Okay so the question isn’t “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” but at least I have an answer….
Speaking of which, a colleague and I were messing around one lunchtime on Google, giggling at the google predictive search results (“why is a raven like a writing desk?” popped up the first suggestion when I typed in “why”). Naturally, this got me to thinking about the top searches on Google so after a quick search (on Google), I got to Google Insight.
Rubbing my hands with glee, I decided to ask Google Insight what the most popular search terms in the last 12 months in the UK have been.
The answer? Not very interesting. It’s not ‘Porn’ or ‘Brittenaey Spears’ (yes I know I spelt that wrong) like it was in the late 90s and early 2000s. No, the rather unexciting ‘facebook’ tops the list, followed far behind by youtube, bbc, hotmail, ebay…
…wait a minute. People are actually searching for these terms? Presumably they are looking for these websites, why else would you be searching for facebook or hotmail? Youtube or BBC I can understand if you were looking for a particular clip on YouTube or news story on BBC, but facebook? Hotmail? Ebay? And look at the rising searches! Twitter! Even ‘Facebook login’!
This, to me, points to a worrying trend of computer illiteracy. The government are still pushing the digital age and I do not deny at all that they have gotten far. When I first arrived in the UK in 1998 my family was one of the few that I knew that had a computer in their house, let alone the internet! This graph shows the meteoric rise of home computers and internet useage, and for that I appluad what efforts the government made to aid that along (although I will also say that a lot of it will also have to do with the world economy and technology getting cheaper).
However our earlier data makes it clear that computer literacy didn’t come along with home computers and the internet. A lot of people are turning on their computers, loading up Internet Explorer, and searching for facebook or ‘facebook login’ to get to their favourite social networking site. This shows a very limited knowledge of how computers work and what can be achieved by them. People don’t even seem to know enough about computers that they can type in ‘www.facebook.com’ or ‘www.hotmail.com’ into their address bar to get them to the website they want!
I can understand this. I used to do this when I first started using the internet. I’d load up the browser, type ‘rocketmail‘ into webcrawler, and find my mail that way. When I needed to search for something else, I’d close the window down and open it again just so I could get my search engine up again! But that lasted all of 2 days, until I figured out how to use web addresses and I found other search engines that were not my default homepage.
The problem I think we have today that is demonstrated in the Google Insight results is that people are learning ‘routes’ to get what they want out of their computer. “To get to facebook I have to open internet explorer and find it in google” (even this doesn’t work everytime, this post had to insert a message in bold to tell Google visitors that it wasn’t a facebook login page! Funny right now, yes. But what about the potential for phishing?). “To get to my e-mail I need to search for it in Google”. So yes, we have a lot of people on computers nowadays, and they are doing things on them, but are they really computer literate?
Suppose you moved to a big city. Immediately you figure out how to get to your local cornershop, supermarket and postoffice, how to get to work, and possibly one or two other things like how to get to your local pub. But you don’t stop there, or at least you shouldn’t. Through exploring and visiting new places all the time, you eventually build up a map in your head of your new city, and maps are helpful just to find out where you are and where you’re going.
Computer literacy is like that map. Too many people are just travelling to work (firing up Word) and maybe to their local pub (going to Facebook), but not anywhere else. They’re missing out on all the museums, the parks, the riverside walks, the great concert venues and architectural wonders of their new city, because they never try to go anywhere new. The worse thing is that maybe they’d like to visit these places, but they’re too scared to venture out, in case they get lost.
We need to encourage computer illiterate people to spend more time on their computers, to find out what they can do with their computers, and especially what their computers can do for them. They need to start building a map in their head, to not be scared of installing and using new programs or even learn to use existing programs to their full extent, to play around, to even try their hand at programming, if it can help them create something or save them time.
People are constantly scared of ‘breaking’ their computers through experimentation – I never managed it at the age of 6 and believe me it’s gotten a lot of harder since then. We need to convince them of this.
I know people who work with computers everyday, who do a myriad of things with computers including working on Word and Excel documents, chatting to their friends on Skype, even editing webpages on Dreamweaver, that don’t have that map in their head, and instead only their remembered routes. As someone who knows how much computers can help us speed up everyday mundane tasks, entertain us, and aid in creative processes, this frustrates me greatly.
How do we get computer literacy into the lives of the people around us? It is both a give and take. As computer literates we need to help and explain, and hopefully the people we are helping will listen.
I am always willing to help people who come to me for help with their computer, and as I help I always make sure they understand exactly what their issue is and how I am fixing it, and how they can do it in the future. Helping someone on their computer without an explanation is like meeting someone who has no knowledge of their city, blindfolding them, and taking them to a place they wanted to go to, and taking off the blindfold. You may have taken them there, but what happens if they want to go again?