Computer literacy doesn’t come about from just learning about computing, this has become obvious now. This is going to become more evident as the next generation of youngsters who grew up with their own iPads in hand start employment, but for now the problem is visible for the 90s kids coming of age and getting their 9 to 5 grind.
If you’re born in the early 90s, you would have known a time when the world didn’t revolve around computers – in fact you were the last group to experience this. You ran around outside, spoke to your friends in real life and other past times. We still had dial up in our house when I was around 12 though, and so my early experiences of using MSN were through this primitive medium. Slowly but surely we got broadband, and I spent an awfully lot of time online from the age of 13 onwards.
In no way am I an expert on computers, and my educational knowledge only really comes from normal school teaching. But somehow I understand a lot intuitively. I’m very good at guessing how to do things, and when I don’t know I’m very good at googling for the answer. When I go around my Nanna’s house I usually have a look at what they’ve done to their laptop, give it a quick clean with CCleaner and remove all the latest toolbars and programs that somehow get on there.
I don’t really know when it happened because I was too busy being an angsty teenager on different internet games and message boards, but I picked up a lot about the ‘language’ of computers and Windows specifically in that time. A great analogy I read (can’t remember where and I can’t find it, so let’s just steal it) is that being computer illiterate and trying to learn to use one is like trying to learn a language by memorising each word individually. In comparison, computer literacy is the equivalent of learning how the language works, using different tenses and consistencies that will help you to understand it organically. If you don’t understand what computer literacy is, that’s about as close as you can get as a comparison in my opinion.
So what’s happened is there’s a huge generation divide by who is learning organically by growing up with computers and those people who begrudgingly learnt how to use them as they became more prominent in their lives. It’s not a huge realisation that this exists for anyone, and it’s not anything more than an observation until you think of its effect on the workplace. I’ve done tonnes of work experience now for no money in offices, and it’s all been so valuable for my CV. But something I noticed everywhere I went is how much people over the age of 30 never really ‘got’ computers, they’re sort of just surviving the progressions being made to be able to do their jobs.
It’s frustrating for both generation sides of the technological curve. It’s frustrating for anyone who had to retrain to accommodate for all this change, constantly having to retrain as new technology comes in every few years. I can’t even imagine how annoying it must be. But it’s also frustrating for the young people entering the work force now too. We were the first generation to grow computer literacy, so the fact that you guys have to go to the Apple store to have ‘lessons’ on how to use an iPad doesn’t really make any sense to us. We come into the office after fighting to just obtain unpaid work experience, and the people in the office actually getting paid are less able to use the printer/scanner and computer programs than me on the first day. It doesn’t really feel fair, but that’s just how it is.
The thing I find most interesting about all this though (pondering this perhaps while I’m showing a paid employee of my work placement how to send files to the scanner from their desktop) is whether this has happened in history before. Has there been a time in history, other than the rise of digital media, when the novices are vastly more skilful than the experienced simply because they’ve been brought up with the objects? It seems quite a singular phenomenon to me. Not only that, but the divide there is today between the older and the younger in terms of their IT skills is greater than it ever will be because as the younger generations age, they won’t be as incapable as the older generations of today just because the progressions started when we were young enough to pick it all up easily. We’re moving into a time period where people will be more equipped for learning about technology, and therefore be able to develop technology further. As the generation gap tightens, technology will advance in an accelerated way because all generations will be intuitively in-sync with the culture and be able to contribute.