What computer literacy means

Unfortunately I can’t remember where I got this. A while back I was reading something that Alan Kay wrote, or watching an online video of him. Anyway, in one part he talked about what computer literacy (in the context of a new medium) meant. I believe he said he observed something years ago, and it illustrated for him the difference between adults and children with respect to computer literacy when personal computers first came into use in society. He said he watched a group of parents and teachers gasp in awe as they saw a small child take out a computer diskette, insert it into the disk drive, close the door on the disk drive, and access its contents on the computer. The adults were amazed the child could do this. This process baffled them. He said what the child did was actually not that special. It was the equivalent in the computer realm of going to a bookshelf, taking down a book, and opening it to read it. The difference was the child was literate in this new medium. The adults were not.

I was amazed to find this video (h/t to Giles Bowkett), because it perfectly illustrates what Kay was talking about. Take a gander at this and see for yourself.

“Introducing the book: Gutenberg offers ‘in your home’ service”, from the show “Øystein og jeg” on the Norwegian network, NRK, in 2001:

This was meant as a comedy skit, and it’s funny, but the reason it’s funny is because we know how to read books. It’s as natural as breathing for most of us. There’s no issue with it. Yet for so many people it’s hard for them to use a computer without help. This points to a basic problem of computer literacy, not to mention that computers are too complicated for people to use. A book is definitely easier to use than most computers. Maybe a more accurate analogy to a computer these days is a library, but this skit illustrated the problem so well I thought it deserved a mention. I loved that they used the “new fangled” book as the analogy.

There’s a brief clip here with one of the creators of this skit explaining their inspiration for it. I love this quote:

Maybe it was difficult to start reading books…Perhaps they had Help Desks at some point in the Middle Ages…and that’s how this skit came about.

Yes, and so many people were illiterate (could not read written language) to begin with. 

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2 thoughts on “What computer literacy means

  1. Pingback: The culture of “air guitar” « Tekkie

  2. Can’t remember where I first saw this but it’s still hilarious 🙂

    I’m sending this link off to the long suffering help desk at my school, they will enjoy it

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