Maybe she was tired, clearly she was frustrated, but it wasn't obvious that she held the author in any disdain, though the author seemed to perceive it. What we're sure of is that the author held her in such low regard.
I wonder if she picked up on that. I suspect she did, and I suspect it contributes to the negative stereotypes that the author wanted to rail against by mentioning all this.
> ‘Do you know where the proxy settings are?’ I asked, hopefully.
> It took me about ten seconds to find and fill in the proxy settings.
Well for Christ's sake don't ask her something she almost surely doesn't know if it only took you ten seconds of looking. Look for ten seconds first.
The first rule of any educator is to never, under any circumstances, make someone feel inept. And it was so easily avoidable here.
Of course people can't use computers. They're not trying to use computers. They're trying to get X done. The computer is a device that, most of the time, just gets in the way of doing X.
Just the way that cars are a device that get from point A to point B. Few poeple get in a car to drive. They get in a car to locate themselves to point B.
In this case, the person can't use a computer because people like the author condescend a bit, fix the problem in ten seconds, and don't set them up to be just a bit wiser for next time.
The important part of the story is the part where the author explains that on some networks, you need to set extra settings so the office network can communicate with the outside world network. I hope the author explained what it took him ten seconds to do, so that she might be able to help herself next time. The omission (and disdain) leads me to suspect not, or at least that actually helping her was not an important part of the story.
We would rightly laugh at anyone who complained that their car wouldn't 'turn on' when they jammed their key into the gap between the ignition and the steering column, or because the car was out of fuel. We'd laugh if they complained that they can't see at night because they didn't turn the lights on, and needed reminders every time they drove at night to find the light switch.
We'd laugh at someone who burned the car's engine and transmission up because they stomped on the gas pedal while the car was in park, because "when I press it the car usually goes forward but this time it didn't." Repeat, so on and so forth with every 'common' function in a car.
The problem is that people aren't learning about these basic functions that are required in day-to-day operation of a computer, like they do with a car. The wifi is a good example: Someone who owns a laptop should have a cursory familiarity with the wireless networking functionality and be able to find and connect to networks, because a laptop is made to be portable and will therefore be expected to use unfamiliar networks. Granted, the proxy settings are somewhat more forgivable as that's a non-standard setting, but it still doesn't excuse the person's total inability to find the network.
And the main point of the article stands as a rebuttal of the truism "Kids are better at computers", because they significantly aren't. They're only slightly less clueless than their parents.
However, it's pure lunacy on the part of the IT guy to expect people to know the specific proxy settings (including whether or not a proxy is needed), where to enter them, what sites exactly are being blocked, and how to diagnose where in the chain of powerpoint -> computer -> AP -> proxy -> internet your video is failing and how to fix it.
Going to cars, that's like expecting someone to be able to diagnose why an engine isn't starting when they turn the key in the ignition. Without any sonic or haptic clues.
But for network issues, the error message you're going to get 19 times out of 20 is some minor variant of "Server could not be reached." Which offers no additional information that you don't already know from it failing to work.
Anyway, if you can definitively figure out which of the following is true from that message without the use of additional diagnostic utilities, well... (yes I have personally seen all of these (except exactly 12 which I've seen variants of but worded it the same way as the article))
1. Your cable modem can't find a signal, because of weather conditions
2. Your cable modem can't find a signal, but can once it's rebooted
3. Your access point stopped working, and needs a power cycle
4. The AP failed to give your computer any of: an IP address, DNS, a gateway, a working gateway
5. Your computer thinks it's connected to a wireless network, but the AP isn't receiving packets it sends
6. Your computer thinks it's connected to a wireless network, has the correct gateway, and can ping the AP, but nothing else (despite other computers on the same network working fine)
7. Your AP randomly resets long-lived TCP streams (due to a bug in its firmware)
8. Your ISP reliably corrupts traffic from eBay, fixed by getting a different IP address and gateway from the ISP (by changing MAC addresses)
9. Your ISP has the wrong DNS entries for the site you're attempting to visit
10. You need to visit a specific, unadvertised intranet page and sign in before your connection works
11. You need to manually enter intranet proxy settings before your connection works
12. Your intranet proxy is blocking Youtube and the player you're using doesn't bundle a general-purpose web browser
13. Youtube videos buffer at 3 kb/s from your laptop, but work fine from your tablet, on the same network
(okay 12 and 13 are cheating a little since they don't give any error message, but the point is that the error messages are basically never enough on their own to diagnose network issues)
I appreciate your point regarding the multitude of possibilities for a server error, but remember what we're talking about. The user did not even attempt to read the error message, did not know what it said, and kept retrying thinking things would change. He didn't take some next step to try to diagnose potential connection problems (e.g. check for ethernet cable), he just threw his hands in the air, said it doesn't work, and ran to IT. He can't use computers.
The only solution is higher quality in the development of software and hardware, and that's back on us.
Honestly, I'm mostly with the author on this. Maybe it's a UK thing and maybe his experience of schools has made him particularly jaded, but I see a lot of functional tech illiterates. For example - I've recently had people not notice their laptop wasn't charging after being warned it had a dodgy power cable and reminded where the charge status icon was, then wonder went it suddenly turned off. Or complain that their browser was broken and installed a different browser because their home page had been changed, even though the available functionality was identical.
We need to make computers easier to discover, sure, but users need to take responsibility for their own machines not ask to be babied while assuming every IT person can bale them out.
The notion that all the computers somehow mysteriously talk to one another, or that if you can get WiFi you should be able to get to the whole internet, is not crazy. It is The Way Things Should Be! It's our job to rig up the equivalent of headlight switches for computers, so they work the way the folk expectation says. If your headlight switch required you to have a compatible dongle, which of course has exactly the same connector as 15 other types of dongle, and will only illuminate the left half of the road until you flip 50 other switches in the car, it would be crazy. That's what the computer world feels like a lot of the time.
It's definitely true that there is such a thing as digital literacy, that it is crucially important (although harder to get than it ought to be), and that many people mistakenly don't put in the effort to acquire it, for many reasons.
>The first rule of any educator is to never, under any circumstances, make someone feel inept. And it was so easily avoidable here.
There are many sentences in this article indicating that this is not an isolated, unique reaction from the poster.
This paragraph especially irked me:
> I’ve messed up, as I’m sure many of you have. When we purchased an XBox it was Techno-Dad to the rescue. I happily played about with the mess of cables and then created profiles for everyone. When my son’s MacBook was infected with the FlashBack virus Techno-Dad to the rescue. I looked up some on-line guides and then hammered away in the terminal until I had eradicated that bad-boy. When we purchased a ‘Family Raspberry Pi’ Techno-Dad to the rescue. I hooked it all up, flashed an OS to the SD-card and then sat back proudly, wondering why nobody other than me wanted to use the blasted thing. All through their lives, I’ve done it for them. Set-up new hardware, installed new software and acted as in-house technician whenever things went wrong. As a result, I have a family of digital illiterates.
