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Kids today are computer whizzes? Answered

-BUT are they, it seems to me that many, if not most, lack a lot of very basic skills, they may be able to poke around and get something going, but half of that is down to the manufacturers making it easier to connect things up.<p> What's your opinion is the sub 20 year old population at the cutting edge of computer technology??


That begs the question is the rise of Video games a result of our ultra safe world kids grow up in with little exposure to even moderate danger.

I once asked a group of 14/15 year old students to say if they had even been scared and what had scared them.

The results were interesting, mostly fear of loosing family, material goods. Very little physical fear or experiences. Few of them had ever been personally challenged.

In day to day terms they have grown up in a climate of plenty, parents by and large have disposable wealth, the shops are full of goods to buy, daily essentials are delivered to the door or tap so there is little environmental pressure to push yourself outside the comfort zone.

You know, I was trying to make a joke, or at least link to one.  But that Onion video maybe has a kernel of truth in it.  I don't know about the fears of your former students, but I can guess what you're afraid of.  You're afraid you might be looking at a civilization in decline.  I mean that's what happens when each new generation is dumber, less capable, than the previous one. That's definitely one of my fears.

But is that what's really going on? 

If you like conspiracy-folkore, the usual explanation is that the world's unseen controllers, whoever they are, are actually responsible for the decline in aggregate intelligence. Through their control of the popular media, educational systems, chemicals they put in the water, they are actually making you and your children dumber than you were yesterday, or at least dumber than your parents' generation.  Here's a good quote:

"The last thing the men behind the curtain want is a conscious informed public capable of critical thinking. Which is why a continually fraudulent zeitgeist is output via religion, the mass media, and the educational system. They seek to keep you in a distracted, naive bubble. And they are doing a damn good job of it." 
Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1166827/quotes?qt0975618

The phrase "dumbing down", often with the adjective "intentional", that phrase gets used a lot too. I don't know if you've run across that phrase before.

Anyway, this conspiracy business brings me to my next point.  You were asking about the popularity of video games, or maybe about the popularity of apocalyptic themes in video games.  I think you were saying it's maybe some sort of fantasy escape from the boring, too-safe, real world.  And that might be true, but to the conspiracy-minded those games are part of the mass-media, and therefore they are intentional conditioning, mind control of some kind.  I'm not sure what the intended result is.  Maybe getting young people to willingly join the armed forces, or to accept a bleak destroyed world when it eventually does arrive, as it has been planned to.  Or it might just be part of the general goal of all-encompassing distraction alluded to in the Zeitgeist quote above. Erm... you know, that is if it really is part of some vast conspiracy. It's hard to tell what's really going on with the kids these days.
I rather like the idea Video games enhance the skills necessary to survive! Perhaps all out education should be through Video games... Mmmm now that's an idea!...

My initial question was somewhat aside from the idea that civilisation is in decline, conspiracy theory or not , but was really if sub 20 year old's are the computer boffins the media suggests they are.

Seems the general consensus is no.

Actually, a fifteen year old invented the first computer virus. I believe that would contradict your argument.

Perhaps an exception! There have been quite a small number of young talented composers in all sorts of fields - but not many.


7 years ago

I just came across this and found it to be an interesting discussion. Most of the comments make valid points and it would an interesting topic for debate.
On the actual question I have a little different insight. I have a "whizz kid" in computers, but he started out in it learning it from me. I can tell you he is not the norm. Many of the younger people I know don't have a clue as to how to fix things, either software or hardware. They know how to use basic commands and such but have no idea as to the inner workings. It could be likened to a car driver. Most of the people driving don't have a clue as to what is actually going on in their vehicles, and when they stop working they call for help.
Most of my business today comes from people who get their computers infected with everything imaginable and have no clue as to how to fix it. They are users, and that is about as far as they go.
I started out out with DOS a long time ago, it laid the foundation for understanding all of what goes on today in computers. I taught several adult Ed computer courses and began by explaining to people how even today's systems, are still file based collections of instructions. Each little program doing something that meshes with all the others and ends up being what you finally see. They actually got a good understanding of it and they did really well. Today's kids don't get taught things like that. They don't want to know what goes on behind the curtain, they just want to see the results. Because of that they might appear to be wizzes but in reality all they are is adequate users.
Having a basic understanding of how something works makes for a better user/driver/pilot. It means that when something goes wrong you don't sit there pushing a button over and over hoping that it will work again. You understand that you need to do something to fix the button.

