The Technology Gap

As written in an application for the East Bakersfield Rotary Scholarship:

The greatest enigma that we face today is that people do not understand how technology works.

While we are quick to admit that our elders have trouble using computers, the younger generation gets a pass on technology education. We don’t usually think of Internet hipsters using Facebook on the latest iPhone as “technologically challenged.” But in reality, we are all in the same boat. We do not really understand the devices that we use everyday.

The average person knows how to use a web browser to open websites and type a document using Microsoft Word. That is all. He can barely navigate files and folders, he cannot solve computer problems by himself, and he almost certainly cannot maintain the machine properly. Good security practices will stop nearly any computer virus, but he runs out to buy the latest copy of his favorite anti-virus software. Computers are modular and can be progressively upgraded, but he purchases a new system every year. And the mere thought of the average man being able to program a computer is simply ludicrous.

This lack of comprehension is disturbing because it can be so easily exploited. TV infomercials advertise miracle virus-removal programs that actually scam ignorant computer users out of their money; shady websites and tech startups offer low-quality software that over-promises and fails to deliver, frustrating customers who didn’t know any better; people buy the latest and greatest models every year because their old devices, thanks to neglected maintenance, have become “too slow.” It’s almost as if the tech industry profits from our lack of computer education.

But the most concerning development has been the rise of cloud computing: services that entice computer users to upload their data onto Internet servers. Google, Microsoft, and Apple tempt consumers by marketing these services as easy to use and safe. What most people don’t realize is that there is a hidden cost. Companies make money on their cloud services by selling the data to advertisers – and government agencies such as the NSA can also snoop through it.

If American youth expect to get ahead in the 21st century, they must be able to use technology to its fullest potential. Today, computer education is stuck in the 1990’s. Students are only taught how to write documents and, occasionally, create presentations. We need to change this! Computer classes should expand their curricula with lessons about keyboard shortcuts, installing new software, using files and folders, and maintaining operating systems. And of course, schools must embrace the exciting new field of computer science! Teaching basic programming logic could benefit all students by giving them new insights into science and mathematics. And for those who want to dive deeper, low-cost minicomputers like the Raspberry Pi could allow schools to create truly innovative robotics and electronics courses.

We have been taught how to use computers, not how to understand them. Today’s children deserve better.

One thought on “The Technology Gap

  1. Brilliant! I am not nearly as versed as you are in computer science, but coming of age in the late-90s and having the privilege of attending public schools with enough money to expand beyond the rest of the county gave me the opportunity to develop computer savvy far beyond that of most of my students. My freshman intro to computers class was an entire year in length and included curricula on everything from the standard components of the machines to using BASIC coding (both on its own and in conjunction with Hypercard). This taught me new applications of logic and mathematical concepts that carried through into my math and science courses. In college, I dabbled in HTML and CSS, which continues to give me an understanding of files and folders, not to mention rudimentary understanding of how websites are put together, that dazzle my colleagues and students.

    If we do not change this, I fear further mindlessness and severe impediments to progress.

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