Thursday, March 19, 2009

Historical Computer Literacy

Long, long ago, in the Days of DOS, I was computer literate. Back then the phrase meant "Can succeed in an unfamiliar task with unfamiliar software by reading the manual." People who were not computer literate could only repeat what they had been taught by someone.

Later, in the Era of Windows, I was not computer literate. During those years software manuals grew unreadable. Eventually most programs had no printed manual since searching through help files was the only helpful use of documentation. The phrase computer literate changed to mean "Has broad experience with many software applications, and deep knowledge of their tasks." Since I only used a few applications I was no longer computer literate, even though I was in a tier above casual computer users.

Now I wonder if in the new Web Years the old definition has returned. Today I started to use Facebook and Twitter, and got them to do exactly what I wanted, empowered by documentation instead of experience.

I'm brand new to both applications. I do not know what my Facebook "wall" is. I do not know which Facebook input forms go to my "status" as opposed to some other form of posting. I have no idea what a Tweet is. But despite being a complete greenhorn I could do tricky things with these applications because I knew how to search for and make use of documentation: I know about HTML and feeds and browser addons, and know the things to search for in Google to make any needed connections.

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