Bridging the Technology Gap

20 August 2013

The world of computing has come a long way in the area of usability. It’s possible for anyone to pick up a device and find their way around it because of clean graphical user interfaces. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing that makes the Internet accessible to everyone no matter of age. The problem is that this is moving a large part of the population to the point where they are computer illiterate, with little to no understanding of how to fix or how to manage their own computers. As we collectively decide to delegate the duties of maintaining and building devices to the IT departments and engineers - who many think rather low of - we start to remove the understanding of how to manage an increasingly computerized world from policy makers.

As we move to more accessible computers, we start to introduce kids to technology at younger and younger ages, it’s easy to lead ourselves to believe that kids are getting increasingly computer literate. While we are giving kids access to a wealth of information and are acclimating them to using technology, we are not promoting any kind of computer literacy. Using a computer is becoming a skill nearly ubiquitous as knowing how to speak, but as with knowing how to speak not involving any particular amount of literacy, knowing how to navigate through menus doesn’t make one computer literate. Instead of pushing for skills on how to manage a computer we delegate all of the “hard” tasks that we would rather not understand to the lowly IT department and engineers, effectively taking control of our data out of our own hands. We’re creating a generation of people who understand technology less than the alleged “technologically illiterate” older generation which is nothing short of downright dangerous when it comes to a new generation of people writing policies and managing companies. We’re losing control of our data and our technology as we remove ourselves from it.

We need to fix the problem before we lose control of our own devices as they get increasingly locked down and we’re no longer able to manage them. For some, that may seem appealing, but it isn’t a bright future when our data and the abilities of the things we use are entirely at the mercy of the computer shop down the street or the IT department in the basement, or the policymakers governing what we are allowed to do with them. Already we see problems with this with attempted policies like SOPA and CISPA trying to take what we are allowed to see out of our hands.

To prevent this, we need to put aside the irrational fear of knowing how our devices work under the hood. We need to look at the under the hood as another place for our kids to explore, whether or not we understand it ourselves. There’s a whole world to be explored beyond the safety of Microsoft and Apple with a lot of exciting things to discover. Linux is free, the source code is feely and legally available, and a number of projects are open to people looking to learn and contribute. Languages like Python are free, easy to learn, and easy to develop in.

Projects such as the Raspberry Pi are a great place for anyone willing to learn to dive into learning Linux and how to make a device do anything, limited only by your imagination. We need to put aside our irrational fear of letting our kids explore a place safer than the Internet that lies behind every device we use and broaden our horizens to become computer literate again. Take it from a software engineer - it can be intimidating, but it’s an important skill. We need to stop allowing kids to just use their devices but to push them to explore further than ‘liking’ and ‘following.’

Useful resources for learning or teaching:

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