kids and computers.

August 10, 2013

Kids can’t use computers and we should worry. Except that we shouldn’t. This article smacks of the condescension I often see from IT help. Oh, you don’t know what proxy settings are? Oh, you don’t understand how my school’s crazy internet filter works? And you wonder why people roll their eyes and try to ignore them. This article completely glosses over the fact that computers are complicated. It takes experience to fix problems. And just because it’s your job and your expertise, doesn’t mean it should be everyone’s.

Of the seven situations the author describes as “can’t use a computer” – I’m pretty sure these have all happened to me. I would consider myself tech-savvy. I know 0 about hardware. I know 0 about proxy settings. I know very little about how things are working on my computer. I know almost 0 about how the internet gets to my computer. But I know how to read. And I know that very little I do on my computer will ruin it forever.  And I know how to call my IT department. And I have a really good memory about how other people tell me to fix problems. (*Full disclosure: I have taken my basic CS classes, they do not teach you how to fix a computer).

In my opinion, these computer problems are about as complicated as the fact that in a stick-shift car, you need to press the clutch to get it started. Or in a Prius, you need to press the power and the brake. Or if the power goes out, you should go check the breaker. If you’ve never been in this situation, it is pretty damn hard to figure out what to do. I mean really, how many of us have sat with a machine thinking it’s broken when it’s really unplugged? I know it’s happened at least once to everyone. But my car thankfully does not break down very often, while I think of weird computer issues that happen at least once a week. Most of which fix themselves the next day.

Now, is it a problem that kids won’t even bother to read error messages (or instruction manuals)? Yes. Would it be a problem if they run into the same stupid problem like a wi-fi toggle over and over again without remembering how to solve it? Yes. Because that isn’t a computer literacy problem. Is it a little concerning to have lawmakers who don’t understand technology at all? Sure. But from what I’ve seen, there are lawmakers that don’t understand female bodies or pregnancy or homosexuality. So maybe let’s start with the basics. And admitting we don’t know anything about some things. As my customer used to tell me, “You can’t fix stupid”.

Would it be awesome to have a “how to fix broken shit around your house” class? YES! Although I’m pretty sure that class could easily be replaced by “learn to Google search and read some instructions”. Or possibly, look up a professional on Yelp to help you. At least that’s how I’ve gotten by for the years I’ve been away from my parents. We don’t worry that people don’t understand cars, plumbing, electrical work, credit cards, or even our very own complicated bodies (all of which I would say are a little bit more important that if I can check my email or not). We have professionals that do that for us. Or if you’re that kind of parent, you can teach them. Computers are the same. Don’t freak out.






  1. I really don’t like how he wrote the article. It came off super snobby and condescending.

    However, I kind of agree with his point that basic computer/internet usage skills should be something taught to kids as they’re growing up. I mean we still teach stuff like woodworking, and home economics at school. Surely it’s gotta be more useful in life than those two…

    • But what counts as basic computer skills? To me that means, skills to get you by when everything is working as expected – typing, navigation, basic Office suite skills. But all his examples, not counting the stupid ones like wrong passwords and wi-fi switches, are kinda tricky (proxy settings, CPU usage, backing up phone contacts, privacy settings). It falls under the same difficulty as filling your car tires with air, changing a tire, turning off the water to your toilet when it overflows, finding the breaker to fix a power outage. I didn’t do any of those things until I was in my 20’s and they all required me to call someone for help. We even require a class on driving a car – but we’re never forced to learn basic maintenance.

      ps. I don’t know what you learned in woodworking, but I made something like this. And that was totally useful.

      • It’s kind of beside the point, but I would argue that we should be teaching more about common maintenance stuff like how to stop the water in your toilet, how to do basic car maintenance, how to do basic electricity maintenance…

        My dad taught me how to do all of that stuff and I find that most people I know don’t know a thing about it.

        Also driver’s ed isn’t required everywhere. I never took it. I also don’t understand why driver’s ed doesn’t make you learn how to change oil or rotate your tires. That seems like the kind of thing you should learn how to do.

      • Maybe not like how to set proxy settings. But learning how to backup your computer (and restore from it). General privacy and safety guidelines when using the internet. How to know when stuff is spam or ads. Password security. Running an Anti-virus.

        I feel like that’s stuff people should really know how to do considering how much everyone work with computers on a daily basis.

        (Your woodworking projects were much more impressive. All we made were like clocks.)

  2. On the same token with computers, electricity, wood work, toilet training…, I wish they had taught and I had learned people skills in elementary school (and/or home). I find it easier dealing with machines than interacting with people. But it is an essential skill.

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