For those of you who don’t read the comics anymore, you missed a rather brilliant insight in the comic strip called “Zits” today.
“Zits” sketches the life of a teenager named Jeremy, his friends, and his parents. It chronicles Jeremy’s crushes, sleep habits, prolific food consumption, apathy for household chores, and forays into driving and curfew-breaking, among other topics; its characters may be stereotypes, but they are stereotypes whose behavior rings true.
The perspective from which “Zits” is written, although sympathetic to Jeremy’s teenage travails, is really a commentary on how we grown-ups perceive teenagers today. Which is why we at NCWIT found this exchange so resonant:
Jeremy’s Dad (with his head under a desk): Well, I can’t figure out why the Internet is down. Do you have any ideas, Jeremy?
Jeremy: Why would I have any ideas?
Jeremy’s Dad: You’re a teenager, aren’t you?
Jeremy: So? (continuing) There are teenagers who understand this stuff, and there are those of us who have moved on to the next level of technology.
Jeremy’s Dad: What level is that?
Jeremy: The one where we expect other people to understand it for us.
Why do teenagers — technology’s most voracious consumers and appreciators — expect other people to understand it for them? Has technology become so ubiquitous that our young people take it for granted? Have we made it so easy to use technology that knowledge of how it works seems unnecessary?
As Kate Starbird and others have blogged about here, it’s one of our biggest challenges to get kids to think about themselves as technology’s creators, and not merely its consumers. Together with the Image of Computing Task Force and organizations such as the ACM and WGBH, NCWIT is working to change the image of computing and IT to attract more people, especially more people who traditionally have eschewed it.
From one perspective, getting more kids interested in computing is a simple numbers game: IT jobs are growing at twice the rate of the overall workforce, according to the Department of Labor. Yet declining interest in computing and IT as a career field has meant that our colleges and universities may not produce nearly the number of skilled IT workers the U.S. will need.
From another perspective, increasing diversity in IT is a measure of our country’s ability to innovate and compete: the broader the representation of people creating technology, the broader the audience it can serve. As other countries accelerate their production of skilled software engineers, complex IT infrastructures, and in-demand products that serve a global market, we cannot afford for our IT workforce to develop with a dearth of creativity and insight. We live in a global economy with technology as its backbone; the economic, physical, and social well-being of the U.S. will rely on the level of technical talent and creativity we can generate. If we continue to “expect others to understand it for us”, the “next level of technology” may very well leave us behind.
What do you think? Why aren’t more teenagers interested in being technology’s creators, rather then just its consumers; and how can we get them interested in getting behind IT?