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How to Become Digitally Literate Today

Entrepreneurs are divided into digital natives and digital immigrants. If you don't go native in a hurry, you will be left behind.

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As we move deeper into the digital age, the divide between what you might call digital immigrants and digital natives grows sharper. Entrepreneurs over 30 years old tend to be digital immigrants. They didn't grow up immersed in digital technology. For digital natives, on the other hand, working with technology is almost like breathing--and it may be giving them an advantage.

So if you're only marginally inclined when it comes to tech, or not at all, you need to ask yourself: What are the implications for how you're building your business based on the way the next generation wants to use your product? It's clear that many people are doing business not on the phone but from the phone, using it for everything from email to video conferencing to running payroll.

The pace of change is accelerating very, very quickly. That means you have to constantly be thinking about how prepared you are to bring services to your clients who are doing business on a smartphone or tablet. You should understand software-as-a-service and the "cloud." As I've written before, it's important to become an early adopter.

Learning technology is not going to come easy to many—just talk to a 13 year old if you want to see how far behind you are—but you have to put forth the effort. If you're simply choosing not to bother, you may wake up one day to find your business is outdated or worse.

Digital natives, meanwhile, are not only wizards with gadgets, but they're fully engaged with social media. This means:

  • They promote themselves and communicate with customers or leads on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.
  • Their Gmail is routed through their phone and tablet.
  • They have FaceTime meetings with clients while they wait for a flight at the airport.
  • They're sharing articles on Flipboard and storing files on Dropbox.

The list goes on and on, and will continue to evolve.    

In essence, digital natives know the language of technology because they've been speaking it since birth. For digital immigrants, it's as if they've suddenly arrived in a foreign country. While they may know some of the words and phrases, it's still hard to put it all together. They need to learn the new language.

The next generation of customers will, no doubt, be fluent in technology and they're the ones you're going to eventually have to connect with.

Ignoring these trends is not an option. Continually trying to read about and educate yourself about new technologies, and new uses for them, will put you in position to succeed.

Last updated: Apr 19, 2012

MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University.
@michaelalter




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