Blog Post

Have we all forgotten what it's like to be a tech beginner?

By: Marco Campana
February 28, 2023

This interesting article came through my feeds this morning - ‘Scanners are complicated’: why Gen Z faces workplace ‘tech shame’.

“The tech company HP coined the phrase “tech shame”, to define how overwhelmed young people felt using basic office tools. According to the study, one in five young office workers reported “feeling judged for having tech issues”, which made them less likely to ask for help. And in another survey, the employment firm LaSalle Agency found that almost half of the class of 2022 felt “underprepared” when it came to the technical skills relevant for entering the workforce.

Dell used its own survey of respondents between the ages of 18 and 26 to find that 56% of respondents said “they had very basic to no digital skills education.” A third of them said their education had not provided them “with the digital skill they need to propel their career”. What they know comes from the apps they use on their own time, not the tech supplies at Office Depot.”

Useful to deal with myths and assumptions like “digital natives,”, and baseline skills nonprofit employers should expect of new hires, etc.

I like to periodically read this 1996 article How to help someone use a computer to remind me that "Nobody is born knowing this stuff," "You've forgotten what it's like to be a beginner," and "If it's not obvious to them, it's not obvious." Read the article for a really great list of reminders, and some rules to follow if you're helping someone to learn or use their tech.

We've taken for granted that some digital literacy means technology enabled. But we're not taught what we need to be taught.

A variety of mobile menu names and images

Tech is not intuitive.

I mean, on mobile who decided that three horizontal lines (the "hamburger") or 3 dots (the "kebab") was the way to go when it comes to navigation, and that it would make sense to anyone?

Apparently there are also the Meatballs, Bento, Döner, Oreos, Candy box, Chocolate, Hot dog, Veggie burger, Strawberry, Fries, Stairs, and Cake!?!

Why does the image of a floppy disk persist for so long as the icon to save a document?

There is plenty of research and deep thought that debunks the myth of the digital native. But it has persisted.

Why it matters

I hear from a lot of managers and EDs about their expectations around new hires' basic tech knowledge, such as MS Office, etc. But what if they've never had to use office-like tech before? Are we being realistic about expectations?

Even in my home we joke with our 15 year old that if he's supposed to be a digital native, why can't he find that file in his Google Drive? My spouse and I chatted about issues I have with clients when sharing docs (even with explicit instructions to "track changes" or "use suggested edits in the Google Doc") and her with her team and colleagues. We aren't creating systems, process, common agreements about how we'll use tech. So it becomes overwhelming, frustrating, and inefficient.

Surely we can do it better?

Let me know what you think!

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