Are you digitally literate?

Crossposted from Medium, an evaluation from the depths of tech support

Working in tech support has its ups and downs, but is ultimately rewarding. Digital literacy—the ability to confidently and capably use and understand technology—is something that is often lacking from the people I support, from high school students to retirees. I mentally evaluate people on their level of digital literacy, not to judge or mock them, but to best assist them. The more self-aware a customer, the easier it is for us to help them. Rather than disparage the oft-perceived “stupidity” of the people that seek my assistance, I’d rather turn my attention toward improving their basic digital literacy skills.


What level of digital literacy do you possess?

Use this guide to evaluate your own level of digital literacy to find out where to start your learning.

Tier 1

What is an Internet browser?

What is the difference between the address bar and a search bar?

Can you select, cut, copy, and paste text?

How do you take a screenshot?

What is the difference between right and left click?

How can you make a bookmark?

How do you open a new tab or window?

How do you make a shortcut for a file or a program?

How can you alter pop-up blockers?

Where do files go on the computer after they’ve been downloaded?

How do you upload a file as an email attachment?

How can you force a program to close?

How do you clear an Internet cache?

What do the various buttons in your email mean? (e.g. reply, reply-all, CC, BCC, forward, archive, trash, spam, sent mail, etc.)

Where/to whom does your mail go when you click on one of those buttons?

How can you avoid or recognize phishing?

Why shouldn’t you repeat passwords?

How can you avoid (or recognize symptoms of) malware or viruses on your computer?

How do you install a program?


If you found yourself having trouble answering more than half of these questions, you fall solidly in Tier One of this questionnaire. Consult your organization’s technology help desk for assistance, resources, and job aids (as well as reassurance!). If you’re not working, consult a local library for programs or enlist the help of a willing friend to answer some basic questions. Don’t be afraid to take notes, or ask for detailed step by step instructions. By taking steps to further your own education, you can become more competent with computers.

Read on to find out if you’re ready for Tier Two…


Tier 2

What is a mail client?

How do you uninstall a program?

Do you know your hardware? What components do you own? (e.g. a modem? a router? both combined? a computer? a monitor? both combined? a mouse? a keyboard?)

Do you know how to restart or unplug each component of your hardware?

How can you change where files downloaded from the Internet are stored on the computer?

How do you open or run a program if it isn’t on the desktop, taskbar, or dock?

What is an operating system?

What can you do if you can’t connect to the internet?

How do you find out what version of an Internet browser you’re running?

How do you find out what version of an operating system (OS) you’re running?

Do you understand how to forward your email?

How can you convert a .doc file to a .pdf?

If something doesn’t work in one browser, do you try another?

What is a cache?

What are cookies with regard to the Internet, and do you know how to enable them?

Can you tell the difference between a USB cable, an ethernet cable, a VGA/DVI cable, or an HDMI cable and what each of them do?


Are you still able to answer more than half of these questions? Then you find yourself in Tier Two and you’re a fairly functional user of technology. You’ll get by, but there is still room to learn more skills, either by searching online for help with things that you don’t know how to do, or again, asking your technology help desk or a willing friend for help. Get in touch with local outreach organizations or your local library, and see if you can volunteer to assist others with their digital devices. On to tier 3…


Tier 3

Do you know how to run a virus scan?

Can you set up and run computer backups?

Can you interpret an email bounceback message on a basic level?

What are the differences between POP and IMAP email fetching?

Can you access a server using “run” on a PC or “go” on a Mac?

Can you open command prompt or terminal?

Can you open BIOS?

Can you open safe mode?

What is an IP address? How can you find out what IP address your machine has?

What is a MAC address? How can you find out what MAC address your machine has?

Can you run basic commands in command prompt or terminal, such as IP address lookups?

What network troubleshooting can you do beyond restarting a router?


If you are able to answer more than half of these questions, congratulations! You are in Tier Three. You can put your skills to work by volunteering at your local library or with other outreach organizations to spread digital literacy among those that didn’t (or don’t) have the opportunity to learn a lot about computers in a formal setting. The most valuable thing about possessing knowledge is sharing that knowledge with others. Cultivate your patience and communication skills by walking others through basic usage and understanding of technology.


So how digitally literate are you?

Digital literacy skills are lacking in our education. It’s expected that anyone under 30 should be able to pick up technology immediately based on “intuitive” design interfaces. It’s expected that anyone over 30 should make wholesale process adjustments in their work or home lives to incorporate new software, systems, and devices, without much training or education. This expectation is insufficient and inconsiderate.

Resources that are available to help are often either not sought out, difficult to find, confusing, or they neglect to address existing gaps in digital literacy. If you’re not feeling confident about your tech skills (no matter what tier you fall into) don’t be afraid to ask for help! If someone is rude or impatient with you, you can always find someone else to help you. The easiest way to learn something new and foreign is by accepting what you’re capable of, and being willing to listen to the people that can help. A lot of computer skills work like math—they get better with repetition, and it’s easier to have a base to build off of than to start in the middle and work your way out.

Additionally, if you’re a developer or manager trying to implement new technology at your organization, ensure that ample support resources and training opportunities are available to your employees, volunteers, and customers so that they can use the technology and your product to its, and their, best potential.


*disclaimer: the views reflected within are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my current or former employers*

One thought on “Are you digitally literate?

  1. This is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information? Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

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