Earlier this year I found a very interesting article on the young and computing [In french]. In this article, Jean-Noël Lafargue, searcher and professor, highlights trends that go beyond received ideas but that we all can observe, every day, in real life.
He says that new generations are less interested in computing and less savvy in this area that what we think, and, even more, that they are less than the previous generations. We’re talking about technical skills, not usage skills.
Here’s why it’s both a good and a bad news at the same time.
Computing has disappeared, people use it.
One shows interest in technology mostly when it’s in its early days. As the article says, there was a time when owning a car required to have mechanical skills. Today we use cars without needed to know how they work.
It’s the same for computing. Those who, like me, had their first computer in the 80s, had to get their hands dirty, understand how the OS works, how the hardware works. Essential to fix problems and invent use cases.
At this time there was no internet, we were not overloaded with content (and even had no content at all) so we had to figure out what to use a computer for, make it useful, otherwise the computer would have ended covered with dust in a locker.
Then we had more and more apps, internet made them more accessible, they become free or freemium, we have more and more content available every day, what is more than enough to make us busy 100% of of time and grab all our attention. Meanwhile, computers become more and more powerful, OS more reliable.
Technology is mature, we use it, it has disappeared behind the way we use it. No one cares about knowing how it works. It’s transparent and that’s what matters.
The geek has become a lazy consumer
Computers and their likes (smartphones, tablets) are not production devices anymore, they’re mostly used for consumption. Before, we expected computers to “do” things, today, thanks to internet, we expect them to access content to meet a need. Facebook and, generally speaking, social networks, are the perfect example. They “do” nothing except giving us access to content shared in our network. It’s enough to capture our attention and available brain time…and even to make us feel like finding ways to allocate more time to content consumption even to the detriment of things that matter more. What the web giants sell to their clients is their ability to get our attention by any means, even going against our needs. I’ll discuss that in a next post.
In short, the computer user become comfort-loving. He passively consumes without wondering how things work and to what it all contributes. The geek has become a lazy consumer over time. He does not do a thing, he enjoys what others did.
When one does not need to understand the “how” and focuses on the “what” he becomes a wasted child.
The “usages” generation
And that’s a good thing. Since the barrier to entry disappeared, computing has become a mass market offering a wide range of opportunities to businesses.
Those who lived the first internet bubble will admit that even if the ideas were quite good, the problem was monetization. We built supermarkets without customers nor connections to the road network (not everyone had a computer at home and the bandwidth was desperately slow). In the mid 2000s internet become useful, usable and used, paving the way for what we’re experiencing today.
So we’re facing a generational paradox. New generations are natively more comfortable with technology than the previous ones (and Ux and UI have dramatically improved) but have no idea of how it works and don’t care about it.
This is the “usages” generation, with a digital literacy higher than its helder. But the (very small) part of the previous generations who took an interest in technology is much more competent when it’s time to think about the “how”. One of my contacts, professor in a “Ivy league” school once told me : “your generation used to think about ERPs and CRMs, today the new one wants to build media and produce content. You all knew how to tinker with a computer or a server as autodidact. Today they don’t care about it. That’s only the proof that the world has changed and that technology is not an issue anymore”.
Yes. But he may become an issue soon and I’m not sure we’re going to like it.
Digital laziness comes with a price tag
If technology stopped being an issue it’s because lots of people worked hard on it. Technology did not disappeared but was thought and designed jointly with its usages. If less and less people care about it, we will end up with usages issues in a couple of years.
As the article says, geeks are less and less geeks (or are differently geeks), hackers as we knew them are so rare than even the US army struggles to hire as many hackers as they need. And the old geeks are falling asleep since everything is working well now. We are caught between a generation falling asleep and another who does not care about technology. Future may look like a dead end.
As I said earlier this year, the biggest risk to digital transformation is the propensity of favouring the form over the content every day more. That may be an explanation.