Technologically Literate

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article I read in the New York Times earlier this week. I loved the list of the types of technological literacies that he tried to impart to his son:

  • Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.
  • Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete.
  • Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.
  • Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.
  • The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.
  • Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?
  • Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?
  • The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.
  • Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

One in particular that resonated with me was about being good at always being a beginner. Technology changes so fast that these days, you have to acquire skills in how to figure stuff out – how to interact with something you’ve never seen before. Think of this skill as the ability to click on all the buttons and try them out. What does it do? What happens if you change this? How do you go back and change it back? Does the _____ (software, gadget, program, etc.) do what you want it to do, or can you tweak it so it will?

Being able to have this skill will often get you in this situation (which, yes, I do have printed out and taped to my door):

I love XKCD!

The technological literacy of being good at being a beginner reminded me of one of the “new media literacies” from the work that Henry Jenkins is doing on the New Media Literacies Project. (You can find the full list here). The one I am referring to is:

Play: the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving. Having a strong sense of play can be helpful when you pick up a new piece of technology that you’ve never used before, when you’re trying to write an essay and your outline isn’t functioning as you’d hoped, and when you’re designing anything at all, from a dress to a web page to a concert’s program.

How does this fit in with this week’s reading, “Augmenting the Human Intellect: a Conceptual Framework”? Well, when I read the statement:

We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

I hear “play with your technology”. The “play” part or the “get good at being a beginner” part is the human element to becoming technologically literate, intellectually augmented human.

playing with technology
Already augmented?

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