Posts tagged technical literacy
By Dominique Jones
So many clients ask questions about adopting a new technical tool—a new type of computer such as an iMac, a handheld device such as a smart phone, a new type of software, using Facebook and Twitter in their marketing strategies, or a new application service such as Smashwords to publish their ebook. The answer is, inevitably, it depends.
What does it depend upon?
The technical environment, the person’s abilities, the uncertainty of the person’s computing situation, and the complexity of the technology. Somehow, though, that list feels like business- and techno- babble.
Deferred Decisions about Adopting New Technologies
It’s a lot like a situation I find myself processing in life around installing a ceiling fan in my dining area. I have been circling a solution to upgrade the ugly gold-colored pendant that sits directly in your line of sight as you enter our home. The main problem is that it clashes with everything else in our house. For years I have gone through a hemming-and-hawing process.
I have heard that changing a light fixture is simple. I have a loop in my mind that is always looking for the ultimate ceiling fan/light fixture that will blend into our southwestern architecture. I find something that costs at least $500, ponder, and dismiss it as too extravagant. After having fixed our water filter through research and experimentation, I also started researching how to hook up a light fixture on my own. I read a few sections in a book while standing at Home Depot. I watched home shows in frame-by-frame motion to grok the process of hooking up light wires in the ceiling. Of course, I searched online and watched YouTube videos. I even considered taking an adult education course on electrical maintenance. And I ended up getting a $15 replacement pendant cover to hook somewhat recklessly onto the bottom of the existing chain.
I am simply not comfortable changing and upgrading the light fixture at the wire level, no matter how much I read. And this story has been unfolding for five years.
That is a long time to suffer a line of sight I would like to improve. I think some of my clients suffer technology woes with the same non-starter experience. They have the spirit to move forward, and they know they would like something different, improved, more modern. They just feel inadequate to handle the whole thing, and they don’t even know which parts they should do themselves vs. which parts to contract. A feeling of discomfort leads to deferring the change that could help them appreciate technology more.
Personal Design for Technical Literacy
Like home design, there are so many choices in too many places when it comes to adopting a new hardware or software tool. There is a whole industry with its own language and standards that can serve as a barrier to action for someone who doesn’t know the right words to use to explain what they would like. The sheer number of choices and lack of simplicity conspire in a situation fraught with entropy. While commercials and emergent social mores send the message that technology is passing us by, the truth is that many people are passing technology by because they are presented with too much to absorb.
We are in times of change, like the early 20th century when electricity was not yet stable. Rural areas did not all have electricity at that time; just as rural areas do not all have Internet access at present. Electricity was run as a for-profit business and unregulated for decades. It was a young industry, and, similarly, we are still in the first 50 years of the widespread propagation of computing and networking.
Because the Web and the new communication abilities have brought such a dramatic change to our lives, in many cases easing burdens and making life easier, we focused on innovation after innovation. And businesses have a stake in prompting us to buy the latest generation of items. However, there is another aspect to creation that has not yet been experienced and embraced in the technology world: appreciation.
Multiple Approaches to Learning New Tech Skills
Instead of experiencing the joy of all our new capabilities as time progresses, we appear to be stuck, like a record skipping on a turn-table, in a cycle of innovate-improve-innovate-improve-innovate when it comes to interacting with technology. It feels like a techno junkie yearning for the latest gadget, or it sounds like someone throwing up their arms entirely and saying “I am just not technical!” It looks like the delusion that if you do not understand technology you are not “smart.” Or it looks like the delusion that all our students have access to the Web and to the tools they need to “compete in the 21st century.”
Instead of training our future generations to compete with technological skills, why not view tech as one more in a set of tools we can use to personalize our life experience in new and fascinating ways? After all, the technical tools we use are like other tools we use to build our environments, and we don’t require everyone to become an electrician in order to enjoy better lighting.
Or, we can view the technology we pick up and use as a game that is not so serious. Or, my personal favorite approach, we can view our interactions with technology as an art that we use while living our lives—a creative way to express ourselves as we paint the story of our lives onto the canvas of time.
