Posted by: zachputnam | November 23, 2015

Is Better Technology Making Us Less Tech-savvy?

In Chapter 10 of The Shallows, Carr highlights a Dutch study that showed that the more “helpful” a piece of software was, the less its users really learned about how to use it. “The more that people depended on explicit guidance from software programs, the less engaged they were in the task and the less they ended up learning.” (p 216)

As author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

We often think of younger generations, who seem to have been born with a touchscreen device in their hands, as being more tech savvy than their analog-aged elders. But some recent studies have shown the surprising result that Millennials are scoring low in technology problem-solving skills. Here’s a sampling of the kinds of tasks they used to test for “tech proficiency,” from this article on CNBC:

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 4.07.35 PM

Some, such as this writer at the Wall Street Journal, have theorized that the problem for younger digital natives, who are more accustomed to slickly-designed mobile interfaces than spreadsheets and folders, is that “the very ease at which this information can be obtained has caused them to have a diminished appreciation of the underlying computer science.”

I know that when I was a kid, my dad seemed like a computer genius as I watched him navigate inscrutable MS-DOS prompts to troubleshoot a problem on our enormous beige PC.

Is it possible that the incredible ease of today’s “just-works” technology is actually making us less-tech savvy through obfuscation?

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