Is the age of the stupid user coming to an end?

I remember very clearly what it was like to work in IT in the early 90’s. Although I was employed as a programmer, the first company where I worked considered every member of the IT department a support engineer. Even this is a good indication on how unrefined things were at the time. Think pre AOL days. Back when Windows 98 and 2000 were in use and it wasn’t uncommon for a whole company to share a 56k dial up modem. Certain members of the team had no internet. Computers outside of work were still geek toys, not vital for communication. There was no Facebook and for that matter no social media sites at all for the masses. The internet too was very young.

I remember back in those days you had some really stupid users. And I mean this the non derogatory IT lighthearted kind of way. It was not uncommon to get daily calls from members of staff who had issues printing, opening an attachment or installing some software update. Back in those days it was still conceivable that someone could confuse the CD-ROM for a cup holder.

I like many bloggers on the internet recognize those times. But I have to say I disagree with the premise many current bloggers hold that things have not improved. I’m almost sure the general computing skills for the average public has increased considerably over the last 20 years. So lets discuss some reasons why this is, and also why even in year 2011, there are still a fair share of people around who battle to perform the most basic of computing tasks.

Why things have improved:

There are a great many reasons why the public of today is more computer literate, to name a few:

  • Computers are much more common today and have real functional value in the average household.
  • Internet banking and shopping online has been a huge motivation for even the slackest of users to start using a computer. This also includes product research (not just purchasing).
  • We live in a global economy where sometimes the only way to find the goods you want is to import them directly (buy off the internet).
  • Computer prices have come down considerably, and the introduction of cheap laptops and netbooks, not to mention tablets and other more funky computers.
  • Fixed monthly fee and fast broadband, bringing acceptable internet to the public.
  • Operating systems have improved vastly in areas of usability, so anyone with half a brain can perform basic computing instructions.
  • The amount of people who are born in the computing era rises each year, while at the same time the amount born in pre-computing days lowers each year, the effect is two-fold.
  • Smart phones are now common place, smart phones are mini computers giving users an easy stepping stone into real computing.
Why things are not quiet there yet
Even with all I’ve mentioned, and points I didn’t, there is still a considerable amount of room left for improvement. Here are the main reasons not everyone can use a computer skillfully (At least the way I see it).
  • The vast majority of people that can’t use computers exist because of 2 factors (usually a combination of both). A) They have no interest at all in computers B) They feel no direct responsibility to learn anything relating to computing. Now off the record, these are the type of people who I get a bit annoyed with because usually they want the benefits of a computer and its use when it suits them and on their terms, but typically they refuse to invest any energy outside of this into the technology. Instead they rely on people who are a bit tech savvy to help them out.
  • Some people can completely exist without owning a computer and some have no use for it. These are almost always old people who don’t have distant family.
  • Some people are intimidated by computers. They simply have no desire to experiment but are also terrified to break anything.
  • Some users have a very limited use for computers and use it primarily for 1 or 2 things. They never get excited by computers and like to turn them off as quickly as possible.
  • There are still a great deal of people who feel they are completely justified to excuse their ignorance with “I’m no computer expert” or “Computers are so complicated” or “Stupid computers”. Because of this everytime they hit even the most basic of computer problems they’ll rope in someone else to fix it for them.
Now I’m not saying everyone should be at the super user level, but there definitely is a bar when it comes to computer usage and I think in 2011 I find it unacceptable when people are computer illiterate.
These are the basic tasks everyone should be able to do:
  • Understand very basically what is a CPU, RAM and  a hard disk.
  • Know a bit about hard disks:  How to format them, what data is, have a basic idea of how large a megabyte is or a terabyte.
  • Install an Operating System and know when it’s time for a reinstall.
  • Install applications in that Operating System. Most installations are wizard based and very easy to use. Simply follow onscreen instructions and click next.
  • Know a bit about the internet, how to search for stuff and how to click links and reload pages. How to press F5 when the page produces an error.
  • Know how to fill a form in online and know enough about security not to use “Password” for passwords.
  • Know how to send and receive email.
  • Clearly know how to install a printer or other drivers.
  • Know how to burn a CD or DVD.
  • Know how to convert between PDF and Doc or other formats.
  • Learn how to type at a slightly reasonable speed.
If everyone would just know these basics the world would be a better place for IT support staff I’m sure.

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