Well, maybe it shouldn't have been "techno dad to the rescue", but rather "dad spending a moment with his kids showing them how to setup a raspberry pi/their xbox/etc.". And if the kids aren't even interested in setting up their own XBox, well then that's their prerogative. Give a man a fish, etc.
Addendum: when I was a pre-teen/teen, I spent all my free time learning about computers, reading programming books, etc. There was another kid just like me whom I hung out with, but it was just the two of us in our entire school. Nowadays, when I teach I meet kids who know python/html/php, fiddle with minecraft mods, jailbreak their android tablet so they can run a GBA emulator, etc. all the time. So I couldn't disagree more with OP's title. Having heavily worked with educators/as an educator has led me to believe that when someone complains that "kids can't X", it's more often than not their own shortcomings than the "kids'".
That is exactly what the paragraph you quoted means. The author regrets just doing it, and wishes he would have taken the time to show his family how to set things up.
I'm really confused by this comment of yours.
They won't always be living with "techno-dad", so it behooves them at some point to get some of that knowledge. The onus is eventually on someone to want to figure this out. To bring up a scenario from the article, I know I wanted to play Super Nintendo, so when I got one, I made damn well sure I know how to hook it up & operate it in case something went wrong. If my job relies on being connected to the Internet and editing proxy settings, it's even more important that I know the ins & outs of that...
At some point, it is clear that people don't want to learn, whether they think it is beneath them, outside of their expertise, too hard, or, in this case, they know they'll always have someone else to do it for them.
Just like I don't need to be a certified mechanic to change my own oil or a headlight, you don't need a degree in CS, CE or IS to figure out how to remove preinstalled bloatware from the computer you just bought at Best Buy or to understand that a suspicious link in an email from an unknown sender shouldn't be clicked. In any case, the answer is always a web search away...
There's nothing wrong with saving your brain power for something you like, but I think there is a knowledge divide around computers & the Internet that leads to people getting scammed out of money because people refuse to learn the basics. Or maybe they never get the opportunity to learn, I don't know. They still teach kids how to write checks in school, why not teach them about this sort of thing too?
Believe me, I never intentionally make people feel inept. I'm patient in the classroom, and teach to the ability of my students.
More than this, I think that in part it's necessary to allow the kids to try and fail before assisting them. I'm not sure that showing and explaining to them how to perform a task from start to finish is much more effective than solving the problem behind a closed door, at least in terms of retention. What's really effective is if they can make an attempt to solve the issue, and then get the solution. Unfortunately, my experience is that not very many parents take this approach, because it includes failure as part of the learning process--and not many parents like to watch their kids fail. I've even seen some parents condemned for telling their kids to go and try it themselves before they provide help--some parents regard this as some kind of neglect.
The goal is to have the kid get 90% of the way there (or however close they're capable) before closing the gap and assisting them with the remaining 10% that they aren't able to get on their own. Part of the issue is that in the eye of the learner (and an observer) is that 0% of the way there and 90% of the way there feel the same. Both of them amount to "I can't do it and had to ask for help." But if you've gotten 90% of the way to a solution yourself, it's much easier to understand when the final (and hardest) 10% is demonstrated for you, and odds are you'll retain at least part of that. Whereas if 100% of the task is done for you, you'll frequently retain none of the solution, even if the solution is accompanied by a lengthy explanation.
In school, I found that I learned most effectively when I attempted the assigned homework before the related material was covered in class. I tried, I failed at a lot of things, and when the lecture came up, I knew what information to look for and what questions to ask. Failure is a critical part of the learning process--it's unfortunate that many people try to avoid failure rather than embrace it.
The computer I grew up with was isolated. If I broke it, I had a broken computer. I could take my time fixing it. Nowadays, a computer is connected... to the other computers in the house, and the entire internet beyond. If my kid breaks his computer, he might get in all kinds of trouble. I can't let him play around and fix it if it breaks, for the same reasons I don't let him play around with something plugged in to the mains electricity as a way of learning about electronics.
I'm also not going to let him wire up the x-box, because I know that a busted HDMI connector that broke because I was letting my kid plug the thing in is unlikely to be covered y the warranty.
"If you think the cost of education is high, try the cost of ignorance, it is even higher!"
As for the XBox, couldn't you just supervise while your kid hooked it up? Hand him/her the parts, tell him/her to go to it and you'll answer questions and keep an eye on things so he/she doesn't break anything but otherwise leave him/her to figure it out.
That's exactly how I learned this stuff. The damn game wouldn't play, so I had to make a boot disk.
Then I learned to make a bootdisk with a menu system called from the autoexec.bat - cos I realized that several games had the same emm386 requirements. And now I program things.
Ahh good times... good times.
It's usually just people downloading mystery software (could be malware but oh well) onto their computer which promises to have a button that says "jailbreak" and then they jailbreak their device with it not knowing what goes on and then use a magical 'jailbreak app' (cydia, etc) on their device which in turn gives them magical 'free' software and GBA emulators.
My 386 era machine at the time was without internet. My first experience was through AOL and Netcom in the early 90's. I mostly got lucky when things broke as I would fix one thing and break another horribly.
Slowly over time I began offloading large chunks of brain power to the internet as Google and others started really upping their game. Now, as a developer I don't keep syntax idiosyncrasies between languages in my head, I search. I don't keep esoteric error messages from Microsoft Office in my head, again I search. The proper use of Google has practically paid my salary for the last 16+ years. Once Stack Overflow came on the scene, my developer skillset took a quantum leap and I suspect a lot of people could agree with that statement. Now, I can say with certainty a significant portion of my computer literacy comes from my ability to use Google effectively.
I'm completely convinced that teaching proper search techniques to just an intermediate level would bring a lot of people close to being at least "literate enough." I expect everyone to be able to solve any user software problem they have but that should extend to the OS as well. Hardware problems aren't that much harder to solve but they generally require more practical knowledge, like how a specific peripheral behaves under normal working conditions. That can easily be taught as well but I expect only people that care to not pay ridiculously high prices for repair would care to venture into this territory.
Regardless, this is a long way of saying this isn't a Harry-Potter way of doing things for most people. It might seem like magic at first to a vast majority even, but over time that will turn into confidence and skill to solve genres of problems, not just specifics.
Tell that to my brother - every single time I try to explain as carefully as possible, going step by step, making him repeat the steps to make sure he knows how to do it.
Aaand two weeks later he's got the same problem and is calling me to fix it... Some people just don't want to understand...
There are certain professions that get brought problems constantly by people who think nothing of having you work for them for free.
Doctors get this constantly at parties, at the grocery store, functions for their kids, etc. "Does this look like anything to you?" To a much lesser extent, IT people get similar requests from people.
