This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.
Everyone seems to be in agreement: The members of Generation Z, the oldest of whom are entering college about now, are great with computers. These “digital natives” have “never known a time before the internet,” as pointed out in a recent Forbes article.
According to a March 2013 Pew Research study, almost a quarter of the Gen Z population owns a tablet, and 90 percent uses the internet.
The Pew analysis goes on to conclude that since teens “have grown up using the internet, text messaging and mobile phones” they must have “second nature tech skills” and a “voracious appetite for information.”
If “second nature tech skills” means an aptness in navigating Facebook and YouTube and a “voracious appetite” for 15-second Instagram videos and Snapchat pics, then I agree.
If instead it means understanding how a highly sophisticated internet and computer environment actually works and having an insatiable drive to learn how to fix and evolve our digital environment, then I’d argue that kids these days really aren’t that good with computers.
How many times have you heard your kids say, “The internet is broken.” What they really mean is, “I can’t connect to the internet right now.” But this future generation of computer engineers should be equipped to investigate and solve the real problem. They should be asking such questions as:
- Is the internet connection fully down, or are a few specific websites the culprit?
- Is the problem specific to one computer or device, or are all devices down?
- Have you tried rebooting your modem? What about the router?
Does Gen Z as a whole even know what the modem and router are, which is which, and what they both do?
Yes, Gen Z grew up in a world where learning how to type and learning how to write were one in the same, where — in the words of the recently released Beloit Mindset List — “having a chat has seldom involved talking,” but Gen Z also grew up in a world where they could set up their Xbox 360 in five easy steps — one of which is “take the console out of the box.”
They’ve never needed to install a hard drive or operating system, and when they need to program a new phone, an Apple Genius will do it for them. By missing the days of clunky hardware and softwarethat came with reams of instructions, Gen Z also missed the days of diagnosing, troubleshooting and problem-solving technology.
As parents, teachers and future employers of Gen Z, we need to encourage today’s teenagers to ask the right questions, seek the answers themselves and to fix rather than replace.