Posted by: crudbasher | August 12, 2013

What Does It Mean To Know How To Use Computers?

I came across a great blog post from a teacher who is very computer savvy. He lays out a case that the newer generations of students actually don’t know how to use computers. Oh sure, they can use them to web browse but they don’t know how to do troubleshooting if it doesn’t work.

From a blog post called Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You

‘So what do you teach?’ she asked as I worked on her presentation.
‘Computing’ I replied.
‘Oh… I guess these days you must find that the kids know more about computers than the teachers…’


Normally when someone spouts this rubbish I just nod and smile. This time I simply couldn’t let it pass. ‘Not really, most kids can’t use computers.’ (and neither can you – I didn’t add.)

She looked surprised by my rejection of what is generally considered a truism. After all, aren’t all teenagers digital natives? They have laptops and tablets and games consoles and smart phones, surely they must be the most technologically knowledgeable demographic on the planet. The bell went, and I really did have a lesson to teach, so I didn’t have time to explain to her my theories on why it is that kids can’t use computers. Maybe she’ll read my blog.

The truth is, kids can’t use general purpose computers, and neither can most of the adults I know. There’s a narrow range of individuals whom, at school, I consider technically savvy. These are roughly the thirty to fifty year-olds that have owned a computer for much of their adult lives. There are of course exceptions amongst the staff and students. There are always one or two kids in every cohort that have already picked up programming or web development or can strip a computer down to the bare bones, replace a motherboard, and reinstall an operating system. There are usually a couple of tech-savvy teachers outside the age range I’ve stated, often from the Maths and Science departments who are only ever defeated by their school laptops because they don’t have administrator privileges, but these individuals are rare.

Great great points here. I am 40 and can use computers because I grew up when PCs were first coming out. It required a lot of effort to upgrade them or maintain them. I remember putting in a new graphics card and trying to deconflict the IRQs (if you know what I mean then you probably know how to use computers).

(H/T Petervaldivia)

(H/T Petervaldivia)

If computers still needed that much effort to use, they would never have taken off like they did. Most people don’t care about the computer until it doesn’t work. Even then, they just want somebody else to fix it. I suppose Apple is partially to blame for this in that they tried to hide all the workings of a computer with their Macs and various iDevices. In fact one of Apple’s catch phrases was “It just works“. Overall though I think this is just the natural progression of technology. The easier you make a technology to use, the more people will be able to buy it. Economics drive simplicity.

So is this a problem? I am of two minds about this. First, I think learning about how a computer works is a useful skill to know and can spark thinking about other STEM related topics. On the other hand, a computer is just a tool, and the Internet is more of a utility now. We just expect it to work, and call somebody when it doesn’t.  This has happened many times in technology (the author gave an example of how people used to know a lot about cars but don’t now). Overall though, I am not too concerned about this. I would make sure kids have a good exposure to basic computer skills and if they want to learn more, they will. It’s not for everyone.

Anyway, it’s a great blog post.



  1. I wrote a post talking about his topic, too. It’s true, kids know much less about computers now. They know their favorite websites, but that’s about it. “Computer Literate Youth, Maybe Not So Much”

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