Positive Technology Adoption
Whatever our circumstances in the technical world, we can consciously choose to enjoy our next steps. Positive psychologists who study happiness, such as David G. Meyers, are helping us define new definitions of human progress, and I think this applies to human technical progress as well. Meyers’ research showed, in his article “Who Is Happy?” that “wealth is like health: its absence can breed misery, yet having it is no guarantee of happiness.” I would extend this concept about happiness to our interactions with technology as well.
Being cut off from modern technologies can be limiting and painful as you try to navigate the online world, but after you have acquired a fairly small set of technical skills, you will have enough to get around. It’s like visiting a foreign country and learning enough to order in a restaurant. As you spend more time in the country, you will naturally learn more of the language. However, requiring yourself to learn limitlessly can set you up for feeling pressure. If you are suffering in any kind of technical project, know that the problem-solving and meeting the project timeline are a lot less important than witnessing your enjoyment in learning and creating new abilities. You have the power to choose your level of engagement, and you may find a happy truth that when they are made easier, you do enjoy things like video conference with your friends and family, recording your own audio podcasts, sending text messages or email on a smart phone while you are traveling, and other creative projects.
The freedom to choose is the greatest freedom I know so far, and we deserve enjoyment as much (or more) than we deserve innovation. Technology’s rise has brought with it a speed that is akin to desperation and technical innovators are tangled in a trellis of dark capitalism/competitiveness that has swept our culture for a few decades. Possibilities, however, have emerged alongside the greed and addiction. We can choose from profound communication capabilities and powerful automation capacities.
As it stands, however, there are trade-offs for implementing powerful technologies. It takes considerable capital and a hefty investment in learning new details. Even choosing an option to try is a process of details, details, and more details. It’s a delusion to think we can buy a new smart phone and immediately use all of its features without studying them and trying them out in several ways. We will not merely flip a switch and be able to navigate the virtual world.
You and Technology, Hand-in-Hand
One of the secrets to choosing technologies that work for you is to pace yourself. Choose only as much as you need. If you study and learn fewer things, you will have more time to enjoy your knowledge about the things you already have. Similarly, if organizations keep their automation projects more humble and realistic in scope, rather than reaching to be on the edge of innovation and to customize extensively, they can enjoy the improvements in their operations more.
The decision about how much to learn and imbibe of the new virtual landscape is very personal and we all can feel good about our level of interest. A good decision can come from the place where you feel genuinely curious about something, and free from pressure. If you start asking a lot of questions about a technical subject and you feel joy while you are asking (instead of dread, fear, frustration, or some other barrier), that is a clue that it would be a nice thing to explore learning to do yourself.
If you do not want to learn something, but want a system set up for you that is a great option, too. For example, I would not want the electrician I hire to change my light fixture to explain everything they are doing in detail so that after they leave I can change my own light fixture the next time. I would rather just hire them twice.
Hiring a person with expertise can help you work with a new technology a lot faster than working on your own. It is the solution to making a major change if you don’t feel comfortable as a DIY techie. If you want to interact with technology, the proper support can help you more naturally evolve in your relationship to the digital elements available in the world. An evolution peppered with support can enhance your life in our communication age. My opinion is that everyone who seems to be a “techie” has had considerable help along the way.
Humans have not yet found the best ways to express themselves through machines and networks. This is not to deny the transformational waves of improvement that have come about through what, in distant ages, would be called magical and miraculous communication methods. It is simply to acknowledge that we are in an age of technological chaos and that humans find more enjoyment and beauty in simplicity.
Technology is in the process of being created—it is not yet finished. Just like a gift, half of the joy is in its being received. When technology can find simplicity, we can add appreciation to innovation, and its creation will be complete. In the mean time, although not as easy as a light switch, you have lots of options and you can decide the level of engagement you would prefer in the virtual world without worry about whether you have the “right” setup.