I have been brought at least a dozen computers in the last year with desperate pleas of, "I have x years of pictures on this computer and it won't turn on!" Take a look and half the time they have a virus the other half their hard drive is dead. My profession is in corporate IT but they just know I "work with computers". So they trudge right over, notebook in hand asking me to recover their data. I've spent as long as 7 hours and as much as $50 for these data recovery jobs on things like circuit cooler and replacement hard drive circuit boards.
The more appreciative always offer to pay. But I always decline because then I'm responsible for anything that doesn't work on that computer for the next 10 years. "You re-installed Windows nine years ago and last week my Caps Lock key broke, WHAT DID YOU DO?" The nicer ones end up buying me a case of beer then. So then I end up working hours on behalf of an aquaintances for beer instead of providing for my family at my typical $150 hourly rate.
Ignorance is your right so long as you don't ask other people to clean up after you for free.
I got this in spades at my last job.
We were a web app startup, and the youngest people in a 13 story building. Everyone in the building knew we did something with computers, so they would never hesitate in bringing us their ancient machines and ask us to fix it, ask us to fix their network, in one case, ask us to do their daughter's final project for her intro to C++ class.
People really do just assume that everything to do with computers is directly related, and that they can ask anyone to fix it for free because "it'll only take a second".
I definitely got the feeling that the author had a bit of a chip on their shoulder, but I got through it and loved this article, because I have that same chip on my shoulder.
edit: One cool thing about those old people asking us to fix their shit, was that I got to see an authentic modem from 1999. They wouldn't upgrade because they didn't want to have to change their email addresses.
Get off my lawn.
You know ebay has them if you wanted to see them before, they're not museum pieces yet. Also, they do still have their uses.
Kids these days ...
I totally get your point, but to be honest they're not completely wrong about that most of the time: Even if you're usually working in an entirely different area, you probably still have more general knowledge on computing than most people. This will often be enough for everday problems.
I like the "You work with computers, lease fix mine" requests as little as you do, but in reality we are able to help most of the time.
I genuinely feel that the author frustration comes from the fact that people assume instead of "RTFM".
Each device comes with manual, whether paper or CD. Its just that average user does not read it. Your manual will tell you there is hardware on/of switch of wireless on the side of your laptop. Had she read that, she wouldn't have come and ask. ITs irrelevant how few seconds it will take him to "fix it"; get that same question hundred times a day and you will be frustrated. Many times non-tech users assumption "its broken" comes from basic lack of knowledge, which device manual will explain. "my laptop doesnt work! see i try to turn it on, nothing!". Manual, page 2: "insert battery and plug your computer to power plug to charge it". - "did you do that?" -"Well, no...".
The analogy with the car is a good one. When you purchase a vehicle it comes with couple hundreds of pages of manual. Imagine impression on mechanic's face, or his opinion about average driver if people would be coming to his shop all the time saying "man, my car is broken!", when the "change oil" light is on. OP didnt want her to deassemble her laptop and replace network card on it. He just want he to RTFM.
Average computer user nowadays lost patient and don't want to learn or find out anything out of ordinary. And that's why, I think, OP is rightfully so frustrated.
I find this to be a profound dichotomy. It gets even more profound when someone makes a statement, then said statement is misunderstood by some 'techno-geeks' due to poor natural language skills. A load of 'geeks' reply to this statement taken out of context, explaining the poster's apparent ignorance of technology.
The best reply to this: 'LSFE'
"Oh wow, [Windows|OSX]? I don't know how this stuff works, I only work with little computers!"
With my parents I feel less obliged to be polite so I generally just say something about not bothering a mechanical engineer with your car problems. The idea there is to emphasize that despite a degree in something they think is plainly related to installing printer drivers in windows XP, that is not actually something that I am trained in.
So I should lie to them? Because that's what I would be doing. The truth is that I can fix their computer. To make that a truthful statement it would have to be, "No, sorry, I won't fix your computer." Has a bit of a different ring to it, doesn't it?
I don't have time to be fixing friends and acquaintances computers and I have no qualms about telling them that. I've never had anyone give me a hard time about it. A lot of people assume that because you are knowledgeable that you may want to fix it, a point of view which is only reinforced when you gladly take their broken computer and return it to them repaired without putting up a fuss about it.
No offense, but it sounds more like you want to fix it. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course, it's your prerogative.
By agreeing to fix their problem, you are now held liable at least in their mind. You are that "professional that can safely backup their data..." or whatever else they think you are. Surely if you can handle a big corp IT department you can take all that proprietary software home (piracy) and solve their problem?
Now that I've left IT directly into software development, I get to play the "Hey I'm just as illiterate as you!" card which is at least partially true. I don't have expensive software or even take proper backups of my extremely important data I wouldn't store in the cloud. Would you want someone like me touching your computer? You shouldn't.
I've done everything I can to be unavailable. It's a choice and one I proudly make. I just don't have the free time for charity any more no matter who you are to me unless I'm actively seeking some form of community service.
On the other hand I did teach my mom to fish. She is even comfortable making changes in her linksys router, although she does usually call to check with me first. Making her self sufficient was great and now she asks me why everyone wants her help...
In none of these instances did anyone attempt to seek out knowledge. They were looking for a solution. If they had said "how do I [get on the network|reinstall the OS|rip this file off YouTube]?" then it would be a lot easier for me to dismiss him as a curmudgeonly holier-than-thou IT guy.
I know plenty of people (and I even like some of them as people) who intentionally do not learn to do things on the computer because then they can't ask me to do it for them. When I like these people I make a subversive effort to teach them anyways, otherwise I just get it done for them to get them away from me, feelings be damned. Actual computer literacy (not MS Office literacy) is actually a necessary skill today in almost every office job. Knowing how to program? Probably not. Knowing how to connect to a network? Probably.
Finally, it is so damned easy now to google something, that much of the described behavior is inexcusable. Oh, but your problem is connecting to the internet? It sure would be helpful if you had a small computer in your pocket that could independently connect to the internet over some infrastructure that wasn't dependent on your local network, bummer. </rant>
But seriously we should actually be concerned about this and I hope that education does get better on this. I do fear that interfaces are almost too rich, meaning that it takes a concerted effort to "really" use a computer, unlike in even the recent past where you were forced to. Many people who were accidentally exposed to the more in depth aspect of computing and found it interesting would not have sought it out on their own, meaning that as a community we are losing out on that category of people going forward.
Still inexcusable, especially as an educator. Here's what I would of done:
"Oh you can't connect to the internet? Watch this. See the little icon at the top that looks like ripples going up? This one? That's the hub for any wireless networking connection - just click it and pick an option. Each of those options is a network to connect to. The ones with little locks next to them means you need a password to connect. If you're ever having internet problems on your laptop, just check this icon out and see if you're connected." Then fix the situation for them. You still offered a solution, and they'll probably never come to you for help with that again - and whenever they hear a friend, they'll repeat it. It's really not complicated to explain AND fix the problem at the same time.
What if I told you that you were wrong in doing so?
