Monday, 6 March 2017

There are 10 sorts of people in the world...

... in the words of the old (well, relatively, I guess) joke.*

And I was led to wonder at the weekend which category I fitted in. Well, strictly speaking, I know, but more broadly, whether I would be classified as someone who knows about/can use a computer.

And I was wondering because our esteemed Chair, on Saturday, perpetuated that well known preconception that if you want anything done that involves a computer, then you need a young person. People seem to have been saying this for nearly as long as I can remember; since I, in fact, was myself a young person. It so happened that I was sitting next to a person who probably knew more about computers than anyone else in the room; he is in his sixties.  And I thought to myself, why does this idea, that might once have had some currency, persist so strongly?

Sure, young people can text with two thumbs, Instagram their breakfast, and conduct their social and sex lives online. But swiping a smartphone or tapping an app is no more using a computer than putting a ready meal in the microwave is cooking. And anyway, what is 'using a computer'? Does it mean being able to program one? In which case someone in their fifties might well have the edge over the younger generation. When I was at school, computers were The Future, and it was widely believed that we would all need to be able to program. Leaving aside that I was not a maths superstar (sadly) and one lunchbreak spent in a stuffy prefab classroom with smelly Mr Amor watching a gaggle of boys hunched over the school's one Acorn or BBC Micro or whatever it was was enough to convince me that this was not where my future lay (at least I tried!), the principles still underpinned much of the maths we did and what we were expected to understand (which is why I fall into the category* I do).  But then along came Apple, and Windows, and suddenly you didn't need to know how a computer worked in order to be able to use one, and so arguably the younger generation know less, not more, about such things. But when I ran this theory past a colleague today, she suggested that schoolkids are, once again, learning to code; this time so that they can all become games designers.

That is, in any case, mostly irrelevant, because when people say we need a young person to do this computery thing, they don't mean they need someone to program it; they mean they need someone to operate a software package. There are a vast number of things a computer can be made to do, and no one (at least, no one in HNBC) has mastered all of them. But most people who have had any sort of white collar job over the past thirty years will have mastered some of them, and the older of us will have had more practice and been exposed to a wider variety of packages and ways of doing things.

That was a bit of a rant that's not going anywhere really, but was just sparked by realising how absurd that well worn claim is. If it was ever true, I'm sure it isn't now.  What do you think?

* Those who understand binary and those who don't.


  1. Thanks for the joke. I hadn't come across that one before. Good one. Incidentally, the charity number of the BCF looks like a binary number. It would be 108 in base 10.

    1. 1101100? Chertsey's fleet number is a rather good 10000010, if I've worked that out correctly. Once I start converting them in my head I can't stop!