From enigma to enabler

17 04 2009

Lately I have been exploring the wonders of HTML and Web design. I can still remember when I was first introduced to HTML “code writing.” I had signed up for a one unit weekend crash course in Web design. While the class itself barely skimmed over the basics, it whetted my appetite and unlocked the door to a new world of divs, hypertext and image tags.

For me, it is a new and exciting challenge. However, many other people suffer from an almost irrational — and completely unnecessary — fear of computers and especially the Web — even its most basic concepts.

There are different theories floating around about what computer literacy really means.

Some users are content with being able to turn it on and play a quick hand of solitaire or two. Others master Microsoft Word and can send and receive e-mails with the very best of them. And then there is the other group: the nerds. The ones who delve into the deepest recesses of HTML and pretend to (or even worse, actually do) understand everything that Tim Berners-Lee and the W3C are talking about. But what does it really mean to be computer literate and when is enough really enough?

In the BBC article, “Net-illiterate ‘failing children,’” a parent’s lack of Internet skills can have a very negative impact on their children in the future.

“Not knowing how to best use the Internet may have a negative impact on their education and employment opportunities,” said Sonia Livingstone, social psychology professor at the London School of Economics.

I don’t think the there is one level of computer and Web literacy that should be the goal across the board. I know that my dad, an independent contractor, will never need to write or understand hypertext and cascading style sheets, but he uses Quick Books to keep track of customer invoices and other transactions on an almost daily basis. He can do what he needs to without having to worry about going outside of his comfort level.

However, I think that we will soon be reaching the end of the era where those who are straddling the line between proficient and illiterate can sneak by under the radar. There is no telling what the next wave in technology will be, but sooner or later, they will have to get on board. Trust me, it’s really not all that scary.

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