There is a reason such jobs turn people into curmudgeons. It's not like they all started that way. You attempt to give a simple explanation as to what you're doing, but as soon as you say anything about their computer, they assume it's technical and tune out.
There are definitely people that would come into the office and learn how you fixed things, and those people were wonderful. Few and far between, though.
Sadly, I've been part of this decline in curiosity as well. My son, when he was 4 years old, reminded me of that unadulterated fascination. (translated)
son: "Look, dad!"
me: (looking up) "What?"
All that said, the above anecdote is promising too. If only, we'd nurture our kids curiosity without providing canned solutions for them all the time, as the OP says.
Again, different people are curious about different things. Some are curious about the workings of things around them, some about their origins/history, some about people, some about societies, some about how people think, some about plants and animals and life, some about the planet and the stars ... and some about stuff that they think has-nothing-to-do-whateosver-with-anything-but-in-the-end-hell-it-does (hint - math).
Perhaps we're in an era where polymaths are rare, but curiosity, though heavily fragmented, does live on.
She handed me her MacBook silently and the look on her
face said it all. *Fix my computer geek, and hurry up
To people like her, technicians are a necessary
annoyance. She’d be quite happy to ignore them all, joke
about them behind their backs, snigger at them to their
faces, but she knows that when she can’t display her
PowerPoint on the IWB she’ll need a technician, and so
she maintains a facade of politeness around them, while
inwardly dismissing them as too geeky to interact with.
I’ve heard this sentence so many times now from students
and staff, that I have a stock reaction. Normally I pull
out my mobile phone and pretend to tap in a few numbers.
Holding the handset to my ear I say ‘Yes, give me the
office of the President of the United States… NO I WILL
NOT HOLD, this is an emergency… Hello, Mister President,
I’m afraid I have some bad news. I’ve just been informed
that The Internet is not working.’
He treats everyone who approaches him for help like shit and then wonders why no one knows about computers? Real head-scratcher there.
Good for you. Now stop calling people who have been liars.
But what do I know? It's not like there are loads of other people in this very thread saying the... same... Oh.
I also have a healthy respect for their skills, and if my car breaks down, I'd be embarrassed about my ignorance and inability to fix or diagnose the problem (and I suspect most people would too).
Can't think of examples with mechanics specifically, but certainly I've seen people seek free help from doctors, nurses, lawyers, and other professionals who are in their social circles -- or just non-professionals with a reputation of knowledgability in those fields; there's nothing really unusual about computing in that regard.
Looks like computer technicians get paid plenty well. According to at least one random google search, entry level SysAdmins make nearly $20k more than entry level auto mechanics.
Anecdotally, I don't know a single person in the IT field who isn't flooded with recruiter-spam. Meanwhile, the economy and unemployment rate remain huge political and news topics.
and I will grant you, the situations are not entirely symmetric.
For example I graduate couple years ago from basic computer science vocational institution where we learned how computer hardware works, how to install a new OS and basics of web developement (PHP & MySQL), but now all of my former class mates contact me for tech help through skype even though they should all be "IT literate", but it was just a degree with for most of them, something to waste couple years on to figure out what they wanted to do.
Now I'm studying a computer science engineering degree and easily 1/3 of my class mates have no idea how to code or even how to use basic HTML and CSS tags and we've been at it for 2 years now, sure they are passing "Java 101", but if you gave them a task to write a piece of software most would just raise their hand in air and state "I can't do that" without even giving it a go and I know this I've been trying to recruit new blood to tech club where we write simple apps for Android phones for fun, experience and credit.
Are you kidding? She's a school teacher. Stress-free living at its best.
It's been a long time since I've read an essay by an IT person so proud of their lack of bedside manner.
In this case, the person can't use a computer because people like the author condescend a bit, fix the problem in ten seconds, and don't set them up to be just a bit wiser for next time.
Ultimately, I've learnt that 99% of the time I'm better off fixing things quickly and moving on. I'm hoping I can instil (heh - I typed "install" first time around) curiosity in my children such that they can learn to help themselves, but my wife, parents, parents-in-law, brothers, and most of my friends are a lost cause by this point in their lives.
"A hundred years ago, if you were lucky enough to own a car then you probably knew how to fix it. People could at least change the oil, change the tyres, or even give the engine a tune-up. I’ve owned a car for most of my adult life and they’re a mystery to me."
If he were more honest with himself he'd say something like 'I know I can go online or pick up a manual and figure anything about my car that I'd want to.'
Letting it remain a mystery is just perpetuating the ignorance people seem to cling to like a life raft.
Figuring things out is fun and you learn new skills.
That said, if you wanted to pick one thing, computers probably have the lowest cost-to-benefit ratio of figuring stuff out, at least at the proxy-settings level of detail. I know how to change the oil in my car, but I can't do it much cheaper than the nine minute lube down the street, and it takes me four times as long.
Right. But you bought a car to drive places, not because you like taking them apart or 'programming' them. You probably bought a computer for the latter.
So much of "computer literacy" these days is typing things into google and following instructions. The fact that that is beyond so many people is frightening, honestly.
In regards to computers, sure, it isn't difficult to follow some instructions. The worst that could happen? Maybe you mistype a flag and end up recursively deleting a directory.
However at least most "damage" done on a computer rarely crosses into the physical realm -- anything lost or damaged can often be repaired or restored inside of a few minutes.
So, sure, much of "computer literacy" is simply following instructions that will _usually_ work -- but there's not much hanging in the balance if you mess up.
Working on cars though? I would urge strong caution against simply following instructions. Even a fairly "simple" procedure such as jumping your car's dead battery can end in _serious injury or death._ Many people don't realize that their $70 car battery, such an innocuous looking box, can provide in excess of several hundred amps when the current is demanded. Shorting a battery is a quick way to create such a demand. Such a short could result in burns, electrocution, explosions [discharging lead acid batteries give off hydrogen gas], and could even result in a bit of rather annoying spot-welding.
Working on certain suspension components can easily create enough force to maim or dismember innocent bystanders. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY56ib3I-ew) (Ditto goes for working on any system with significant amounts of sprung weight -- such as garage doors, another common DIY maintenance item...)
Working on your exhaust often requires knowledge of your vehicle's fueling and vapor recovery system. Lest you start welding while there are flammable vapors near the rear of the vehicle.
"Knowing that you don't know everything" is often a mark of a wise individual. A tutorial may omit some crucial bit of domain knowledge that is commonly taught in the field, but not common knowledge for the average individual.
I certainly agree that people should endeavor to broaden their knowledge and skills using the Internet; but Google is certainly not a substitute for an expert's knowledge, experience, and guidance. Without true literacy, in any field, you may quickly end up doing more harm than good.
It's not just the failure of the system itself I'm worried about though, the _process of making certain repairs_ could kill you in many fields, not just automobile repair.
