The Myth of Youth and Computer Literacy

Many believe (wrongly, in my opinion) that because young people learn technology quickly, this equates to a form of computer literacy. Teens and tots may show special skill for setting the time on an electronic device, composing text messages without looking at the keypad, or racking up points on a Wii video game. However, literacy by definition is not only proficiency but comprehension.

Literacy is a social agreement on the form our knowledge takes. It is not a minimum level, but rather a moving measure of subject comprehension, the ability to recognize and use information. For example, writing your congressperson, or making an appeal to a business for a charitable donation – to be successful – requires more than basic literacy. Literacy is a social grace; it shows how well you articulate knowledge.

As a teacher, I see high school graduates begin by basic computer literacy course with a show of hands. How many believe they’re computer savvy? How many back up their computer’s data? How many out there know the difference between “they’re”, “their”, and “there”? The hand count could not be more telling. When people do not care enough about protecting data to perform a simple task like a backup, I’m sorry, their computer literacy is in question. When I receive homework with words used incorrectly, in our age of Spell Check, then perhaps the policies of “No Child Left Behind” failed us. College is the new High School.

Backup is merely one point. Here’s another. What is the magic behind a Web search? Most users do not know that unless data is tagged with keywords, pre-searched and stored in a database, search engines cannot retrieve and return to you all of those unrelated Web hits. How does a computer know that photo of Mount Shuksan? Keywords. What if that keyword is misspelled? We begin to see the point. The need for literacy exists at many levels.

Freeing your mind of misinformation is one way to view education. To perform well in today’s education system, many believe the South Korean way – rote memorization and high-pressure testing – achieves desired outcomes. That’s top-down. The bottom-up method is to encourage innate curiosity. Let’s remove the fear and stigma of question-asking, challenging authority, and, frankly, failure. This applies to adult learners even more, who must struggle to overcome years of being told how to learn.

At day’s end, if we remove the assumptions of young people’s ease with technology, we begin to peek behind the veil. The well-disguised myth serves to protect people from looking bad. When called upon in our occupations to perform, it will not be looks that pull us through, but a firm grasp of technical literacy.



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