opportunities for employment, education and civic participation.