First off, I would like to preface this by saying that this doesn’t apply to everyone young or entering the workforce today. There are many very bright and talented young individuals when it comes to technology. I would also mention that the view of this from where I sit may not accurately represent a global perspective on the matter. I just want to dispel the common misconception that our youth, at least in my corner of the world, are technology leaders. Computer technology runs our world in more ways than ever before. People with a lack of serious tech skills entering the technology driven work force and economy are a disaster waiting to happen.
There has been much said about the digital divide between those with access to technology and skills to make use of it and those that don’t have much of either for social and economic reasons. What is being written about here is a different type of divide. Access isn’t so much of an issue in most industrialized nations anymore. What we have here is a largely unseen divide between those that use technology but don’t really understand it and those that actually posses skills and understanding of technology. We often assume it is just elderly or sheltered folks that don’t get it, but our youth are seriously lacking in any real tech skills. I’m American, but the situation in Europe appears to be much the same. Back in August The Guardian had an interesting piece on the gap in digital skills in Great Britain.
Many of us are under the mistaken impression that teenagers and young adults are more technically inclined than the rest of us. They believe all the exposure to video games, mobile devices & social media gives them more technical skill than the rest of us. This is a dangerous assumption and it couldn’t be further from the truth. It is much akin to assuming that the first couple generations born into society after automobile use became a standard mode of transportation were automatically good mechanics. It would be like assuming they were more ready to fix cars because they always rode in them growing up.
Young people may enter high school and college with more exposure to computers than we ever had at that age, but their knowledge is often limited to social media, games, and entertainment. When it comes to coding, understanding office software much beyond a word processor, or heaven forbid actually having a clue about how the hardware in their computer or device works forget it. Some have taken an interest and learned just enough to be dangerous, but most of what they think they known is born out of the latest tech fads and myth.
So why are we raising children with all this exposure to tech but no real understanding of it? Why are they entering college and the work force with no real technical skills to speak of? One of the main reasons is glaringly obvious to me. Those darn whippersnappers only have an interest in technology for a few reasons. Those would be, and not necessarily in order, socialization, entertainment, and games. It drives me nuts that I’m almost 40 and somebody in their teens or twenties wants me to fix their “hacked” device that supposedly has a “virus”. Any tech knows the story. Somebody does something stupid to their device and is convinced (or maybe just wants to believe) it’s one or both of those things. Whether they are trying to cover for embarrassment or really believe that is the problem they still don’t actually know what a virus is or what hacking is. They don’t care that what is wrong was likely caused by something they are doing. They certainly don’t know or care enough to modify their own behavior. If kids are so good with technology why do they keep breaking it and expecting us old farts to to fix it?
The other reason that there is such a lack of true tech skills is that schools don’t always have the required hardware or software resources for teaching real computer skills. There is also a shortage of teachers trained and ready to teach these skills. Most of what is taught is limited to productivity and basic use. This is improving in much of the USA but it is spotty and dependent on state and local funding. Also it doesn’t help that our educational system isn’t always designed to keep up with the rapid advancement of the technology they want to teach.
The private sector has been stepping up to try and bridge the gap widening gap between technology use and real technology skills. It is a good thing to because the ability to post selfies to Facebook and Instagram only goes so far. Services like Codemonkey, Professer Messer, and Udacity have stepped up to offer free training. Public Schools are doing their best to keep up, but until young people embrace technology for productivity over amusement they wont have or even seek out the skills they need to be true leaders in a world of rapid technological advancement.