Kids today *can't* use computers [updated]


This excellent article, written by a teacher in the UK, breaks down the myth that today's kids are geniuses with computers and anything technology-related.

From my own perspective, I consider it to be a distinction between using something and hacking something. I know how to "use" a car, i.e. I can drive it. I cannot, however, "hack" it very much - I can't change the oil, I broke the lightbulb last time I tried to replace one, and the whole engine system is mind-boggling - I just don't have the time or energy to learn how to hack it. When I was growing up I was fortunate enough that there was a computer in the house from the time I was 9, and, after finally getting bored with just games & discovering a desire to know more about it, when I was fifteen I set upon discovering how to hack them - how to manage the operating system, the parts within the computer, upgrade things, customize the software (binary editors FTW!), etc; eventually I started to learn how to build web applications and that turned into my career. This level of interest has always been something only a very small portion of the public have had any inclination towards – most just want to turn on an internet-connected gadget, read crap on Facebook, maybe read email if they're really advanced, watch some cat videos, then turn it off again. Kind of like me and my car – I just want to drive it, it's not important enough to me to learn (much) more.

The difference is, I don't see this in itself being a huge problem. Note everyone needs to know how to strip down and rebuild a computer from the bare parts, just like not everyone needs to know how to take a car apart and rebuild it.

What does not to change is the conventional wisdom that the current generation are geniuses with technology, when really they're just hitting rocks against something until it makes beeping noises. Like me looking at the engine of our car.

Today's generation just has more shiny toys than the previous one, and it's now more acceptable to have them. When I was growing up you could be bullied for having a computer; today you'd be bullied for not having one, or not having the correct one.

As for the educational aspects, I agree 100% with what the author says, that "computer literacy" was quickly turned into "knows how to load Internet Explorer, load Microsoft Word and maybe print something"; for this I blame management at every level of business and government for accepting the marketing campaigns by Microsoft that this was all people needed to know. Heck, even at the computer science level in college the standards are abysmal. Ten years ago when I was a teacher's aid on a computer hardware 101 course in college, I should have flunked the final test for at least 1/3rd of the class because they didn't know a damned thing ("Can you tell me which part is the hard drive?"), and I distinctly remember one girl saying "I don't remember this stuff, but it isn't really important anyway."

So, no, not everyone needs to know how to build a computer, or how to write software, but don't for one minute believe that the current generation are in any way more technically capable than the previous one just because they have more toys.

Update: Someone who I respect immensely wrote a blog post a few years ago about his experiences working for AOL online tech support and a time when he reached a point of understanding that not everyone gets technology, this stuff is hard.

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