I recently encountered somewhat shocking — though not necessarily surprising — data about the average person’s computer skills. The vast majority of people are not able to complete complex tasks on a computer. Only five percent of Americans had high level computer skills that allowed them to do things like troubleshoot or analyze data using multiple tools.
These data are from 2011-2015, so the numbers have certainly changed. I would definitely guess there are fewer people who are unable to use a computer at all. But, I was discussing with a friend that we doubted there’s been a substantial increase in the number of people able to complete complicated, multi-step, multi-program tasks. Over the past ten years, technology and user interfaces have trended towards simplification and single-task software (there’s an app for that!). Reducing friction for common tasks removes challenges people might have needed to troubleshoot in the past — and if you don’t ever face problems accomplishing what you need to, you never get to practice or even develop troubleshooting skills.
And basic computer literacy isn’t enough to get by in the internet age. Someone learning how to use the internet today needs to also learn a broad range of skills to protect themselves, communicate effectively, and obtain trustworthy information. Too many people are credulous and uncritical in what they believe. There are so many dark design patterns (or are we not calling it that anymore?) and bad actors attempting to manipulate you that it requires a bulwark of skills to defend against having your time and money stolen, or even worse, indoctrination.
Many of these skills are personal responses to systemic problems that some regulation might assist with. Not that regulation is easy: GDPR wound up giving us all obnoxious popup cookie banners instead of reducing the cookies websites use or data corporations collect — but at least some websites do now allow you to reject non-essential cookies.