I was listening to NPR on the way home yesterday when they
aired a story regarding teenagers coming of age in this digital world and how
this is the first generation of children to have mastered current technology
before their parents did. It went on to describe all the horrible things thatkids can get exposed to without their parents being aware.
Now whose fault is this really? Are we to blame the
manufacturers of the new technology for the parents inability to figure it out?
Of course not! Plain and simple, if parents dont understand a technology
better than their children, it is their own fault - period. If we can
characterize a generation of children who have grown up in a digital world
without adult guidance, then let me also characterize these parents as thefirst generation of parents that seem to wear ignorance as a badge of pride.
When I was growing up, I cant ever recall an adult
declaring proudly that he couldnt read or do math (they may have not been able to but they were not proud of it, even ashamed), yet I can't tell you the
number of times I have heard todays adults say, I dont know anything about
those computers and dont want to know just make it do what I need it to do.
Im sure you have heard similar comments. Whats with this technology-ignorance
badge of honor that people seem to wear so proudly? I, frankly, have neverunderstood it nor understand why it is tolerated.
Now what in the world does this have to do with government
technology? Well, these same parents who cant learn enough about the Internet
to keep young Billy or Suzy from frequenting porn sites come to work withyou/for you everyday!
And guess what? They wear that same technology-ignorance
badge proudly at work too! You deal with this everyday from top management to
the lowest person on the org chart. This phenomenon knows no boundaries! Its
not a matter of education either, as Ph.D.s can demonstrate this trait as wellas someone without a high school diploma. Why, why, why is this allowed?
The answer is simple. Senior management doesnt demand
technology competence of all employees (in fact, they are often the guiltiest),
and they also do not place a high priority on this competence; therefore, theyare reluctant to finance training and continuing education.
Lets talk about technology competence. I do not expect
every individual in the workplace to know how to program in Java, but I would
like to have a basic expectation that they know how to maneuver quickly and
competently in the OS that they spend all day working in (Windows). They should
also be able to differentiate between the MS Office applications and know howto use each at more than a rudimentary level.
Please note that I said I would like to have a basic expectation
because in reality I have the opposite. I am usually surprised when someone demonstratesbasic technology literacy. Sad but true.
So how is this going to change? Unless you have more tech
savvy senior management (they do exist I have seen a few) demand competence
of their employees and begin to fund training, the fix to this problem will be
through attrition. The younger generation will take their place in the
workforce, demanding that their workplace keep up with them, as well as making
their current co-workers look bad for not having learned anything. Only thenwill people stop wearing that technology-ignorance badge so proudly.
So what does this mean to you in the short run? It means
that your users and decision makers need technology issues explained in plain
English. Mind you, I am not saying dumbed down but phrased in such a way that
the basic concepts are easy to grasp. More importantly, they need to understand
how technology affects them as business users. Leave out the complicated
technical details when making a business case and talk about what benefits the
organization. Have the details in your back pocket to be able to demonstrate
you have done your homework, but make sure your message is one that is easilyunderstood.
It also means that we need to continue to fight for training
money because until we get everyone to a certain level of competence, the
technology tools we put in front of them will forever be underutilized. It alsocan mean that we stop giving them more than what they will use, if we are
brave enough to do so. What does this mean? Frankly, I am willing to debate
that the majority (that does not mean all) of typical business users could get
by with e-mail, a text editor with spell check (Wordpad with spell check, in
essence), and a basic spreadsheet program. In my opinion, the feature richness
of the MS Office suite goes unused by the majority of users. In fact, my gut
feeling is that 75 percent of the advanced features in all of the Officeapplications go unused.
Given this hypothesis, one can then say that we are paying
an enormous amount for software that contains features that most will never
use. So perhaps we give them something less feature-rich and less costly
(StarOffice or Open Office anyone?) and give the power users the real Office
tools? Heresy, you say! We must have STANDARDS, after all, to ease support. Everyone
must use the same tools! If we had easier tools we might not need so muchsupport then would we? Hmmm.
In any case, if we are going to continue to provide MS
Office as a standard, we should at least get people trained to do more with it andget the most out of our investment, right?
As for the children knowing more than their parents well,
what can I say? There are books and training available to anyone who might show
an interest. Also, having a child tutor a parent is not only possible, but
actually might give them something in common to talk about. But if parents are
content to let 12:00 AM blink on their VCRs or DVD players, or a if manager is
okay with someone still using a calculator with rolls of paper to do theirbudgeting, then they only have themselves to blame.