Computer illiteracy: Why is it tolerated?

Two computer screens at a desk

Computers are not scary! Even those with multiple screens.

When did it become OK to laugh about not knowing anything about computers?

We don’t joke about other basic skills like reading or writing. If your colleague couldn’t read, wouldn’t you wonder what they were doing at your workplace? Wouldn’t you wonder why they weren’t doing anything to learn to read? Wouldn’t you get sick of them asking you to read things for them all the time?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about specialisation, but in today’s world, computer literacy is just as important as reading, writing and basic mathematics*. Gone are the days when it’s acceptable not to have basic computer skills, especially if your job involves working at a computer all day. Even then only having basic computer skills isn’t really good enough either.

What is computer literacy?

If we think of literacy in terms of being able to read, being literate means picking up any piece of writing in your language(s) and being able to make sense of it – and being able to advance your skills by looking up unknown words or ideas.

Therefore, being computer literate is being able to sit down at a computer to complete tasks – and being able to work out problems yourself (even if you have to Google for help), as well as the ability to learn new computing skills. It doesn’t mean you have to be able to build a computer from scratch, code your own computer game or website, or set up a complex network – it means being more or less self-sufficient at the computer.

No excuses! Help is out there!

So, instead of ringing helpdesk every week asking the same question, or putting your head in the sand when it comes to something new, why don’t you help yourself?

There’s a cornucopia of self-help websites out there, and libraries full of books on the subject, so there’s no excuse for not knowing where to get help. And there’s always the back button, restart, and control+z to help you in your trial and error journey to computer knowledge!

I’ll leave you with this thought:

“On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.” — Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

* Maths is another basic skill that often also gets pushed into the too hard basket. You’ll often hear people say “oh, I’m rubbish at maths” in the way they’d never talk about reading. This topic was touched on by Nine to Noon on National Radio last week (listen online). 

1 Comment

  1. bunnzy

    I love this topic and I’m glad you addressed it.
    I expect anyone I work with to know how to use their calendar effectively, not just responding to meeting requests. Also, how to: set an out of office, draft an email and send it, use the internet, use Skype, search for files on a drive, print a document. Even how to do basic calculations in Excel.

    If you don’t know what a browser then I’ll fire you on the spot. Nah, that’s illegal. I’ll definitely regret hiring you though and insist you go home to do some study that night…

    You know I had to help two people take a screenshot the other day here. They didn’t know what a browser was. They didn’t know how to print the screen and paste into a document. They didn’t know how to print landscape to the printer.

    I died a little on the inside. Bonus: you know where I work! :(

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