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10 Digital Era Truths (that still must be realized)

This post reminds readers – especially technology hold outs – of ten Digital Era truths that individuals, organizations, and communities must accept and (eventually) embrace. Other truths are welcome.

In the summer of 2011 I wrote a blog post about the vital role social and digital technologies played in the planning and execution of a road trip in the American West (click here to check out the related photo essay). I followed that up with this post, which recast some of my reflections in broader terms. Two years later, the Digital Era truths I identified then are still valid, but for many that validity has still not yet been realized.

10 Digital Era Truths

Like many active technology users, I take its integration into my life for granted. But I’m often reminded that most people do not embrace it the same way I do. In particular, many people still love to disparage social media, especially social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. I regularly hear disdainful comments about what vast wastelands they are, full of vapid, narcissistic oversharing about what people had for lunch and other banalities. Like many prejudicial statements, the criticisms contain an element of truth, but that doesn’t mean they accurately reflect reality…

The following Digital Era truths are important not just for individuals and organizations, but also the communities in which they’re embedded.

TRUTH 1: Interacting via social media and other digital technologies is not a substitute for “real life” interactions. In the Digital Era, it IS real life.

TRUTH 2: Digital communication should not be viewed as an adjunct to other communication forms; rather, it should be fully integrated into the ways in which we connect with others. We should rely on ALL forms of media – both traditional and new – to achieve our goals and enhance our experiences.

TRUTH 3: Time spent in cyberspace is no more a waste than time spent on any other activity that brings people pleasure and enriches their lives. The value of the time spent should be determined based on a person’s own goals and objectives – and not the judgments of others.

TRUTH 4: At a fundamental level, digital technology doesn’t dramatically alter what we do, but it does give us “new tools for doing old things” (the original Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) tagline). The idea isn’t to use the new tools just because they’re shinier and everyone else seems to love them. We should use them because they allow us to accomplish things in better ways by enabling us to access a wider range of (more current) information, minimizing bulk, reducing paper production, etc.

TRUTH 5: Digital technology can increase both efficiency and effectiveness. Most activities can be planned and executed via traditional means, but doing so can often take more time and limit flexibility. Traditional approaches can also inhibit the serendipity, immediacy and intimacy of our experiences.

TRUTH 6: Its benefits notwithstanding, we shouldn’t become overly reliant on digital technology and lose our ability to rely on more traditional media – sometimes you gotta kick it old school. Flexibility and adaptability may be better markers of a Digital Era sophisticate than someone who voraciously consumes new technologies.

TRUTH 7: The more we all engage with digital technologies, the more we all benefit. Technology isn’t a cure-all and there are certainly challenges, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. In addition to pursuing opportunities, we must also address challenges. Costs and risks are inevitable, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid progress.

TRUTH 8: The over-reliance on the distinction between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” is counter-productive. Fluency is a state of mind, not a factor of chronological age. Anyone can be as digitally sophisticated as they choose to be. And as I like to remind people, technology doesn’t care how old you are.

TRUTH 9: The idea that digital technology levels the playing field is not a myth. Individuals and organizations of all sizes and types can benefit from enhancing their digital profiles. The biggest barriers to entry are self imposed.

TRUTH 10: The ability to leverage new technologies both strategically and tactically is important for organizations of all types, not just for-profit or consumer-oriented enterprises. These technologies have powerful implications for economies and communities of all sizes throughout the world. In addition to direct beneficiaries (e.g., commercial enterprises), we have to remember the indirect beneficiaries (e.g., governments, citizens) as well. Leadership is critical, not just from individual organizations, but from Chambers of Commerce and government too. We need to remember the interconnectedness of our communities and look at opportunities from a holistic perspective.

What other Digital Era truths would you add to this list? As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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Hal Zapken

Your “Truths” are awesome. Clearly presented and applicable to just about everyone. I especially like #4. Using by example, progress has historically been looked upon as devilish and evil. I would like to share this if you allow.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Great set of truths! I saved this on my Instapaper app! Now if we can only get our leadership to read this! I’d be happy to get leadership to send me an e-mail or participate in social networks!

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Thanks for your comments, Hal and Terry. I’m glad the post was valuable to you both. Please do feel free to share it (widely!). I provided a link to the original piece from our website/blog in my response to Mary.