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Tech illiteracy will enslave the population

23 Dec

“Kids these days are so amazing at using the computer!”



It’s popular wisdom that the younger generations are “tech natives” and naturally know how to use technology given that they grew up in a world with that technology. In my experience, this sentiment is usually uttered by people so far removed from technology, that the simplest operation of technology appears to be magic.

The fact is, most people today who appear to “know how to use a computer” can only navigate very specific services and devices. For example: If you ask the average North American teenager or college student, they’d probably be able to show you with ease how to navigate facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr, reddit, or a smartphone. If you ask them to install a new operating system on their computer, build a computer, write a program, or design a website they’ll stare at you like a deer in the headlights.

They don’t know how to do these things and they’re the “tech natives.” The reality is that they, like most people who use technology, have a nice comfortable bubble of “these are the programs and devices I use daily” and that’s it. They like things simple and predictable. Throw them an error or something unexpected and they’re helpless.

In my short time working in the tech field I’ve been shocked at just how few basic troubleshooting skills people have when it comes to technology. For most of the people I’ve come across, the computer is a magic box and if something doesn’t work, they’re helpless. What I find really interesting is that people don’t usually think this way about their cars.

If they get in their car to go to work in the morning and it doesn’t start, I think most people wouldn’t immediately throw up their hands and go “oh no! the magical car is broken!  I have no idea what it could be!” Most people would at least check to see if it has gas, then check to see if the battery was dead. Some of the more advanced drivers would then check other engine factors. The point is, most people would at least investigate to some small degree.

Not so with computers. I think the disconnect is partly due to the fact that, unlike a car, there really aren’t that many moving parts to a computer. If a program stops working, it’s harder to visualize why that program stopped working. As such, most people lack even basic troubleshooting skills when it comes to computers.

I want to preface what I’m about to say with a disclaimer. I am not a microsoft fanboy. I really couldn’t care less if you love or hate microsoft. That being said: I dislike Mac computers.

I say I dislike them not for technical reasons, well maybe a little, but mainly for philosophical reasons. You see, I believe Mac’s popularity is connected with the fact that people are technologically illiterate and just want things to “work.”

“But GP! What’s wrong with just wanting things to work?! For wanting a smooth user experience with little to no technical knowledge required by the user? Doesn’t that democratize technology and enable the lowest common denominator access to that technology?”

Yes, it does open technology up to the lowest common denominator in a way that does not require them to have any technical knowledge, and that’s the problem!

Look, computers aren’t perfect. From time to time you’re going to run into problems that require you to think critically. That’s precisely what Macs (and console gaming for that matter) try to avoid. They try to design a user experience that requires as little thinking as possible on the part of the user.

In a world that is increasingly dependent on technology in everyday life, I can’t help but feel this attitude is reckless and dangerous to society.

You’re creating a generation that is simultaneously dependent on technology and ignorant of the very technology they depend upon. It’s a recipe for a gullible and vulnerable population; which is precisely why there is an incentive for the status quo to perpetuate this trend.

Technology is a very potent force for change, yet if the population can’t interact with that technology outside of a specific set of regulated and confined relations, then that technology loses all potential as a change agent.

At the end of the book “Cypherpunks” Jullian Assange talks about a future wherein he foresees the only truly “free” people in the world being the people who are technically literate. Sadly, I think he’s right in his prediction of where the world is going. At least in my experience as a help-desk technician and systems administrator I’ve seen that most people not only lack basic technical and troubleshooting skills, but are actively hostile to the notion of acquiring those skills. 

Darwin was famous for is realization that organisms most adaptive to change were the organisms most likely to survive. The technically illiterate people who happily consume no-thinking required products are not only refusing to adapt to a technical world, they’re content to stay ignorant in exchange for ease of use and comfort. They’re too short-sighted to see that there is a price for ignorance: freedom.