Sunday, April 25, 2010

Information Age Unnoticed

There's an old saying about what happens when you assume, and it often proves to be quite true. Something that my colleagues and I have been noticing lately has made me think of this. Essentially, we were all around our early twenties when the Internet became something that was no longer just the domain of computer geeks. We weren't raised with it, and there was a certain learning curve that came with our using it. Still, we were all young enough that we didn't feel overwhelmed by it. After all, we did grow up with computers, and the Internet is just an extension of that same tool. Of course, many of us have stories of being frustrated with people from the older generation trying to figure it all out. I don't know how many times I tried to explain some of this stuff to my mother, and many of my friends have similar experiences.

The assumption to which I alluded earlier is the idea that the younger generation, the kids who DID grow up with the Internet, would somehow be even more well versed in how to use this thing than us. I'm here to tell you that's absolutely not true. Are there some kids who know their way around this "series of tubes"? Sure. Still, you'd be making a mistake if you thought that your average teenager somehow had any sense for just how powerful a tool this whole thing is. For the most part, the Internet to them is simply a means of socializing. You use it for Facebook, MySpace and instant messaging. You go online and you write about how you're bored or how your parents suck. Essentially, you use it to have the same meaningless bouts of smalltalk that you'd be having some other way.

I have a Facebook account myself, and many of my "friends" are either current or former students. One of the most frustrating things is when they ask me questions on my "wall" that could have been easily answered with even the briefest Google search. I have even had them ask me what a word meant! Honestly, I'm not sure if that's worse than when they misspell a word and say that they just don't know how to spell it. Am I the only one who's aware of the trick where you type in a word's spelling the best you can into Google and then it gives you a result that reads, "Did you mean ___________?" There's also for that kind of thing.

The first big assignment that I gave my seniors this year was to write an essay in MLA format. I showed them an example and gave them a couple of websites where they could look up and read how to do it properly. I even gave them a link to where all they had to do was enter in some information and it would produce a Works Cited page for them in the proper format. You'd be amazed as to how many couldn't get this right! You'd think that I just gave this assignment to a bunch of Korean War veterans or something. They would even tell me that they used the link that I gave them when their paper was clearly in the wrong format. I'd tell them that it was all wrong, and they'd respond, "Well, I used that link that you gave us." I started to worry that perhaps I goofed and gave them a bad source, so I went to try it out myself. Guess what? It worked out just perfectly when I did it.

It's staggering the amount of information that's at our fingertips nowadays. If you have an Internet connection, the phrase "I don't know how to ____________" is really a mark of shame on your part. Guess what I did when I wanted to learn how to properly cut up a chicken? I did the same thing when I wanted to know how to properly jump start a car. That was the same thing as when wanted to know when Iron Man 2 was coming out.

Can you learn everything you need to know with the Internet? No. But dammit, there's no reason to not know some basic information that helps you get by in the world.

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