Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

The New Illiteracy?

Posted by middlerage on January 4, 2014

As I was commuting the other day I passed a billboard with a public service ad* highlighting literacy and celebrating a man who learned to read at age 70. “Good for him” I thought, but of course what else am I going to think? Later that week, the lovely one took the two kids out to spend their Christmas money, so I took the opportunity to plug a rated M video game (Halo 4) into the xbox 360 that ‘Santa’ brought them (the game came with the xbox, it wasn’t something we bought for two <10 year-olds, and no they don’t get to play it).

Now, I am not, and never have been a video gamer – give me a paperback full of Sudoku or crossword puzzles (which saw their 100th anniversary in December!). Thus I thrashed about in Halo for about half an hour and I never got anywhere. Never saw any aliens to shoot, and never found the ‘observation’ deck the ship’s voluptuous AI kept nagging me to get to. I waited forlornly for a hint balloon to pop up – like in the kid’s video games. Finally, I gave up and shelved the game for when my kids are older. I suck – at least at video games. I remember hanging with muddled and nieuw, back in dah day, watching them play Rogue, and being both impressed and un-interested at the same time. Never was mah thang.

So where am I going with all this? My disability with something that millions(!) of others navigate so well makes me think about the roll out of ObamaCare, and how important it is for average folks to navigate computer “puzzles.” Computers are the new book, and GUIs, desktops, OS’s, windows, and – paramount – the interwebs, are the new literacy.

I feel like yelling at the billboard as I drive by, “TEACH COMPUTERS NOT READING!” (which I know is a bit cart-before-the-horse, but still…)

And if you haven’t been living in a cave recently you’ve probably heard of the Hour of Programming initiative. I think this is a great idea, but not for the usual tropes of “STEM jobs,” or “we’re technically behind Korea,” or “blah blah blah.” I just think it is the new literacy and I harken back to an old story I read long ago, where the illiterate father  brought home a can of peaches for dessert, only to be embarrassed when he opened it and found whole potatoes. The picture looked like peaches. Literacy is empowering, and it is as much a ‘right’ as it is something to boost industry’s bottom line.


*Tangentially, I’m a grown man (why I might even be middle aged!), and thus I listen to a lot of adult themed media, such as jazz and classical on radio and internet stations. I hear a lot of public service ads aimed at teenage depression or teenage drug taking or teenage pregnancy. However, I like ALL music, so I often listen to modern pop stations as well (yes I am a fan of Ke$ha), on which I NEVER hear teen-themed public service ads. Okay, that is anecdotal, but what the fuck? Sumtin ain’t right here. The airwaves are freely given so commercial stations need to step up.


One Response to “The New Illiteracy?”

  1. Mark Leisher said

    Sharp observation about the lack of teen-focused public service messages on pop stations. Maybe they think their audience will consider it too preachy or something.

    My 74 year old mother was complaining recently that she couldn’t find any (large print) books that describe things like how to use a mouse, when to use one click, two clicks, or three clicks, and what does copy and paste mean. There may be a market for a from-scratch primer. Kids seem to be born with the ability to use computers these days, but our older generations were not suckled on bits and bytes.

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