Online Klout: Digital Gateway or the New, Mysterious Gatekeeper?

With each passing year, digital literacy solidifies its position as the currency of success.

It's not just the continued decline of American manufacturing jobs, and what we already know about the upward trend toward the future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs.

The future of upward mobility, access to education and jobs, is becoming more tied to digital skills -- the ability to navigate, create and transact in the digital, social world.

Take, for example, a recent Forbes article, "Will Your Klout Score Get You Hired? The Role of Social Media in Recruiting."

Klout, a relatively new way of measuring "influence" via a proprietary, mostly secret algorithm that the company can adjust at will (and has), takes our activity on social media and calculates a number based on interactions, and some other indicia of "influence."

"Klout sees this as similar to an SAT," says Klout spokeswoman Lynn Fox. "It is one of many factors that is considered when a person applies to a university. Likewise, the Klout Score can be used as one of many indicators of someone's skill set."

But a look at Klout's website, especially the "how it works" section, where Klout describes its algorithm, is interesting. At the time of this writing, the picture above the word "influence" was of a young couple, in their 20s (maybe), with sunglasses, posing together for a 'selfie.'

Influence, and influencers, look quite different in the Klout universe, it seems.

Add to this the move to leverage social networks like for college admissions and we have a sea change in the priority to be put on cultivation of digital skills.

The guidance counselor is moving online, as CNN/Fortune tech reports in "the social side of college planning." Even admission to elite institutions of higher education will be influenced by teen applicants' adeptness at personal branding for the digital age.

These facts multiply the need for serious commitment to teaching digital skills 100 times over.

The real challenge is in how we begin to reform K-12 education, and the nation's higher education institutions for this reality. How do we address the digital divide in skills and digital literacy, so that, online, traditionally underperforming poor, rural and minority students, are tooled for success?

The transformative power of the Internet is greatly diminished without a significant, institutional commitment to advancing universal digital literacy. We want an Internet that disrupts poverty and drives opportunity. Access is the first hurdle. High levels of digital literacy is the key to the castle.

Jason Llorenz is a part time lecturer at the Rutgers University School of Communication & Information, and Director of Innovation Policy for LIN@R, the Latino Information Network at Rutgers. Follow him on twitter @llorenzesq.