Working on high-current electrical systems is dangerous, working with sprung weight can be dangerous, working with flammable vapors can be dangerous. Automobiles are one of the few examples, though, where you're _surrounded_ by many of these dangerous sub-systems while attempting a repair on something that's otherwise fairly harmless [brakes, changing a tire, checking fuel pressure, replacing a battery].
The interactions between such subsystems is where the danger lies -- and without the domain knowledge of an auto mechanic, you could easily be left unaware of the dangerous interactions between these subsystems.
Not that they did, mind you. It was enough to know a few makes and models so you could say "Gee look at that bad ass Thunderbird with a hemi!" when something cool drove by. That, and everyone had to pick a side in the Ford/Chevy debate, with a few parroted opinions to back up your choice. Actual mechanical ability was something most people just pretended to have.
To be honest, it's not that different than with computers these days.
Knowing the technical difference between China's great firewall, the NSA's snooping, and the the UK's proposed porn filter is vital for people making decisions about them, as well as educated voters.
> Well for Christ's sake don't ask her something she almost surely doesn't know
Ehm, negative steretypes, ehm...
Honestly though, I question his whole premise. As he quite rightly points out, he can't fix a car (or probably wire a light fitting, fix a drainage system, or install an air conditioner), and nor should he. These roles have all been specialised, which improves their efficiency by allowing more complex and specialised techniques and hardware to be used. Computer systems are no different, and it not obvious to me that they should be an exception to this trend.
Far too many times, "Computer Nerds" think that using a computer == getting X done -- because X for them is satisfying some arcane ritual to get some computer usage accomplished.
I'm reminded of Nick Burns from SNL
The computer is a device that, most of the time, just gets in the way of doing X.
And every IT person with bad manners or an unwillingness to teach whatever they know and answer questions is complicit in this farce.
I think this is a failure of education. As the author points out, learning MS Office shouldn't be the first step, learning the principles of technical problem solving should be. That most computers operate the same way regardless of what they look like, and that you can draw inferences about what's wrong, and where to make changes. It seems like drilling in 'try a few things and then google for it' (as we all do) would help a lot.
Certainly unwillingness to teach can be a problem, but I think often it's born from the experience of solving the same problem for the same person many times over, and seeing their unwillingness to learn. </huge_generalization>
But consider the number of times you've used systems and libraries that you do not understand beyond the subset of its API that interests you. I do not understand the details of my computer's microprocessor's architecture, yet through several layers of abstraction it is a useful tool for me to get my job done.
There are other systems, too, like processed food. Traffic control. The power grid. The military-industrial complex. Whole industries have their internal workings abstracted out but for the tiny intersection between them and our individual lives.
Sometimes the guy who's using the jQuery library is, say, running a startup that has other, more pressing priorities, and has no time to learn anything beyond .ajax() and .append() .
So while your specific example makes sense, I don't think the point you are trying to get across is extrapolatable beyond it.
In your example, you need to fix a specific broken mechanical part, which takes time and resources to fix if it was designed to be fixed at all by a home user. In my example, the information is freely available, costs nothing to duplicate or implement, and is simply a small investment of time--which will pay huge dividends if made.
Most computers even come with all the tools needed to fix them, something which cannot be said for cars. It just takes patience.
It's a lack of critical thinking and problem solving ability, that's all.
Exactly these abilities that most people do not have. And those who do are usually called "engineers", "programmers", "doctors" etc.
You mention that there are always 1 or 2 kids a year who have already picked up programming or know how to build a computer... I think I would live for them. I was one of those kids, and I would be so excited for them that I would bury them in whatever help they needed.
For the other kids, I'd put aside the computers for a bit. I'd teach them critical thinking, because it's really the only skill they need to learn (see the documentary "High School" by Wiseman for an excellent example of how reformulating every single class as being centered around critical thinking led a poor latino high schools students to accomplish the highest percentage of students to attain college degrees in the nation... while preserving their youthful exuberance for learning).
I find it's more specific than and not as serious as that. I got my first computer in 1982, first modem in 1985 (hence my username). I find that people who proudly state how not-technical they are actually purposely turn their brain off around computers. It's not that they can't think. They can and often do around non-technical things. But they automatically assume they're unable to fix anything computer-related so they don't even try. My wife is a perfect example of that. If I hear, "Printer is not working" again I think I'm going to throw it out the window. The latest time, she unplugged the printer USB cable to plug in her iPhone and then called me to fix the printer. If this was a "can't think" problem, she would belong in a group home. Instead it's a "won't think about technical things" problem.
I was one of those kids, and I would be so excited for them that I would bury them in whatever help they needed.
I was one of those kids too. Only my computer teacher was in his first year of teaching computers, having been drafted from the math program because "computers use math". He was completely just learning about computers. He would ask me, "Is that right, 300bps?" after almost everything he taught the class. He ended up just having me do special projects doing things like creating math games on the Apple ][e.
I'm sure it must be similar to the feeling I get when I'm working on a new code base that I'm not familiar with, and I need to make a modification in a function so that it calls another module correctly for some new functionality. But I can't tell if that change isn't going to break something somewhere else, so making that change becomes quite scary.
In the software development world, we handle this by creating suites of automatic tests that we can run after the change to make sure that what we just did doesn't break things. We also use config managent software so that we can back out any erroneous changes. These things aren't available to nontechnical users - they can't verify that they haven't broken anything, and if they have broken something, they may not be able to put things back the way they were. This pretty much guarantees that people won't experiment with their computer.
Both statements depend on your ability to devote time and appropriate expertise to discerning the documentation.
I would say that linux is defined by the way its source code [in C] runs on machines [of various kinds]. It's also helpful to know some history, especially of unix, for context. And the communities of people that use linux. I think there's more to understanding linux, or even describing it, than the source code only.
Haha - I know that feeling well. First moveup with a new code base is always the scariest. You're always fearing something like, "Oh crap, I had no idea what that module did and I accidentally disabled it."
I think you may have given me an insight that will make me more tolerant of my wife's refusal to attempt fixing technical things on her own. Thank you.
They will only change their minds if they can convince themselves that it's important. Most people remain ignorant of the value of such skills. When there's cheap access to skilled labour to fix it for them then there's almost never going to be an opportunity for them to discover this value.
Then again the same is mostly true for a lot of other technologies we largely take for granted these days. Despite not knowing much about cars we use them all the time. Same with air conditioners, televisions, radios, etc.
I'm not complaining. I called him, I wrote the check, and I have a functioning air conditioner again. But it did make me wonder if I couldn't take a $115 class at the community college to learn air conditioner repair. (And I imagine I could get the capacitor for less than $17 too.)
Just last week I replaced the inducer fan on my natural-gas furnace, with no prior training other than watching a YouTube video. I was able to deduce that the inducer was the problem in the first place, because I wasn't afraid to take off the cover and carefully observe what the furnace was and wasn't doing. And understanding at a high level how furnaces worked in the first place.
