Live On Purpose.

Blog

12. Tech Literacy

I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, which often feels like a contradictory mess of a city to me. Fort Collins people (and Colorado people in general) are pretty well-educated; in fact, we're ranked the second-most-educated state in the U.S. after Massachusetts. Yet, as that link attests, lots of those college-educated folks are working as waiters or cashiers and bringing home salaries below the national average for college graduates.

There are likely lots of different reasons for this (that everyone in the U.S. is told to go to college as a kid whether they should or not, that the east and west coasts are generally home to higher-paying jobs than the midwest, the list goes on). But I think a major culprit is something I've see firsthand, day after day, while working with people at Simply Mac and T-Mobile here in Colorado: technological illiteracy. Here are some example phrases I hear on a daily basis:

•"I don't 'get' technology."

•"I don't understand this stuff at all."

•"I hate technology."

Sound familiar?

Here's the thing: while it may be acceptable for your retired grandparents to not worry about learning how an iPhone works (and even that's questionable), if you're in the workforce and want to get beyond the level of cashier or waiter, it is not acceptable for *you* to not understand how technology works. And make no mistake, while older folks give me those lines more often than younger folks, I hear it all the time from people of all ages (including the teenagers who live on their smartphones and the twenty-something "professionals" who can't figure out how to attach a document to an email).

If your immediate reaction is "It doesn't matter that much because I'm not a tech person," your opinion is wrong, and here's why. Imagine, if you will, that you were born in the mid-1800's and wanted to make something of yourself, so you decide you want to become a lawyer. Now imagine that you don't know how to write with a pen and paper.

Sure, a lawyer's job isn't specifically to write things- it's to speak for someone else in a court of law, meaning they should be talented at public speaking and know a lot about law. But trying to become a lawyer in 1850 and not understanding how to write with pen and paper would have been ludicrous. You would need that skill so often during your career that it would be like trying to win a race when you're the only one wearing ankle weights. It was not excusable for a lawyer to say "It doesn't matter that much to know how to write because I'm not a pen-and-paper person."

Today, the same is true of using a computer or a tablet or a smartphone. Your job may not specifically be to use "technology" (as we refer to these things), or to understand how it works, but technology is the pen and paper of the modern world. If you feel you would struggle to attach a PDF of your resume to an email, attach a picture to a text message, set up a conference call with coworkers, set up a video chat with a hiring manager, navigate a cloud storage file system for document collaboration (Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, OneDrive), or tell someone whether your phone, tablet, or computer is up to date and backed up, you don't just "not get technology," you're unprepared for the modern business world. These are not pieces of information that only "the IT guy" or programmers need to know; these are the table stakes for a successful, long-term career, because you will need to be able to do those things in order to look (and feel) competent in that career.

I have no idea whether tech illiteracy is especially prevalent in Colorado or not (I suspect "I don't get technology" is a popular line in lots of different places), but if we're the second most highly-educated state in the country and 99% of the customers I work with have no idea how to back up their phone, there's a problem. Sure, the sample data I have is the people who come into a store for help with their phone (whereas people who don't need the help just... stay home and save themselves an hour of waiting in line and resetting passwords), but it seems like a constant struggle for so many people I know.

If you see my point, consider yourself technologically illiterate, and you want to change that, a couple quick tips for smartphone and tablet users are to check out iMore for Apple product tips and tricks or Android Central for Google's Android platform. Most products these days also have a user manual available on the hardware manufacturer's website, and for all other questions about technology, your best bet is likely this link. (I know that seems snide but I'm dead serious- I use that link to answer about 90% of people's questions at T-Mobile whether I already know the answer or not).

All right, folks. It's time to quit complaining about technology (the equivalent of whining about learning how to write with pen and paper) and start learning how to function in modern society. I wish you luck.

Dan RiceComment