Understanding the computer illiterate

Sean Flack

Like most people my age, I know my way around a computer. It’s just something I’ve always been interested in. While my peers were playing football and getting muddy, I was exploring AOL 4.0 on a slow-as-hell dial-up connection.

As a result of me being so used to this technology, it’s always groan-inducing when someone can’t figure out the simplest of computer tasks. But I’m writing this article in the lobby of a car mechanic place right now, and I realize I should be more understanding of the computer illiterate, because what some people are to computers, I am to cars.

Whenever something bad happens to my car, I give up and call my dad, or just throw money at the problem till it goes away. People are the exact same way with computers. So why do I classify them as dumb, when I don’t know things like the difference between a muffler and a hubcap?

I watch these mechanics work on my car and they seem so comfortable and at ease doing whatever to my big, blue boat. They’re really in their element.

The mechanic motions me to come over and check out what’s wrong with my car. He points his little flasher at my rusted brake lines and starts speaking in terms that I don’t understand. This guy could be completely screwing me over, but I would have no idea. And that’s when I realized that, in a way, I was like the old lady who couldn’t send an e-mail.

We give older people so much crap these days for not being on the up-and-up with technology. I mean, I know they can be slow at it, but this is a skill that they’re not used to. And what they lack in tech skills, I’m sure they make up for in other categories: cooking, cars, yard work, etc.

I’ve never taken an automobile class, but I can just picture me there — the mechanic asks me where the radiator is, which leads to me stuttering and awkwardly pointing to the tire or something. I’m sure the mechanic would be thinking in his head, “Ugh, what an idiot.”

I know technology is an important part of our lives now, but one could argue that other skills are more relevant and essential for certain groups of people. Sure, you know how to navigate Facebook, but can you successfully cook a meal for yourself that doesn’t involve the words “frozen” and “microwave”? I bet the lady who doesn’t know about that crazy Twitter can.

I just think it gives you a new perspective on things when you put yourself in that position. There will always be something in life that is hard for you to comprehend, no matter how hard you try. So think about that. Think about someone who knows that topic inside and out trying to teach it to you.

I’m not saying I won’t be annoyed at these people anymore. I’m just saying I understand them now. And maybe next time I explain to my Mom how Google works, I’ll be a little more patient.