Of course, to do that, I was able to draw upon decades of experience with all kinds of systems. My training started as a child by observing and helping my father in his workshop. Even so, just having some basic, basic skills and knowledge of debugging  can go a long ways to isolate what the problem is and then see if it is something you can fix yourself.
Eventually I gave up and had my wife explain things to her. I swear she used the exact same words that I would have to explain some things, but my aunt understood her just fine and told her how much better she was at explaining. :|
Just mentioning this because it appears there are multiple factors at play, at least with some people. My aunt was a lawyer, by the way, so presumably she could think for herself logically on other topics.
Aside: I was also a kid who knew more than the programming teachers. And FWIW, I know a lot more about car maintenance than the author of the article, because (unlike him) I also apply my thinking skills to cars and just about everything else in my life. Seems like he shouldn't be throwing stones.
But on the other hand, computers and programs aren't build to be understood or fully manipulated with ease. It's often an ad-hoc mess of bad stateful abstractions that break very easily if you don't do things in some arbitrary order.
I'm on Alan Kay side when he thinks that computers programs are far too large accretions that could and should be reduced through better infrastructure. (his recent work was on an entire fully OOP desktop system in ~100Kloc instead of 100Mloc). In my mind giving this to people could lead to a better understanding and less psychological knots.
Same here. My senior year independent study in programming was converting all the C++ projects and notes to Java because the AP exam was switching over. I think the idea was that the next year instead of helping she could say "look at what it should look like" or "well, this version here works".
How do you know?
I presume that you believe that you have critical thinking skills and wouldn't make similar mistakes in other areas of life, but what is your evidence?
You probably know how to use a computer, maybe even fix a car. But how can you know that you don't have similar blindspots when it comes to health, finance, relationships, education, things that are seemingly easy for some people but inexplicably hard for others?
It's too easy to scoff at people being dumb by judging their computer skills on a site called Hacker News. Imagine the analogue article and discussion on a a site called "Fitness News".
The fundamental idea here is that some people learn how to learn, and others need to always be taught.
Learning "huh, when I hit this switch my wifi turns on or off" is pretty simple. Some people need to be told, and even then it's just a rote mechanical process - no thought as to why, how, or even that the switch is connected to anything. It's all magic.
I wanted to learn to lift even though I've never stepped foot in a gym. I did my research and bought the right books. I went into a gym and did exactly what I set out to do.
I need to replace my windshield wipers. I look up the information for it - it's right next to the new blades in Walmart. Dead simple. I bet a lot of people go to Pepboys for that.
It's as if the scientific method never existed, life is magic, and knowledge can only be gained by truly extraordinary humans.
That's exactly the problem with this.
We get to support the idea that all humans are created equally and deserve the same rights and freedoms, or we get to have that mindset. It's a bad spot to be in.
And I'd rather have a mass of idiots (which I don't think most people are) ruling than an elite of people who consider themselves superior to others. At least the former are less likely to successfully torment me for my own good.
So, er, why? If you acknowledge that people aren't equally capable and endowed, what sort of sense does it make to place the same legal requirements on them?
Why should I be required to see as far as somebody else when driving? Why should I be prevented from making API requests on a public system (when I know how to do so safely) when somebody less trained or malicious would bring on down time?
It's far better simply to say that either everyone has the same capabilities, or to say that they ought be afforded benefits and restrictions that match their talents and deficiencies. Doing neither is unfair nonsensical from a societal standpoint.
As for the mass of idiots, no. I'd rather have a ruling elite, because they presumably be reasoned with--or removed in favor of a better elite. A mass of morons weighs heavily upon us, especially in the disinformation age.
That's not necessarily against what I had in mind. Essentially, all should have the same rights a priori. But a right may be "apply for an unbiased, specific exam that proves they are able of performing X without harming others". Of course not everyone should be able to do everything anyone else has is able to do at each moment. But no one should be denied that possibility just because they had some alcohol in their blood-surrogate, nor should anyone be waved from the requirements. And the requirements shouldn't be bullshit designed to keep certain groups away.
I'd rather have a ruling elite, because they presumably be reasoned with
Sure they can. But in politics, reason is mostly a way of justifying one's preferences. You can't reason with core axioms or goals, just with what they entail and/or the way of reaching them.
or removed in favor of a better elite.
In any case, don't take me too seriously. I'm far too ignorant and immature to have a real position. I'll argue for anarcho-capitalism today and for situationism tomorrow, without really having my mind set into any.
I would agree with the original poster that a lot of people simply do not have great critical thinking skills. And it's certainly a skill. It's something which can be extracted and used in any area of life. Of course some people can develop a skill set and be able to critically think about something in particular with out being able to apply that knowledge to other areas of life, but if you can develop that skill set for all areas of life you'll be far better off.
The reason I can fix computers is that I know about things like DHCP, "The Registry" and BIOS, systems that have very little to do with logic and are only understandable by using them for decades.
The DHCP, the registry, and bios certainly take a fair amount of time to learn about fully enough to understand and be able to work with.
Not figuring out the monitor isn't turned on on the other hand.
Metacognition isn't really possible to teach. It doesn't really transfer. Everyone talks about how important it is that students "learn how to learn", but it's 99% bullshit which only refuses to die because people want it to be true.
Now, there are a few things which work. A few examples from memory (it's worth googling a bit though, as I may be wrong):
- Thinking of the brain as a "muscle", to encourage students to improve incrementally. (OK, this is new, and it's hard, but if you work on it you'll get much better with time).
- Plan, Do, Check, Act.
- Setting goals (maybe).
- Picking out a small number of key ideas for any topic (typically 3, in English speaking countries - we like 3, I think Chinese speakers like 4 but there's nothing magic, it's just a cultural preference).
But I'll reiterate - when people say "learn critical thinking", they often don't know exactly what they are talking about. Mostly, they mistake their own narrow expertise with "deep" thinking, when in reality their own "critical thinking" skills wouldn't get them very far in an army boot camp, or a chess club, or a debating team, or any other environment which they aren't already well adapted to.
When most people say "learn critical thinking", they mean "get really good at it, like I am, so you don't get all bogged down by trivial details".
As a professor, I was astounded at how many students failed just because they wouldn't do the work. A large fraction were certainly capable of doing so (some spectacularly capable), but just...didn't. Having and increasing a vast array of educational resources available wasn't the solution because they wouldn't take the first step, no matter how simple.
You know, books change the way the mind works, too. That's bad. Better keep books out of the hands of children before their minds are warped.
the students were playing games and browsing the web instead of paying attention in class
Sure, understood, but that's a red herring here. I'm not suggesting we outfit a whole classroom of second graders with laptops so they can play Angry Birds. I'm suggesting that children need computer skills.
"I don't like it, hence I'm not good at it." gives them an easy reason to avoid the problem.
If instead of putting the computers to the side, actually building positive learning experiences involving computers, the critical thinking will be a natural outgrowth of that, IMHO.
Amusingly enough, I work in a web shop and I wouldn't think twice about asking a colleague, "Is the internet down?" and he would understand full well that I was referring to some issue between our office machines and our ISP.
