by Elizabeth Stell & George Prew
How often have you found that ‘computer literacy’ is a requirement for this or that internship? How often have you written on your CV that you possess this skill, or at least some of its aspects? And yet everyone has a different view on what ‘computer literacy’ really means.
Every simple task on a computer can be solved using myriad tools, and each tool can be used in a multitude of different ways.
Does computer literacy demand, as verbal literacy does, that we use a very specific set of these methods? Or are we free to use the basic understanding of computing which our generation has developed as a natural adaptation to the times? What does it mean to have ‘experience using databases’? Do you need to have made a database, used, or manipulated one?
“Do we need to learn a particular form of literacy in order to communicate with our shiny metallic friends?”
Maybe even those who provide the internships have no idea of what they mean by these terms.
These questions especially bother students of the humanities. If your degree is not technological, then your all-important computer literacy might be perceived as lacking, even though you learned IT at school and use computers extensively in your degree.
Besides, do computers really talk another language? Do we need to learn a particular form of literacy in order to communicate with our shiny metallic friends?
These days it seems as if the answer is ‘probably not’.
Unless you want a job in programming or some other industry which involves extensive knowledge of computing, chances are you won’t have to learn a new language to compel a computer to do your bidding.
Certainly there are people who do not use computers… or so we hear! But nowadays they are a foreign species. They are somewhat akin to that fabled person who managed to live an exceptionally unhealthy life—gnawing on a bar of salt every day, helping it down with a bottle of vodka, and breathing in more nicotine than oxygen—and yet to survive to the age of Methuselah; there are such persons, but they are terribly hard to find.
The term ‘computer literacy’ becomes meaningless in this context. Employers ought to assume that applicants know how to use common programs such as Microsoft Word or Excel, and if anything else is needed then it should be specified.
But what does ‘computer literacy’ mean in itself?
According to Google, that all-knowing oracle for the computer-literate generation, ‘computer-literate’ means ‘having sufficient knowledge and skill to be able to use computers; familiar with the operation of computers’.
And just in case you ever want to use this rather pointless phrase, Google most helpfully suggests an example sentence (perhaps best for filling a lull in a flagging conversation):
‘Nowadays, all graduates are computer-literate.’