Computers have evolved a great deal since their text input based infancy. Graphical user interfaces, or GUIs, replaced this major annoyance, bringing about new, nice things like icons, mouse input and the desktop space. This change brought about a major revolution, both for computing and for consumers. Things got small, touch-based, high resolution and above all else, really simple to operate. However, this movement toward ease and idiot-proofing brings with it a new problem: technological ignorance.
For a person born before the advent of easy-to-use computers, it might seem like the young kids of today are tech geniuses. Millennials absorb themselves in their smartphone screens, scrolling and parsing through information as though it were second nature. But that’s where relations with the device end. When a device breaks or malfunctions, it’s handed off to a specialist, because to the average user, computers run on fairy dust and devil magic and require a wizard to fix.
The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) movement remedies this ignorance by taking power away from the user. General-purpose computing seems increasingly less important to the average person, who is completely happy to pay more for a limited yet stylish, easy to use iPad than an actual PC. Many tech journalists cite this as the beginning of the “post-PC era,” a phrase that sends shudders down the spine of any computer hobbyist. Such an era would certainly bring with it a host of restrictions; locked bootloaders and firmware, non-upgradable parts and generally no control over any device beyond what the manufacturer wants.
This same ignorance creates a sense of complacency toward the multiple Internet security and communications spying programs that have surfaced lately because of National Security Agency (NSA) information leaker Edward Snowden. Many users don’t understand why it’s a problem–after all, they’ve likely got nothing to hide. Whether users realize it or not, a person’s online life is simply an extension of their real one. That being said, a violation of virtual rights is by association a violation of real-world rights.
This tech illiteracy is most problematic to younger generations. Most professions are becoming more digital, and computer skills are an absolute necessity. As human interaction migrates to the online world, the human-computer relationship grows ever stronger. And like any relationship, this one requires communication and understanding. Basic education is most important, and encouraging kids to experiment with computers rather than scaring them away from them is a major step. In educated hands, general purpose computers are what make this generation so full of potential; the potential to be the most knowledgeable and informed generation so far.