Proud to be Computer Illiterate
Mon, Jul 5, 2010
Stop apologizing because you don't know everything about computers. You know lots of other stuff. Computers will slurp every waking moment if you let them. Don't. And relish that choice.
When you go to the doctor, you don't say, "I have this pain in my shoulder—I'm sorry, I don't know the Latin name for it—dangit, I really should—man, what am I doing with my life? I could be working my way through Gray's Anatomy."
But computers? People can be so apologetic.
Maybe they've had bad experiences with other geeks. It used to bug me that most computer users don't seem to know much more about them than I know about my car. I tried not to let that show. I hope.
But that raised an interesting question: why didn't I know much about my car? Or my plumbing? Or my shoulder?
Now, there's a sparkling case to be made for plumbing the depths of plumbing. I can see Chesterton making that case. I can see him blazing and dancing through a scintillating essay, leaping from T-joints to ball-and-joints to piston joints, laying bare the wonders that support our crappiest days. Fairylands awaken on every side.
He's right, of course. And then I see him finishing that essay, sending it off, and starting right in on something for G.K.'s Weekly. And then he talks and talks and talks, dictating all day, until he's sick of it. And then he goes drinking with Belloc.
Because he's a writer. That's what he does. All day.
I don't mean Chesterton was a hypocrite. He forgot more about literature and philosophy and history than I will ever know. But I'm not sure how much he knew about floor joists.
Yes, we should know about cars and carpentry—and computers. With 20 years or so in school, we really should. And if you've got kids, maybe you can help things turn out differently for them.
But if you're reading this, you're probably done, or nearly done, with school. Most of us don't start learning much useful until college, and maybe not until long after, sometime in our mid-twenties.
Learning takes time. Whatever you're learning these days, it may not be computers. Yet somehow, computers are apparently supposed to be obvious.
I only found out recently that "computer illiteracy" seems to have started life as a marketing phrase. But doesn't that makes perfect sense? I mean, does anyone talk about "plumbing illiteracy"? No, plumbing is somehow faintly humorous. But I bet you would rather take your chances without a computer than without plumbing. (Actually, at one point, I went without plumbing and kept the computer, but that's another story.) I haven't studied the history of indoor plumbing, but I bet that no vast marketing campaign was required to convince people that indoor faucets might be handy.
But with computers, we got stuck with this concept of "computer literacy." And the phrase keeps morphing. I don't know what it meant ten years ago—maybe being able to buy a computer—that was key—and after that, whatever, just turn it on. Today, it's like, you can't design your own website? You don't know HTML? CSS? PHP? Can you even read? What are you doing with the Internet?
Somewhere along the line, I acquired the geek hat, and so yes, I personally am irritated that people don't know more about computers. Their lives (and mine) would be so much easier, safer, more private, and more fun.
But they might be even better off growing fruit trees and chickens.
So if you are "computer illiterate," it is precisely because you've been doing other things. Becoming an electrician. Raising several children. Publishing graphic novels. Whatever. So keep doing it. Okay, maybe start backing your data up more than once a decade, but otherwise, if you like what you're doing, keep it up. And hold your head high.