We take it for granted, this technology: computers, the Web, cellphones and so on. We just do it.
I can toss off a blog post (once I know what I want to say) in a matter of minutes. But there are many people in the world who are still asking:
What’s a blog?, and even
How do I turn on a computer?
We’re not really bothered about searching the world. We’re quite happy doing our gardening or whatever.
Some technically literate snobs accuse such people of being ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’ and unworthy of notice.
A sense of power
One of the things I love about my computer is that it gives me a sense of power: press x and y happens. Sometimes I have to struggle a bit, to figure out why z happened when I was expecting y, but I love that challenge.
I’ve written scripts to traverse thousands of lines of text and reshape things — stripping out junk code, for example. I love that challenge of achievement.
For the first time in my life I felt out of control.
Not everyone has the same fascination with computers that I do, though.
It’s not about being dumb
I spent a couple of decades teaching, training and helping people with technology, specifically computers and the Internet.
My clients were often successful business people or academics, though some were adult students, volunteers or workers in community organisations, or retired.
Some were very bright, some of average intelligence and a couple were a little slower on the uptake — just as you’d expect from a cross-section of the population.
Technology? It’s ummm machinery or something?
Some were very focused and ‘linear’, while others had ‘butterfly brains’, dipping and hovering and touching on topics, and always wanting to know about something other than what we were talking about at any given moment.
Almost all were busy, competent people. While they knew a lot about life and their line of work, they didn’t know as much about technology as they wanted to. That’s why they hired me to teach them.
We’re all beginners
Those of us who do know about technology easily lose sight of how hard it can be for others, how scary, how confusing. Just look on any mailing list or forum where those ‘in the know’ brush off questioners, dismiss them with a remark that they should read the manual or read some impossible to find other thread for their answers.
By the time you’ve learnt to do one thing there’s 10 other things come out.
We’re all beginners at something; there just isn’t time enough in the world to learn everything about everything.
I don’t have time (or inclination) to learn how to tune-up my bicycle for example when there’s still so much to learn about Photoshop…
Pressed the wrong button and cleared the bloody lot and that was the end of me and the computer.
What some real people think about technology
And with all of that in mind, take a look at this wonderful video from the Ofcom Consumer Panel website in the UK. They talk to some older people about technology. You may have to listen hard on account of the various accents, and unfortunately the captions to tell you what they’re saying aren’t well done, but it’s very instructional:
The quotes interspersed above are taken from the video.