This all said, would you expect that a doctor would have patience with somebody who insisted "My body hurts" without being willing to provide more detail?
Terminology matters, and those who think it does not are doomed to be taken advantage of by people with more nuanced ways of reasoning about the world.
If you told a doctor "my body hurts" and refused to clarify, you would almost certainly get some sort of snark. Nobody thinks poorly of doctors because of this though, while people in technology are caricatured endlessly in popular media for it.
The most you see that being done for doctors in media is probably House who is a complete asshole junky with vague personality disorders... but he's right dammit! The popular depictions of people in technology almost without fail leave of the "but he's right" and instead go with "his dweebish mind missed the obvious: we just had to [shoot|kick|shove] the computer."
Actually, no. Very few people tell doctors, "My body hurts!" It's more like... "My leg hurts," or, "My back hurts," etc. Which is just as unhelpful, but doctors never pull out their cellphone and call an imaginary President or give them any snark like that; you would lose a crazy amount of patients.
What doctors do is ask, "How does it hurt? When does it hurt? Is it constant? When did it start hurting?" When I ask someone, "When did this computer problem start happening?" they almost always give more information. I've never had someone refuse to clarify; sometimes, they just don't know.
I would not expect a doctor to say "Oh, your chest hurts, that's real helpful, buddy. What am I supposed to do with that? I need details!" Because that would make them an asshole.
In this case, it would be comparable to your doctor asking you if it were your C3 or C4 vertebrae that was sore and you saying, "I don't know where that is." .. People with a good understanding of human anatomy know the answer; your average layperson probably does not.
Guy walks into doctor's office, says his body hurts. Doc asks where it hurts, guy taps his forehead and says that that hurts. Doc asks if anywhere else hurts, guy taps knee and says that too hurts. Doc asks if there are any other symptoms, guy pokes at this other arm, says that that hurts.
Doc diagnoses guy with broken finger.
Consider how doctors react to patients that willfully refuse to give useful feedback--talk to any paramedic, for example.
In fact, IT workers are very much like paramedics: they sit around all day being bored except for bouts of panic brought on usually by failure to take preventative measures.
Beyond the political, much of our unemployment problem is less a problem of governance, and more a problem of a lack of appropriate skills. People want to raise the minimum wage, but that will not help the poor, what will help the poor is to make themselves more economically efficient. Being able to properly diagnose, design, and debug technology is a fundamental way for a country to stay competitive (read: first world).
Furthermore, the reason he (and I) are angry is that we grew up automatically freed since all of our programs ran with easily readable code (QBASIC). Kids these days don't have that opportunity. Fuck, they can't even RUN code they've written on their pocket computers without shelling out for a developers license.
Why should configuring a "county’s proxy server settings" be an essential skill?
I'm so tired of "tech savvy" people simultaneously sitting on their high chairs and large salaries dissuading anything that makes their trade less esoteric - and then talking down to those who can't pierce the veil for whatever reason (whether it by financial, intellectual, or just not giving a flying $#@! about where proxy settings are).
EDIT: Let's not build a generation of people who know how to navigate terminal. Let's build a generation of people who will never have to.
I don't earn a large salary, I'm a teacher.
I do try and fix the situation, rather than just talking about it. I do this in my classroom every day. It is my hope that the next generation of UK students are more tech savvy, and the problem does not escalate.
The problem is that the computing devices are moving to be the center of people lives. You must know how something works just to be able to protect yourself.
But that is offtopic. I don't want people to resolder chips on their mobile devices. But we must educate to not freeze like a deer in headlights when something move from it just works to it just doesn't work.
From the end of his post:
"A hundred years ago, if you were lucky enough to own a car then you probably knew how to fix it. People could at least change the oil, change the tyres, or even give the engine a tune-up. I’ve owned a car for most of my adult life and they’re a mystery to me. As such I am dependent on salesmen to tell me which one to buy, mechanics to tell me what’s wrong and then fix it for me and as technology progresses I am becoming dependent on satellite navigation as well."
Good job. (y)
Maybe not, but people don't equate ability to drive with knowing how one works. But people do equate being able to surf the web with being "computer savvy".
And the story is not about an average person, its about a person who teaches computer classes. The equivalent would be someone teaching classes about cars but not being able to answer what a transmission is.
Many people would just have the service done. The difference in the thoughtful approach is what questions you ask. How does transmission fluid leak upwards? (Capillary action through the electrical harness). Can the transmission control unit be repaired? (They said no, the answer is yes). What is the root cause of the problem? (They said "it happens sometimes").
If you stop to ask the questions and think about the answers, you realize that transmission fluid does not spontaneously leak twelve inches upwards in a functioning car. I had a mechanic find and replace a leaky bushing, clean out the transmission controller with electrical contact cleaner, and flush out the electrical harness, all for less than the cost of replacing the controller (which wouldn't have fixed the problem).
To me, changing your oil yourself is somewhere on par with being able to connect to wifi yourself. Sure, you'll often just get other people to do it for you when you are having other more extensive work done on the car, but having to get somebody to do it for you seems sort of like having to call "Geek Squad" to connect to your home wifi. Far more prevalent than you would hope or expect.
Who's talking about capability? I'm sure the vast majority of people are capable of it. Likewise, I'm sure you're capable of performing lots of the services you pay for. Nevertheless, we all decide differently which things we want to do ourselves and which things we like specialists to do for us.
The inability to change your oil is frightening on the same level as the inability to connect yourself to wifi. I don't give a shit if you get your oil changed at the shop, or if your work computer automagically connects to corporate wifi out of the box, but you should be able to do either yourself.
You learn the things you're interested in, the rest of us will each learn the things we're interested in.
You can be frightened about that, but it's frankly overbearing.
Nobody is saying you have to figure out how do it in a sterile proctored testing environment with no books or computers. Hell, I still consult the grep manpages semi-regularly; knowing how to read documentation is a part of being able to do things. The ability to do things is a far lower bar than you are making it out to be. I don't believe you actually lack the ability to change your oil. Some people do, and they are frightening.
That hasn't been a given for many years. My 1998 Passat and 2006 Jetta manuals contained no information for DIY oil changes, other than change intervals and suggested weights.
Also, just because you own a car, doesn't mean you have space to change your oil or the storage area for the (few) tools required and the 5 quarts of used oil that will result.
Getting to that point on many cars (I'm looking at you VW/Audi) can involve many more steps - on my last car, before you can even get to the oil pan, you have to remove the belly pan which involves three different types of fasteners, 6 of which are hard to reach unless you have a 90-degree screw driver (which I do). Getting to the oil filter requires removing the coolant tank (and disconnecting the coolant tank sensor) and scraping your knuckles while trying to position the filter wrench. From all accounts, the procedure looks to be worse on my Jetta.
While I am someone that loves to DIY auto maintenance, I can perfectly understand the decision to let someone else handle it.
