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OK, Boomer: Why Computer Literacy Matters to You

Years ago, I used to say that while I worked hard to learn the skills I needed to be successful with technology — loving every minute of it, by the way — those behind me would have an advantage I never had: they’d be steeped in what we’d call computer literacy almost from birth.

As technology advanced and has become pervasive, it’s clear I wasn’t wrong. Those generations take technology for granted, and leverage it without a second thought.

Those of my generation (I’m a proud “boomer”) and older are left needing to work to stay on top of it all.

Not only do I think that’s a good thing, I think it’s critical.

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Quit complaining

I hate to have to start with this, but honestly … it’s an epidemic. I see it all the time.

Grumpy Cat “Why do I have to…?”
“The old way was better.”
“Why can’t they leave well enough alone?”
“Who would ever want to …?”
“I don’t like…”
“I hate that they…” and on and on.

“Kids these days.” “Get off my lawn.”

Seriously, the message others hear from all that complaining is not that things are bad, or that old ways were better, or even that we’re frustrated … what they hear is that we’re a generation of grumpy old farts who stopped learning years ago and don’t want to be part of current society.

Seriously. That’s the takeaway from all your complaining.

Even if your complaints are completely justified, complaining doesn’t help. It’s not good for you, and it discourages others from helping you when you need it.

And yes, I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes it discourages me.

Progress is nothing new

Society and technology moves forward whether we like it or not.

And here’s the kicker: this is nothing new! This is one thing that hasn’t changed; it’s always been this way. When you and I were young, things were moving at a pace that amazed our elders.

We embraced it. We enjoyed it. We leveraged it.

They suggested we get off their lawns.

In a world of seemingly never-ending change, this is one thing that hasn’t changed at all: things move forward.

You embraced it then. Embrace it now.

Computer literacy

You don’t even hear the term “computer literacy” that often anymore, because it’s more of an assumption than a skill people have to learn. It’s become almost synonymous with generic literacy.1

As I said, it’s something that kids just grow up with today.

But for many, it’s still a separate, important skill that needs to be developed.

I urge you to develop it. There are two important reasons why you must.

It’s good for you

Today’s technology empowers you in ways you simply can’t imagine until you’re using it.

Remember video phones? They exist — we just call them “Skype” now. Oh, and they’re free. Dick Tracy’s wrist-phone? That exists too, though to be fair, the larger version in everyone’s pocket instead is probably more useful.

The future is here today.

Learning new things is great for your brain, and learning to use the technology around you is good for your connection to the rest of the world.

The less you know of computers and tech, the more isolated you’ll become.

Which leads to the second important reason you must develop the skill.

It’s required

Your ability to be technologically literate is now a basic requirement to participate in society.

From online banking, to services that no longer provide paper or have reduced the number of people you can actually talk to, to just connecting to your friends and family who never answer their phone, the pragmatic reality is that you need to be the one to take the initiative and come up to speed on how to interact with the changing world.

They’re not going to change.

That means the only thing that remains in your control is how you respond.

“Get off my lawn” is not the answer.

You don’t have to like it, and complaining about it won’t help. “You embraced it then, you can embrace it now” is the best attitude toward technology and change you can take.

“OK, boomer”

In recent months, the phrase “OK, boomer” has become a bit of a meme. It’s nothing more than a dismissive response by the member of a younger generation to something that a member of the baby boom generation has stated.

It’s the equivalent to an exasperated “Whatever!”  — completely ignoring what someone else has said instead of pointlessly arguing about it.

That it has gained notoriety shows me that my generation has developed a reputation for inflexibility, intolerance, and an unwillingness to listen to the opinions of others.

That may or may not be true elsewhere, but nowhere do I see it more than when it comes to technology and computer literacy. The reputation is sadly justified.

The meme may pass, but the opinion it reflects will remain.

Instead, I aspire to emulate the 95 year old who’s been teaching computer literacy at a local senior center, or the 93 year old who’s been blogging about her challenges in aging. Rather than rejecting technology, they’re finding ways to make the world a slightly better place by embracing it.

And they’re happier people for it.

They’re who I want to be when I grow up. They’re who I want you to be. You, and I — and, honestly, most everyone else — will be happier for it as well.

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Footnotes

1:I’m told “information literacy” is the new version, and it’s not something those tech-leveraging youngsters know automatically. Schools and libraries are having to teach it from the start.

Posted: January 24, 2020 in: Editorials
Shortlink: https://askleo.com/110284
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I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.

