This holiday I spent a lot of my time watching relatives open up all sorts of web connected devices. Various Apple products, Kindles, and smart phones were in attendance. While I love seeing technology take over the world, I also realized how far we really are from achieving a technically literate society.
For every new device a family member received I followed the same process. First they asked me each of these questions:
- How do I connect to the internet?
- How do I get email?
- How to I get ______ application?
Now for someone who spends his life either in a code editor or a browser its a no-brainer that even if I don’t know the specific device (I’ve never used a Nook), I can find out the answer in two steps:
- Google a tutorial.
It’s really no problem. I enjoy helping out loved ones with their new devices. Plus it’s like I’m paying my dues. I know if I ever need help with financial advice my financial advisor uncle would have no problem sharing some knowledge.
But I’ve realized that I’m not doing them any favors. I have now become a dependency with anything electronic. What I should have been doing, instead of coaching them through each product individually, is teach them the steps I take to solve the problems.
Turns out, people don’t know how to use Google.
For someone who uses Google tens or hundreds of times a day, its a no brainer that I know:
- The exact phrasing required to get the answer I desire.
- The websites that hold the most notoriety.
- When to rephrase if I don’t find what I’m looking for.
But for those who aren’t used to technology, finding information is difficult and actually very scary. It’s incredibly intimidating to wander outside the Yahoo! homepage when the headlines read “THOUSANDS OF BANK PASSWORDS HACKED.”
I know this should be common sense but the first thing one should be taught when introduced to the internet is how to find things. Using a search engine is a skill. And one could argue that it is now the most important skill one could have.
Just think about the old Chinese proverb:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Nowadays it should read:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to Google and he can catch, identify, clean, and cook any animal in the world. Then teach himself French literature.
While Google has advanced information sharing further than any human ever thought possible, it is still highly dependent on the quality of user input:
So the next time someone asks for technical help, have them flex their search engine muscle. It will pay off in the end.