Factor in the time to buy the oil and the new filter. The time to clean up the funnel and pan. The time to properly dispose of the waste oil. Consider the busted knuckles trying to open the drain. Consider the stripped drain plug.
My neighborhood shop charges about $30. They use some kind of suction device that I think does a better job of getting the gunk out than gravity does anyway.
And I know that those are different words, that I can USE a car but not REPAIR a car. However, with a computer there is a vanishing distinction between the two. Sure there are some specialized tools and techniques that computer repair techs need to know about that regular people don't need. But in general, you need to know a lot about computers to be able to say you can use them, and that level of knowledge is usually sufficient to repair them.
^*: i.e., programmers, computer manufacturers, software providers, saas providers, and so on.
People don't want to learn to do things, they want anyone else who knows how to to do it, that why they don't try to fix anything by themselves. They just run to the nearest geek and ask them to fix it, even if it is the easiest task.
Just ask them to pay you $50 everytime the answer for their problem is in the first page of a simple google search. That way I got a lot of lazy friends to learn o fix their shit.
It's simple: life is vast, complicated, and you will be fucked in every possible direction you are ignorant of. You have to know everything. Cutting off a piece of reality and saying "that's for technicians" is for schmucks.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an
invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building,
write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a
bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new
problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty
meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization
is for insects.
To the contrary, I do expect myself and others capable of doing anything (including learning how as needed). I do expect the average joe to know how to unblock an occluded pipe; I'll understand if said Joe chooses to hire someone else to do the job faster, cheaper, and as leverage to free up time for greater personal productivity...nonetheless, I expect Joe can if need be grab a monkey-wrench and a bucket and proceed to unblock that pipe somehow.
I'll admit I may not be able to do all of those things well, but dad gum I'll get 'em done. I'll also admit "comfort the dying" is by far the hardest.
I pay for the convenience, productivity, and in some cases _safety_ of having someone else do certain jobs -- but I _always_ make it a point to understand _what exactly_ a professional is doing for me.
I've done all sorts of things in my two decades: I've replaced garage doors, high voltage lighting fixtures, electrical panels, theatre lighting, wheel bearings, strut towers, head gaskets, automobile brakes, ignition coils, automotive and marine batteries, flat tires. I've installed car radios, 120V 10+ Amp switches and outlets, appliances, cabinets, plumbing fixtures. I've assembled computers, shortwave radios, robots [out of legos, soon arduinos], model R/C planes, cars, etc.
I don't consider any of this _unattainable_ or even _extraordinary._ -- There are many things I hope I never have to do again, and there are many things that took me ages to do: but I'm still glad I did it, and I would _never_ put an upper bound on the number of things I _still need to obtain._
That is the key. I am not done, I will _never_ be done. I will go to the grave wishing I had accomplished more.
To say that two or three of these feats is a major achievement is laughable. _These achievements are what life is about._ Not the 8-hours I spend at my desk on a weekday, not the X-hours I spend watching television series, or reading fiction. Not the Y-dollars I spend or invest.
Life is about learning, creating, experiencing. Achieving two or three of the listed feats is no major achievement, it's the mark of a boring individual who cannot claim to _truly have lived._
I don't expect everyone to be an expert on every field of study -- but I cannot understand the lack of desire to know more. You commute every day, why _wouldn't you_ want to know more about your preferred mode of transport. (How it works, how to repair it, etc.) Even if that's _walking_, there's plenty you can learn about exercise, biology, etc.
You probably get sick several times a year: why wouldn't you want to learn about modern medicine? Hygiene? etc.
How can one turn on a radio and not be _amazed_ that the signal is being broadcast from 10s or 100s of miles away? (Even 1000s in the case of shortwave radio.) The same thought applies to using a cellphone, or a wireless internet connection.
Many of my peers grew up with dial-up -- how are you not amazed that we have speeds a hundred times faster _with no wires!?_ How can you be content with the poor broadband speeds in North America when these same people have _seen first-hand_ what happens when we increase our speeds by an order of magnitude?
tl;dr: I agree with you completely.
Society needs people who specialize and are domain experts, but we need to know the basics of each area so that we don't starve, don't run out of money because we didn't know how much we were spending, etc. Knowing the basics also allows us to talk and reason in those areas. And to become domain experts if the need arises, it's much easier to start with basic knowledge than no knowledge at all.
It's about how to live your life.
All snark aside, I'm really, really sad that there's someone on the other end of this communication that immediately thinks only of how to optimize how well they fit into someone's machine.
Time I spend learning to fix my car is time I don't get to spend deepening my knowledge in one area. You are trading some amount of specialization for generalization somewhere else. The world is become more specialized, not less.
Time you "waste" is time the overworked IT department doesn't have to, in a company that's not too big to function. Your knowing more is never a waste.
"You will never carry knowledge [as a burden] on your back."
Can you tell I was raised by intellectuals? Heh.
Given recent (~100yr) history, one of the most ironic things I noticed when I was studying Russian was the odd characteristics that could be equally applied to either culture (another odd one is some kind of fetish for acronyms).
I was happy to have the door hit me on the way out. I learned a lot there. I wish you all the luck in the world.
This is about the ability to pose questions, to understand that the problem has been solved by other people, and to have a bare minimum understanding of how the world around them works.
Most people don't need to know how to change proxy settings and such though. It would be nice if people had the ability to google solutions but it hasn't become important enough for them to learn so they take the easy way out and wait to ask someone.
Best. Analogy. Ever.
"TL;DR? Why not just go watch another five second video of a kitten with it’s head in a toilet roll, or a 140 character description of a meal your friend just stuffed in their mouth. “num num”. This blog post is not for you."
Snarky enough? If you start out like that I've already made the decision that you're over opinionated and probably prone to dramatic exaggeration.
Maybe not idiots exactly, but I agree with the derision of short attention spans.
It's rather discombobulating at first, but then the point of the article indeed comes thru: if you're not going to read beyond a TL;DR then you're part of the problem.
By removing from the spectrum everybody that would actually benefit from reading this article it got changed into pointless a circle jerk for the tech community about how much "they" just don't get it.
It's a good article, but it's too bad that the people who need to read it will pass by it because of an opening.
The only things you are "snarky" about in the piece are entitled attitudes of people who want things that are mostly free to require no effort at all on their part. It's deserved and needs to be said, it's a disempowering attitude and it's important to discuss in a world that is more and more run by computers and software.
Love the post, and I'm with you 100% on this subject. Just thought I'd mention that the counteract the surprising, even for HN, amount of negativity in these comments.
But apt, ne? Lots of people are like that.
"I want the people who will help shape our society in the future to understand the technology that will help shape out society in the future. If this is going to happen, then we need to reverse the trend that is seeing digital illiteracy exponentially increase. We need to act together, as parents, as teachers, as policy makers. Lets build a generation of hackers. Who’s with me?"
if you're going to be snarky, at least be right.