Disclaimer: I am not I am not a “computer expert” by any stretch of the imagination. I have an excellent understanding of Microsoft Windows, a good grasp of Mac OS, and a decent handle on Linux. I have very little knowledge of the underlying code, and I can’t write in any programming language (except a smattering of Mathamatica code). I have constructed one computer with my father from parts bought at Fry’s Electronics.
I keep hearing about how my generation is supposed to be the most technologically advanced ever. Generally, I believe that. But my experiences over my first year of college have lead me to speculate that perhaps the Millennial Generation, (also Generation Y — or “Generation Next” if you must) is not as proficient with computers as the public is lead to believe.
Sure, we all take notes on laptops, use the latest smartphones that our parents bought us, and “connect” with each other through Facebook , but do we ever stop to consider how our technology operates?
Case in point: almost every one of my peers uses Facebook in some fashion. Many people use it as a tertiary means of communication (after face-to-face conversations and cellphones). In some social circles, it has surpassed email as the primary method of written communication. This casual form of conversation may be a reason why many members of my telecommunications class can’t seem to write a proper salutation in their emails to the professor. In addition, many of my peers also use Facebook to stay posted on their favorite writers, musicians, political parties, cult leaders, and underwear brands. But is Facebook the best way to do this?
Personally, I do not think so. I use Google Reader to stay updated on the things I feel are relevant to me, and I still use email as the primary means to communicate with some of my friends — who also have Facebook pages. The point is this: I experimented with several options, and chose the ones which worked best for me. Until recently, I believed that my peers did the same.
When I arrived at college, I was shocked at how little many of my peers knew about computers. Granted, almost every student at UGA owns a computer (or so it seems), but I have begun to wonder whether everyone knows how to properly and fully use one. For example, many of my peers fail to properly understand a computer’s file system. A few of my friends (and more of my relatives) fall victim to the erroneous belief that files lie within programs:
Me: “Where did you save the file?”
Him: “It’s in Microsoft Word.”
A more general problem, one that is far more common, often happens to those who had minimal contact with computers prior to receiving their first as a high school graduation present. Never having developed a method for organizing files within a computer filing system, these unfortunate souls usually do one of two things. Either they accept the “convenient” filing system that the computer defaults to (think Microsoft’s “My Documents” nightmare) or they invent one that doesn’t work well enough. Both scenarios usually lead to the same problem: people completely lose track of their files, or they have folders stuffed with so many cryptically named files that they cannot find the pertinent ones. Even worse is when people don’t know the difference between the “Save” and “Save as” commands, or when they misunderstand it.
The underlying issue, which I call the “Mac mentality,” is common among people who don’t “get” computers, but use them anyway. This is usually due to necessity or because these people (usually correctly) think that their lives will be made easier. But computers can be intimidating for the uninitiated; as a result these people tend to passively accept whatever sort of computer or software is initially presented to them, often without exploring program options or looking for alternatives. It seems that these sorts of people are suspicious of those who try to help them without being asked. For example, when I suggest to someone using Safari that she try out Firefox or Chrome, I am often met with what appears to be distrust, as if I were attempting to exploit her ignorance of computers for my own devious purposes.
Of course, I am by no means saying that all Mac users are technologically illiterate. One of my friends who claims to “know nothing about computers” uses a Mac, and he displays more proficiency with the thing than many of my other friends. He very rarely requires assistance, and then only with exceptionally stupid programs that no one can figure out, like the Mac version of Microsoft PowerPoint.
But, I hear you cry, what about smartphones? Every kid has one these days! First of all, speak for yourself, because I don’t have one. Second, smartphone interfaces are painfully simple. You touch a picture of the thing you want, and it appears. That’s it. No one cares how the thing actually operates. Just like with our computers, we just trust that they will work, and when they don’t we take them to the local Genius Bar or Geek Squad. (Don’t get me started on that.)
Without a doubt, the Millennials use more technology than any previous generation. But in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent upon technology, don’t you want to know how it all works, so you can get the most out of your gadgets, and fix them when they go south?
Special thanks to my father for beginning the dialogue that lead to this post.