Adults today are ignorant old farts. (He says, speaking as one who is still trying to keep up with the kids in this field.)

I am not so sure that the evidence agrees with you. We all deal with complex technology every working day, Even our homes have become technology havens - I don't believe that every person over 25 has to call in the local teenager to programme the PVR, washing machine etc.

In addition Most of the engineers I meet seem to be fairly "old" perhaps that is because few younger people are entering a career that is difficult and ever changing.

Generalisations are always a danger but this is one urban myth that I think should be stamped out.

The "silver surfer" far out numbers the younger internet user, I bet that most of the answers here are provided by >25 year old members and most of the questions by <25 years.

I'm old enough that I consider 25 a kid.

I suspect that your experience with engineers is just that since the age range runs from 20ish up to 70ish, the average is 45. I've known a lot of Darned Good youngsters in my field, who have the advantage of having had tools and techniques available from the beginning that came along much later in my own career. On average, I believe they will be better when they reach my age than I am now. And that's a good thing; that's how the field advances.

Generalizations are of course inherently false. (Including that one.) But you have to remember that the very fact that we have found our way to Instructables means that we're probably more computer-savvy than the average populace; the fact that we have stayed here and been able to contribute usefully pushes us further along the curve.

I don't think the kids today are inherently either better or worse than we were. On average, they do have some advantages we didn't. They also have some disadvantages we didn't. Life's like that.

"Kids today don't know nuthin'...get off my lawn!" ;)

IMNSHO, this really speaks to differences in specialization with perhaps a bit of high expectations, and not to some special deficiency on the part of this ONE generation in the history of the human race.

I personally derive great satisfaction from understanding how and why something works, but I don't understand the attitude that this understanding somehow confers moral authority to those who possess it. There's a lot of "I don't have to know how it works as long as it does", and really, what's wrong with that? Why *must* one know how the plane flies, if it's getting one from point A to point B?

You can't know everything about everything, and we all prioritize knowledge
differently - in the interests of time, I may sacrifice knowledge of one thing, while you could never envision going through life without knowing it.

Nobody knows how everything works; they just know how some subset of things work and sort of fudge knowledge of everything else along the way, hopefully supplementing as necessary. Your personal knowledge priorities seem to lie in the technical workings of certain physical machines (mechanics/electronics); someone elses' might be instead be in another field.

"Kids today" (to apply gross over-simplification, mass-generalization, and near-criminally stereotyping) probably _don't_ have a lot of in-depth knowledge of much - same as any other generation. (Now, some may object "but I was an electronics/mechanical/linguistic/artistic/musical/whatever GENIUS when I was young! And so were all my friends! But particularly advanced knowledge by definition puts you outside of the average sample.) It is when children become adults that the specialization comes - and the fun begins of seeing whether any interesting trends emerge.

No, I don't believe that's the case, any more than any other generation and their own emergent tech fads at the time of their 15-20 year old status.

Use perhaps, but then, unlike adults who are into technology, they in general don't have to pay for it themselves.

I think the same number are whizzes as there ever were. TV portrays a fictitious POV with respect to the current child generation, and if anything, they've been taught even less of the fundamental grounding principles and tendencies toward inventiveness than we were as children, since the government and merchant industries have been promoting consumership for two generations now, rather than the inventiveness desired in a producer economy.

The change in education and educational focus is really the point. Who so ever decided globally that no one needs to understand HOW IT WORKS must have a very narrow view of the world.

No wonder we are producing fewer and fewer engineers and scientists.

The merchant class, the import/export businesses, all with the assistance of well placed lobbyists and "interested" government officials decided it back in the 1970s, when they created the consumer economy. Didn't you guys lose most of your hobby shops between1970-1980, like we did in the USA? There used to be about a dozen in the suburb in which I live. There are none anymore, and only a small handful in the greater Cleveland area, perhaps a dozen at most including Cleveland and all of her suburbs. Radio Shack and Toys Are US do not count.

I remember "everyone" (most anyone I talked to) telling me I was cracked in the head when I warned people that there was something fundamentally wrong with making everything already built and painted, while I was still a teenager and witnessed the beginning of the deconstruction. I got tired of wasting the breath.

