Technology and Literacy? Someone Missed the Mark…Maybe

Cynthia Selfe wrote Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century: The Importance of Paying Attention in 1999. I have not read the book. I probably won’t ever read it, but I did read the first chapter! While outdated, I believe many of the points she made were decent enough.

The main talking point is President Clinton’s Technology Literacy Challenge. President Clinton had proposed a $2 billion fund for increasing technology access, usage, and literacy. The question then becomes, what is computer literacy. Selfe devotes a great deal of time to explaining this. She says that it can be one of two things:

  1. “Computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity and performance”
  2. Being able to use a computer to read, write, and communicate.

The big question though is this: have we achieved computer literacy? Did all the efforts pay off? Who shot J.R.?

Maybe this isn't relative, but I've been trying to fit it in somewhere!

My best source of information regarding this issue comes from my own personal experience. I am, by trade, a computer technician. That’s just a fancy term for one who fixes computers. If you ask me, I will tell you that people are not becoming more computer literate. No, they are treating computers like they do cars. People just want them to work. They don’t care how. For all most people know it could just be magic.

Pictured: Tech Support

Now, to be fair, my own experience is extremely skewered. It is indeed a fact that the world has become more tech savvy. I hesitate to give credit to a technology challenge though. The thing that has made computers more common is likely due to one very important factor: price. When Selfe wrote Literacy, the average price of a computer was right below $1000. Today the average price is roughly half that, for both laptops and desktops! This price discrepancy has resulted in a boon in personal computer sales. By the end of the year 2000, half of all households in the United States had computers. That’s roughly 54 million households. By the end of this year, it is expected that 364 million PCs will be sold. That’s enough to accommodate ever single man, woman, and child in the United States. Also, that number is not the number of computers used throughout the world. No, that’s just what will have been sold by the end of this year world wide. Back in 2008 there were 1 billion computers in use. That’s one for every six people. Think about that number just for this year and you can see that we are quickly approaching a margin of 2 for every six.

So, while people may not fully understand how computers work or even what they can do with them, the fact remains that most people probably at least know how to function one. When this book came out, most people would likely have had trouble even turning on a computer!

What about communication and literacy though? Don’t they rate? Absolutely! Today, computer writing is the standard. But that’s not the only standard that’s related. Kids use texting more than they talk on phones. Sure, this has created a bane of text speak, but the fact remains that coherent thoughts are still being conveyed over a technological medium that is closely related to personal computers.

Most newspapers are now offered digitally as well as many magazines. More and more technology is forcing literacy upon people. In order to properly use a computer you have to be able to read. In order to get any kind of work you have to be able to use a computer. Even jobs that in the past were considered menial labor require computer usage. Going to work at McDonald’s? Better brush up on your computer skills! Plan on digging ditches? Those machines are controlled by computers. Yeah, they are everywhere. You may as well bow down to your computer overlords now. It can only make things easier on you.

Yes sir, and don't worry, I won't let it happen again.

Okay, that’s my rant on the subject. Any comments, criticisms, or witty remarks are always greatly appreciated!


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