Friday, March 11, 2011

Click until something happens: No shame in semi-literacy

As a 22-year-old, it's easy to get a little delusional about my computer experience. My peers and I grew up smack-dab in the middle of the Great Internet Transition, meaning we hit puberty right when technology did, and learned it all while our brains were still squishy and malleable.

To over-simplify with no real evidence, I'll divide us into two groups: The Literate, and the Semi-literate. The literate (*cough* NERDS) were excited by the technology, read about it, dissected it, experimented with it, collected it, and basically lived for it, and still do. The semi-literate like me were also excited about the technology, but in a very self-centered and frivolous way. We only learned what we needed, and were easily distracted by gimmicks (I spent WAY too many hours in 1999 just watching screen-savers like they were virtual lava lamps and I was high on pixels). I explored a little bit, but in the nonchalant style of a pleasure-hiker rather than a botanist.

In this new age where literally EVERYONE is in contact with technology, we are now divided into four groups:

The Super-literate: The highly evolved literates, scary tech-savvy toddlers, and geniuses. If they aren't unnecessarily rich yet, they will be.

The Literate: Most smart adolescents and non-professional tech-loving 20-somethings (that's a lot of hyphens). These people don't need any help, but love to argue and squabble about the benefits of various features. While these are the people who assist me when I'm stuck, my best guess is that this is also the camp that most trolls belong to.

The Semi-literate: Refusing to follow trends and educate ourselves, we survive on what we've casually absorbed over the years. We are comfortable with technology but dangerously overconfident in our ability to control it, to the chagrin of our nerdy friends (damn you Stephenie Meyer for ruining the word "chagrin").

The Illiterate: This group is fun. The adorable subjects of this article series, illiterates are parents, grandparents, older co-workers and professors. They make hilarious assumptions about "using up the internet," fall prey to scams, don't understand what a browser is, and are pretty bemused and abused by our current culture. We laugh as they attempt to navigate Facebook without knowing the unspoken etiquette, intricate grammar, and mysterious tones of the web-speech. They are frustrating to deal with in professional or academic situations as they can slow everyone down, but if you have enough patience you might be able to teach them the basics of how to function safely.

As with all categorical people-parceling, this list is flexible. Semi-literate illiterates exist.

Now, I'm going to be narcissistic and assume that most people online are in my category: semi-literate. I use technology 70% of my waking hours (and about 10% of my non-waking hours, thanks to the Sleep feature on Mariel the iPod Nano). I have a list of 50ish websites that I consume regularly: typically social networking, webcomics, comedy blogs, streaming video, music download, etc. I rarely stray outside of this routine unless I get bored, as there is plenty to occupy me.

I run into trouble when I start acting like I know what I'm doing. Sure, to my mom I'm a genius because I can fill out an Excel spreadsheet and defrag files, but I'm really only going through the motions. I have a very vague idea of how virus protection works, which isn't much to brag about considering I've gone through three hard-drives.

Here's a riddle: How can you make your nerdy friends wince in pain? Answer: balance hot coffee on your keyboard, name your user login "Admin" even though it's the only one you have, use McAfee and AVG at the same time, use Chrome with no add-ons, download Winamp to replace iTunes and then don't use it because "it's different," or admit that you have no idea what Flash actually means. Why do these people still hang out with me?

I've "fixed" my computer myself a few times when it was acting funny, usually just by clicking, deleting, refreshing, rebooting, scanning, and updating until something blinks and it tells me it's better. Daftpunk would approve of me - I cover their whole list.

People, I'm a proud semi-literate, and I'm here to stand up for my brethren (and sistren). Gather around, casual users, and unite against the snobbish prejudice of tech culture. You are entitled to your opinion that PCs are better than Macs because "Safari sucks and the x-out is on the left, wtf is up with that." You have a right to set Facebook as your homepage. You can make your own vocabulary (most tech-speak is coined anyway. What the hell is a widget...).You can make your own rules! One of mine is that anything I write gets emailed in text, saved as a doc, and saved as an rtf. Sure, it's overkill and irrational, but do you want to take a guess as to how many files I've mysteriously lost in the oblivion of ones and zeros? I treat technology with irreverent mistrust; if my laptop can function cryptically then so can I.

A perfect example: My browser just froze while writing the previous sentence, so when Chrome finished farting I highlighted all the text in this box and copied it. I know my draft saves every time I pause, but my paranoia from past traumatic events dictates how I react.

How We Solve Problems: You are having trouble locating a recently downloaded file. What do you do?

Super-literate: Calmly adjust the lever on my ergonomic chair, crack knuckles, disable auto-scan, enter "about:config" in address and "" in filter, select false value, and smile smugly to myself when it obediently pops up.*

Literate: Methodically and swiftly check the most obvious location according to what I downloaded, check Temporary Internet Files, or type the file name into the Search option - because of course I memorized it...

Semi-literate: Sigh in frustration, click the download until it downloads five times into the same unknown location, open My Computer and look through recently added, which is always suspiciously empty, check to make sure it didn't ninja it's way onto my desktop where it's been cheekily mocking me from behind my windows, download it again but this time right-click and save it somewhere obnoxiously obvious with a name like "AAA HERE I AM HELLO AAA!!!" Rinse and repeat until the 28 ticked-off copies of my file are found.

Illiterate: Why did that window pop up? I'm just trying to see that nice lady's photographs. Where did they go? Oh dear...Bradley? Bradley are you there? Honey, the page disappeared, I don't know where the internet went. Hang on, let me check that Microsoft Word document where I keep all my pictures...

Aahaha...I kid. Anyway, the internet is a growing community, folks. We don't all need to be geniuses, after all they need someone to teach. It's totally possible to function at any level of literacy, whether you spend your time editing and re-ordering audio clips of War and Peace until it reads Twilight with a Spanish accent, or making desktop backgrounds of baby hedgehogs in MS Paint.

Happy clicking!
Le Manuel

*I totally Googled that. No idea if it's right. That's kinda been my point...

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