22 comments on “OK, Boomer: Why Computer Literacy Matters to You”

  1. I’m 88 years old and right now I have 4 computers on my desk and 1 on my work bench. (only two are running, though)
    Years ago my son brought a computer into our business. I made the comment, “If that gets in the way of business, it has to go.”
    I WAS HOOKED!
    I have built and repaired ever since then. Always experimenting so as to learn something new.
    Oh, stay off my lawn because the last time you were on it you broke my sapling I had just planted.

    Reply
    • I’m 76 years old. I started using a Commodore 128 in 1985, and moved on to various IBM clones. I think computers CAN be tremendously useful, although sometimes the hassle outweighs the benefits. Everyone has to decide where that point exists for themselves. There is a middle ground between ALWAYS GOOD and NEVER GOOD that neither rabid techies nor Luddites recognize.

      Reply
  2. When I was young, people of my parents’ generation used to complain about how much better things were in their day. I’m sure their parents and their grandparents and every generation before said the same thing all the way back to the hunter gatherers. Facebook is full of nostalgia pages lamenting how things aren’t as good as they were before.
    The solution? Let’s get back to the hunter-gatherer stage of evolution when things were at their best.

    Reply
    • But… but, come on… everybody knows life was far, far better before sliced bread! Yes Leo, even you… lqtm

      I know I’m stuffed with new technology nowadays. My first computer was an Amstrad 464 (I think). Now here I am at 65, officially an old age pensioner aka old fart, struggling to keep up. Find it hard to recall where to go to change some things. Sometimes I worry I might have early stages of dementia. Yet the quack says no way, just normal aging processes.

      I get disheartened with (so called) smartphones… have a neighbour whose grandson at 4 (now 10) was happily swiping through apps and “knew” what to do with them. And here we were going uhm, ok, where do I find this, that or the other.

      The world is moving far, far too fast. The question is of course will it ever stop, or even regress? The answer to that, to use a Leo-ism, is it depends. All it would take is a coronal mass ejection at the right angle and virtually all electronics technology on the planet is obliterated. Possible? Very much so, as reported recently there was one a few months back and due to the fact that it shot out away from the earth is why we are still able to carry on. It could quite easily happen again and hit earth. Instant stone age situation all over again, although the buildings of today would still be there. Just, no elevators, or lights, or working sewer systems, water reticulation etc. Sounds like fun doesn’t it… not!

      Reply
  3. “Dick Tracy’s wrist-phone? That exists too, though to be fair, the larger version in everyone’s pocket instead is probably more useful.”
    I’m still waiting on a Maxwell Smart shoe phone.

    Reply
  4. Back in the mid 50’s my best friend’s dad worked for IBM. I used to listen to his dad talk about computers and what they could do to help us. I became interested in learning more and more about computers. I went to the local library and read about computers for hours. I couldn’t get enough information. I had to put my computer studies on hold for several years but never gave up the desire to learn more about them. I the early 80’s I worked for a manufacturing company that had computer run equipment and I went to school to learn how to repair the computers that ran the equipment. A few wears later I went to a junior college taking night courses to get may COMPTIA certifications for A+ and Network +. I have been working on computers every since then and I still keep reading more about them to keep up with technology today. Yep, I’m an BOOMER too and proud of it!

    Reply
  5. Ok, I’m old now (81), pre-Boomer, and got into computers very early on. Think Commador64, DEC Rainbow, CPM vs DOS, punch cards and Fortran IV programming. As a retired EE, I’ve tried to keep up over the years but my particular problem is Definitions. Many words used today are not defined the way we learned in my youth, and so I find them hard to understand. The meaning of terms like migrate, populate, tethering, archive, crawler, server, etc have changed and it takes a bit of doing to easily understand them. Even with my background, trying to find directions on how to perform some procedures like backups can be challenging to me. I can only imagine how it is for a not-techie senior.
    And, by the way, I live in the woods now and don’t have a lawn. Instead I share my space with deer, bears, and other non-technical critters.

    Reply
    • …and probably have better conversations with them critters than with many of the youth of today. Which is quite sad when you think about it.

      Reply
  6. Hi Leo. This is my first ever comment although I’ve read your posts for years. Thanks for your huge contribution to information literacy!

    I’m a younger boomer (born ’61) who is pretty literate with technology. Family and friends come to me for tech support. I’m concerned that I stay literate for the rest of my life. My motivations are security, interest and practical.

    So, my question: Do you have any advice? General guidelines for an already tech literate person on how to stay there?

