I’m always curious about how my kids use technology. Part of it is my endless curiosity for what is coming in the future. And part is my interest in how we define education. But there’s also schadenfreude: I am so sick of Millennials telling me how stupid I am about technology. I’m just really relishing those first moments when Millennials feel old. So I look for them all the time.
There’s not a lot about life on the farm that is similar to life in Swarthmore, but boys playing together – that’s similar. And in rural life and city life I have noticed that my sons have no patience for kids who don’t get a lot of computer time. To my sons, these kids are illiterate. So I’ve been collecting moments when my kids have been shocked by how their peers use a computer.
Minecraft. Little kids build with Minecraft. Older kids play PVP (player vs player) or move on to another game. PVP is competitive and soul crushing and is the online version of a school playground where the big kids and little kids are fighting for the same equipment. When kids come over to our house and want build stuff on Minecraft my sons know that a) the kid never gets any time on their computer and b) they are going to mess up the shortcuts my kids have on their keyboard.
Sex ed. If you play PVP you have to talk to people. Steam puts people on teams based on how high-quality their headset is and much they talk during the game. My son says his headset is for big kids (he has a good one) but his talk rate is for little kids (he never shuts up). So sometimes he gets paired with kids a lot older than he is, which he loves, because the kids play at a higher level.
But the big kids hate little kids, and just last week my son got called “Squeaker Dick” which is a reference to his voice (pre-pubescent) and the penis (which all boys must mention in every social exchange). My kids have a wide knowledge of sex. So he hurled back an insult accompanied by a link to a dildo on Amazon.
The kids get sex info from YouTubers like Leafy if Here who is supposedly talking about CS:GO. And they get sex info from watching political humor (I just explained the plot of Fatal Attraction to two open-mouthed teenaged boys watching an SNL spoof of Kellyanne Conway.) So when a kid was visiting and Leafy accused another YouTuber of being covered by an STD, the kid said, “What’s an STD?”
My older son said, “If you don’t know then you should get checked.” (You might not think this is funny, but he’s just repeating a public service ad he sees on YouTube all the time.) Then my son said, “You can get free STD testing at this site.” My son brought up the site and the other kid had no idea how to even read the site. To my kids, that is illiteracy.
Web Design. My kids both start a YouTube channel when they have an idea – in the same way that I open a Word document. My younger son has started ten million channels, and each time he starts a new channel, he gets a new avatar, a new name, a new email (which he manages a new intro, and a new logo. He has no patience for kids who say, “I love your intro – can you make me one?” Because “DUUUUUDDDEEE that took me like four days to make!” But he can make a kid a logo in just a few minutes. And while it impresses his friends, he does wonder what his friends do with their YouTube channels if they don’t know this stuff.
He emailed his friend a logo. Almost. I told my son about Shift so he didn’t have to keep logging in and out of emails and then I could forward him info from his cello teacher. And I heard him admonishing his friend: “You HAVE to use email! You need it to get money from PayPal and to read stuff adults send.”
User interface. A friend’s kid came to our house to see what a day of homeschooling is like. I said, “What do you want to do?” and he said he wanted to learn how to write code, but he couldn’t because he didn’t have software. I googled: kids write code free. We found Scratch and he was on his way.
Except he wasn’t because he did not have basic knowledge for how software interface works, and he got frustrated. My younger son showed him how to use the software. My younger son doesn’t want to program; he just knows how to navigate the interface from using other software. My son was blown away by the kid’s incompetence: “Mom. He can’t even turn his object around with the mouse.”
So, look, I have said for a long time that there is too much to learn, and we can’t all learn everything. I have said that the idea of being well-rounded is myopic. In the Information Age trying to be well rounded is a distraction. And this is a great example.
The same way you are appalled when a kid has not read Shakespeare, my son is appalled when a kid has not learned about the Urban Dictionary. Both are windows into a given era. And both are massive linguistic undertakings.
You might not want your kid to know how to navigate a computer like my kids. You might want your kid to read Shakespeare. But if you want your kid to feel literate and educated you’d best not try to define what that is for his or her generation. Because you don’t know. And you might find out that you are computer illiterate. I think I might be, too.