Refuting Computer Literacy

Nov. 15, 2020 [technology]

If you ask anyone who comes to mind when they think of computer literate users you will almost always get platitudes lamenting how amazing the youth are. “My granddaughter taught me how to use the internet.”, “My son is a wizard, I would be lost without him.”. But what does it mean to be savvy with digital technology? What happens to these prodigies when their own phones or computers breakdown or simply do not behave in a desired way?

I would argue that this demographic is actually the most technologically dominated. Their expertise is measured only in memorizing the layout of graphical UI logic trees of whichever platform or [dis]service is currently dominant. These are conventions which shift periodically, rendering much of that surface level knowledge useless as soon as there is an inevitable reimagining of UI conventions.

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What constitutes computer literacy needs to be broken down into smaller parts. Most people have, in fact, only platform literacy. They know the ins and outs of software set about by the artificial limits of whichever walled garden ghetto they chose (or where born into). Users are allowed to know that a given piece of data can be changed, created or shared in X way, but they cannot know how to do so outside of a vendor’s sacrosanct methods. And this is by design. If, for example, a user is easily allowed to convert their movie library to a platform agnostic file format, it would lower their costs accociated with leaving the plantation. Their masters simply cannot allow this.

Schools are also complicit in teaching platform dependency, rather than imparting meaningful computer literacy. Students are instructed how to navigate a framework whose underlying functionality cannot be understood or studied because it has been intentionally sealed off. This is anti-education. In fact, it is even worse than that. The tech industry has done such an effective job abstracting basic functionalities that new generations struggle to grasp basics like file systems. People’s ability to be digitally independent is being deliberatly eroded.