A Sad Commentary

by on December 20, 2006 · 12 comments

This new poll from the folks over at 463 Communications and Zogby reveals that an overwhelming majority of Americans (83 percent, to be exact) “believe that a typical 12-year-old knows more about the Internet than their member of Congress.” And there is no difference by party affliation. Republicans (85 percent) and Democrats (86 percent) agreed completely on this point.

How sad, and some days in this town, I’m inclined to agree.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    What’s sad about it? I would bet that the typical 12-year-old is more tech-savvy than the average adult over 40, regardless of occupation.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    What’s sad about it? I would bet that the typical 12-year-old is more tech-savvy than the average adult over 40, regardless of occupation.

  • Adam Thierer

    What’s sad about it is that it is difficult to imagine this being the case for previous technologies and industrial cycles. Do you believe that the 12-year-olds of the 1950s knew more about steel or automotive industry issues, or that the 12-year-olds at the turn of the century knew more about agricultural issues?

    It raises some various serious issues when children know more than adults (and their parents) about the dominant technologies of their time, especially when the elders are elected officials trying to make public policy decisions about the future of the technologies in question.

  • Adam Thierer

    What’s sad about it is that it is difficult to imagine this being the case for previous technologies and industrial cycles. Do you believe that the 12-year-olds of the 1950s knew more about steel or automotive industry issues, or that the 12-year-olds at the turn of the century knew more about agricultural issues?

    It raises some various serious issues when children know more than adults (and their parents) about the dominant technologies of their time, especially when the elders are elected officials trying to make public policy decisions about the future of the technologies in question.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I see what you mean. However, don’t you think this is primarily a function of the ubiquity of computers? Kids know a lot about computers because they have them in their homes and get to goof around with them on their summer vacations. Had there been steel mills in peoples’ homes a century ago, you might have had the same inversion of knowledge. So I would interpret this as a positive sign–that our kids are far more knowledgable than previous generations–rather than as a sign that we’re less knowledgable.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I see what you mean. However, don’t you think this is primarily a function of the ubiquity of computers? Kids know a lot about computers because they have them in their homes and get to goof around with them on their summer vacations. Had there been steel mills in peoples’ homes a century ago, you might have had the same inversion of knowledge. So I would interpret this as a positive sign–that our kids are far more knowledgable than previous generations–rather than as a sign that we’re less knowledgable.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Well, since the young will ecventually run the world (or what’s left of it after Global Warming has taken its toll) we should be rather hopeful about this…

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Well, since the young will ecventually run the world (or what’s left of it after Global Warming has taken its toll) we should be rather hopeful about this…

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I don’t think that most 12 year olds today could demonstrate any sort of meaningful understanding of the underlying technology. If you asked them to explain a concept as generic as client-server relationships, they probably couldn’t do that. I bet you that most of them have no idea of what a protocol is or how they are work.

    The IT world is far more complicated than the aforementioned industries, so we can let them slide a little on that. However, there comes a point where people need to just get over their own pride and realize that people with business and law educations are probably not going to formulate good policy on complicated IT and hard science issues.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I don’t think that most 12 year olds today could demonstrate any sort of meaningful understanding of the underlying technology. If you asked them to explain a concept as generic as client-server relationships, they probably couldn’t do that. I bet you that most of them have no idea of what a protocol is or how they are work.

    The IT world is far more complicated than the aforementioned industries, so we can let them slide a little on that. However, there comes a point where people need to just get over their own pride and realize that people with business and law educations are probably not going to formulate good policy on complicated IT and hard science issues.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com Erik Schmidt

    I agree with Mike T. Most adult Americans likely feel like they’re always playing catch-up with technology. To kids everything is new, so they take it in stride. However, the underlying basis of computer technology can’t just be learned through everyday use. You still have to play with code, read books, take classes, or otherwise immerse yourself in learning. Just because everyone believes that 12 year olds know more about technology than adults do doesn’t make it true.

    To me this statistic is really about the poor job the high technology industry has done in creating products that not only can be used for daily tasks, but also encourage deeper exploration and power use. I’m taking law school classes with recent college grads, and I’m continuously amazed at how little most of them know about computers. They simply haven’t been given any meaninful instruction about the basics of computers or the Internet, and to learn more requires a big investment in time.

    Back to the 12 year olds. Jakob Nielsen’s latest book on web usability (“Prioritizing Web Usability”) mentions that in user tests he has found that children and teenagers are less adept than most people realize. “Teens are much more apprehensive about technology than it might seem,” he notes in a brief section called, “Teenagers: Masters of Technology?”

    As for members of Congress, I know it’s fashionable to assume that Congresscritters are morons, but crafting intelligent technology policy is a radically different task than watching skate videos on YouTube. I like to hope that for every Ted Stevens there’s a Zoe Lofgren.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com Erik Schmidt

    I agree with Mike T. Most adult Americans likely feel like they’re always playing catch-up with technology. To kids everything is new, so they take it in stride. However, the underlying basis of computer technology can’t just be learned through everyday use. You still have to play with code, read books, take classes, or otherwise immerse yourself in learning. Just because everyone believes that 12 year olds know more about technology than adults do doesn’t make it true.

    To me this statistic is really about the poor job the high technology industry has done in creating products that not only can be used for daily tasks, but also encourage deeper exploration and power use. I’m taking law school classes with recent college grads, and I’m continuously amazed at how little most of them know about computers. They simply haven’t been given any meaninful instruction about the basics of computers or the Internet, and to learn more requires a big investment in time.

    Back to the 12 year olds. Jakob Nielsen’s latest book on web usability (“Prioritizing Web Usability”) mentions that in user tests he has found that children and teenagers are less adept than most people realize. “Teens are much more apprehensive about technology than it might seem,” he notes in a brief section called, “Teenagers: Masters of Technology?”

    As for members of Congress, I know it’s fashionable to assume that Congresscritters are morons, but crafting intelligent technology policy is a radically different task than watching skate videos on YouTube. I like to hope that for every Ted Stevens there’s a Zoe Lofgren.

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