This morning an interesting headline caught my eye.  It said “The Most Important Skill of the 21st Century”

So naturally as someone who will hopefully work for the first third of the century I decided to check it out, call it self preservation.  Here is a link to the Article ; I was surprised when it said that “Computer Programming” was the skill of the 21st century.  There was one line that really stuck out to me …

[Writing Code] is the new literacy

As a Programmer I found this article very interesting.  But one of the nuances of this finding, that the article does not explore, is that if we agree that Writing Code is the new literacy … is being “Tech Savvy” the new illiteracy?  For many years we’ve known that in order to succeed in the modern economy an individual needed to know how to use a computer … they had to be what was commonly called “Tech Savvy”.  When this term became common place many years ago, it assumed that knowing how to use a computer is something that not everyone did, or could.  It may have been because of environment, access to a computers, training, interest, or because a computer was not easy to use.  Therefore the potential employee that knew how to use a computer was set apart … they were “Tech Savvy”.

But times have changed …

I argue that what was once “Tech Savvy” is no longer good enough, because the computers (phones and tablets) have been designed to hide their technical complexity behind very simple interfaces. In fact every product in Apple’s entire product line is designed to make using it simple, requiring less and less savviness to use with each revision.

Has the movement toward improved UI design in apps created less knowledgeable  users?

My oldest son Aiden is 11.  He can to ANYTHING with an iPod, iPhone or iPad.  He does homework on it, he communicates with his friends through Instagram and posts videos out to his network.  He is by all definitions a true Millennial.  He has never known a world without the internet.  Don’t know something … ask Google, but even now that’s too much work because it requires typing … just ask Siri.  And necessarily repeat the question over and over again until Siri finally understands what you are trying to say.  It really would be easier to type in the question.

These tools are designed so that everyone can do all of these things; today Aiden’s technical abilities are nothing special.   The high degree of designed simplicity and integration have fooled people into believing they know how to use technology.  They are no longer using the technology they are using a developers vision of the technology with no ability to change or modify it.  Ask these iSavants how the technology works and you’ll hear everything from “I don’t know” to “Magic”.  It used to be that USING technology required you to UNDERSTAND technology … but that dependency is no longer true.

In Aiden’s case while he is doing all of these things the moment he gets a pop-up with come kind of error message he calls for my help like an old grandpa.  “What is wrong with this thing!”

I can only imagine how insulated many people will be from the process of computing in the future.  In fact there was an incredible short story written in 1909 called The Machine Stops that predicted mankind’s dependence on machines and simultaneous inability to understand them.  It is an amazing read.

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Programming IS the skill of the 21st century, because it provides a level of technical understanding that very few other skills can.  It will tell you how computers work at the most basic and lowest level, how they communicate, how to modify them and how to create entirely new computer services.  But our isolation from the technology is going create fewer and fewer people who have this kind of knowledge and skill.  But while we will know less of it we will become more dependent on it as everything with a microchip in it will require someone to program it.

I’m gonna go see if I can find a computer programming camp for Aiden this Summer, and dust off my old Java books.

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