We are producing fewer and fewer by design, Mr Harris. Make no mistake in thinking otherwise. Consumer economies do not desire the competition and cannot sustain themselves when people are making things for themselves or fixing things. Big box and precanned ensures that all revenues are directed through singular pipelines, maximizing profit taking opportunities within the international  investment sector. keynsian economics at it's unbridled worst.

I can agree with the idea that commercialism need to promote consumerism, in the same way things are most certainly not made the way there were, lower manufacturing costs lead to shorter user life - BUT then again we have been convinced that we need to change things regularly or we are not happy people.

Repair goes the same way.

BUT Is that a confirmation of my premise that kids today are in general NOT computer wizz kids at all.

Oh, I'd have to agree regardless of the time or technology. Whiz kids are still there in similar numbers as there have ever been. It's just not encouraged by the interested parties to have what I would term "functional whiz kids, based on my previous rant.

In fact, there are, in my guesstimate, a huge number of whiz kids (age not limited) who were laid off or fired in the 2007-2009 purge of white collar jobs in western countries that will remain black listed until there's either a revolution or they die of old age or want, since their independent thought threatens the very basis of the corporate takeover that the investment class is still completing...

Call me a kook, but I suspect that in ten years time, anyone who remembers will just say I was lucky in guessing what was going on back in this decade...

There's more to computers these days, basic skills aren't so basic. A lot of people can't write or speak properly either, but I don't think that's anything new.
What you see is more % general population using computers where in the past it was mostly the technically-minded, the trained and the weathy/funded.


With a larger proportion of the population using computers, and a general lack of understanding/skill you might expect that to lead to the general assumption that fewer people were wizz kids rather than the reverse.


No. The statistics are consistent with the same number as always. Tools don't the genius make, and computers are just tools...

I once worked on a project with an "under 20" person. He was VERY quick on the keyboard and the mouse... but made mistake after mistake. He was like having an elephant in a fine china shop. Young people seem unafraid to make many mistakes to reach the goal. But I was not impressed. I see benefits in thoughtfull planning and asking questions before clicking on everything in sight. Young people are certainly very proud of the "computer whiz" label... but to me, it is no compliment and nothing to be proud of.

I understand the term (wizz kid) to mean someone who understands what is happening and can for example fault find a system and fix the problem. This may be soft or hard ware. No doubt there are many people out there who are skilled programmers and system people, I even know a few, but in general they are 30+ rather than <20

i think that is total B.S. i am younger and i still cannot type correctly or even comprehend any code at all granted i might be able to hack a wireless firewall or even a password protected laptop but anything else is still a little eh.. with me

Is that because of a lack of application? It seemed to me that learning to touch type became essential as soon as keyboards became common place.

Although I have access to money I still find both pleasure and challenge in making my own versions of things I want or need.

well... I am not really sure I mean I can type (somewhat ) I just have to look at the keyboard every once in a while.

It's just a difference in comfort-zones.

I get a lot of parents talking about how their kids are "good at computers", but they really mean is that their kids can navigate Facebook without having to ask what a profile is.

The kids, though, can't cook without instructions that begin "Remove sleeve and pierce film".

(From my side, what I actually see is a bunch of kids without the first idea of personal security posting all sorts of personal stuff without their parents' knowledge.)

Oddly most of the adults I know are quire competent at making their complex homes run fairly well, Even my wife programmes the washing machine and dish washer (she just doesn't regard it as doing that).

I taught thousands of kids, of which only a handful showed any understanding or even curiosity about the technology around the, and, for the most part, very little patience to find out.

The same thing was said when I was growing up about kids are the only ones that could stop the flashing 12:00 am on a VCR. It's not what the kid knows, it's what the adults don't know or want to know. Kids of any time frame seem to know more, but 99 out of 100 they don't. They just don't have the fear of breaking something they just paid a bunch of money for like an adult does. Thats my 2 cents worth.

I think your right. The kids just push buttons randomly if necessary with little fear of the consequence, again manufacturers have tried to make things break proof so you don't need to worry.

. Not many ppl nowadays know much about what's going on inside the case - and few have a need to know. How many ppl know how an ICE works, yet still manage to drive a car?
. It's not just the younger crowd. I got started programming computers in 1972 and was active selling, programming, and hacking until about 10 years ago. Now I'm just a plug-and-play user like 99% of the ppl (including the sub-20s) that work with computers.

I still programme - the advent of PIC chips reawakened the skill and need to make things I can't buy (at a reasonable cost)