To continue yesterday's thoughts on IT proficiency and fluency...
Some of our reading discussed age and fluency - stating that "most of the Baby boomer generation are digital immigrants. Digital immigrants are individuals who were not born into the digital age, but based on interest or job requirement have adapted technologies." Going back to our language picture of fluency and proficiency, it is pretty common knowledge that young children can learn a new language without an accent, but the older an adult is the harder it becomes to learn a new language at all, much less become fluent and speak with no accent.
I spoke with some friends about this issue, and asked them questions about their use of computers.
The first of them is a 42 year old female. She remembers her parents having a computer at home when she was 10 or 11, with a DOS operating system and floppy disc drive. In speaking with her, she is definitely IT fluent. She operates easily and intuitively in an IT environment as a user, and understands the design aspects of websites as well. Her husband is a leader in his field of website design, I think he is one of those geniuses that pop up in every generation that advances the field, not just uses what is there. I went to high school with at least one of those.
Contrast her with my friends that I talked to at church this morning. This is an older couple, he is 91 and she is 84. He knows nothing about how to use a computer; literally does not even know how to turn it on and off. He said to me this morning (with a big smile on his face), "I have a young wife who can do it all for me!" And she does. They bought a computer some 30 years ago, when he was writing a book. She taught herself to use WordPerfect (we think that was the program, they weren't sure), and sat with WordPerfect for Dummies beside her and typed and edited his book into the computer. He has written a number of books since then, with her doing all the typing and editing. She also uses email to communicate with her family and the book publisher, and the baseball card dealer. (Yes, she collected baseball cards with her grandsons and some boys at church, and now continues that tradition with her great grandchildren.) She can download, resize, and print pictures of her great grandkids and for her friends too, and she uses the computer to research whatever she wants to learn about. About 9 years ago she set up a church library, with nothing but a typewriter. Soon she progressed to software and a computer and taught herself how to use it. She still refers often to printed manuals, but also uses the built in help functions of programs.
As I look at our stories, we all got into computers at about the same time, roughly 30 years ago. And there does appear to be a pattern of IT proficiency, with the youngest of us becoming fluent, and the oldest of us teaching herself to do what she needs to do. And there are the prodigies like the young husband, and the totally outside the tech world older husband. My older friend considers computer technology to be a wonderful blessing that has enabled her to do so much. IT is not just computer hardware and software, it is humans interacting with hardware and software. It is using the bits of metal and plastic to learn and communicate and enrich lives.