    Perhaps my concerns are unnecessary. Perhaps the personal forces that made me tech literate in the first place will never fail me. But, I want to be proactive not to be swept away in the coming waves of technological advances. My mother worked with mainframe computers in the 70s. She was a rare female in that field. She wrote some of the software that the State Department used at that time. But in recent years, she has fallen behind and turns to me for tech support. There is nothing wrong with that. Hell, we all turn to tech support from time to time. But, I think she has been a little passive about the process and I don’t want to do that myself.

    Reply
    • I’m a boomer. Helping Leo answer questions helps me stay up to date with my tech skills. I’m constantly googling to find answers and it keeps me learning new things. You might want to volunteer helping other seniors and teaching classes, teach adult education courses in IT or something similar.

      Reply
    • Mark had some good suggestions, I’ll just add a more global one: never lose interest, and never let anyone tell you you’re “too old”. Honestly it cracks me up when I get the occasional comment about “seniors” from someone that doesn’t realize I’m currently 62. 🙂 Keep up to date on what interests you. The more fun it is, the longer you’ll do it. Spoiler: that’s one reason Ask Leo! exists.

      Reply
        • Lucky you. Never got to see the Doors. Nor Hendrix. The Beatles only on (black & white) television when they toured NZ in 1964. I’m really, really old. 65 going on 66 in April. Oh… woe is me. Ok, now where’s that beer? LOL

          Reply
  7. As a boomer, I’m seeing many changes that are going to really start people to howl. I’m 65 and took Social Security at 62. How many are aware that the Social Security Administration has been pushing to do business online? For me, NBD. For my wife, no way! She’s not drawing Social Security yet but the only way to sign up for Medicare was online in our area.
    As for the younger generations, my kids and grandkids have learned not to leave their notebooks and phones around when we visit. I’ve still haven’t gotten through to them about passwords, virus scans, backups, etc. Kids these days!

    Reply
  8. I’ll sort of disagree with one of your observations. I’ve been playing with computers since the Apple IIe. I actually think I have an advantage over those who grew up with technology. Having used the command prompt, learned DOS commands and watched Window grow from pretty awful at first to what it is today, I think has given my a big advantage in understanding how tech works. I don’t see that same level of understanding in the younger generation.

    I’m a retired teacher who taught the Office apps in a community college. I used to tell students how lucky they were to have all the options for references and bibliographies in Word. Then I would explain how I did it in undergrad school on a typewriter. It was eye opening for them.

    Reply
    • Did any of them NOT know what a typewriter was (is)? I recall writing (?) on a typewriter with 2 fingers. I just don’t understand how I managed to get anything done… must have had the patience of a Saint back then I reckon.

      Reply
  9. Should any arrongant moron ever say “Okay Boomer” to me, they are going to get a monster put down in response.

    That said, like so many others here, I’ve been using PCs since about 1982 when a fellow city planner told me not to buy one of those new IBM PCs because some kids invented the operating system in a garage and it’ll never go anywhere. So naturally I purchased a CP/M computer with 8″ floppy disks (and WordStar!) and an NEC Sprinwriter printer complete with keyboard. They got me through law school leaving all my classmates wondering what the heck is he using to write? They still knew only typewriters even though most of them were 12 years younger than I. Ironically, when I interviewed for jobs at large law firms, they held it against me when I’d ask if I’d get a computer with word processing. Afterall, “only secretaries type.” Now, of course, attorneys are incredibly dependent on their computers and the Internet – but they still have no idea how they work.

    In addition to practicing city planning and fair housing law, I’ve built, upgraded, or saved from oblivion around 75 computers including the 4 in our home office. What has struck me about those hot shots who think they know everything, is that most younger computer users really have no idea what they can do with a computer and no understanding of how they work — much like people of older generations. An awful lot of younger folk are reckless with their PCs, tablets, and smart phones, and very susceptible to scams that infect their digital devices. “Passwords? Internet Security Programs? Okay Boomer, what are they? I don’t need them.”

    And what’s really interesting is that younger computer users seem to be the ones who complain the loudest when Windows undergoes a major update.

    So if one of them should ever say “Okay Boomer” to me, I won’t be able to resist responding, “Feelin’ lucky, punk?” (Bet they won’t get the movie reference.)

    Reply
  10. The more I hear NEW, the more I just see old ideas rejiggered (SCSI anyone)? It just seems like computer tech is reused and recycled for than old aluminum cans. Maybe Moore’s Law was named for Gary Moore (the old game show host from the 60s)?

    Reply

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