Friday, 8 August 2014

What's your digital quotient?

Take that 6-7 year olds!
According to the news, the communications watchdog Ofcom has told us that 'the average six-year-old child understands more about digital technology than a 45-year-old adult.' (To be precise, that quote is from this Guardian report.)

Looking at the actual data, the Guardian statement is a little naughty, as I doubt very much that the difference between the scores of 6-7 year olds and 45 year olds is statistically significant (see how close they are in the chart alongside). However there is no doubt there is a point here. Most of us older folk (as you'll see from the line at the top of the chart, me excepted) are pretty poor at coping with technology compared with da yoof.

This isn't really news. It's quite a while since those many jokes about how people had to get their children to set the timers for their video recorders for them (remember video tapes, kiddies?) because they couldn't cope with them. But by setting up a measure, the so-called 'Digital Quotient' or DQ, Ofcom is trying to quantify the position. Given the way that the concept of IQ has been found decidedly wanting, I do think it's a shame that marketing people can't get enough of xQ measures, but that's by-the-by.

Back in my (relative) youth, I helped set up the PC centre for a large company, providing assistance for those struggling with the new technologies. (And yes, I really did have someone ring me up, worried that they might catch a computer virus.) I found back then, and I think it's still true today and reflected in this graph, that there was one huge dividing factor between those who coped easily with PCs and those who struggled. It was fear.

The users who were scared of their computers, terrified of losing stuff or doing the wrong thing, struggled mightily. Those who just plunged in and had a go, treating the whole thing a bit like an adventure game got on easily. I do actually wonder if the fact that my first experience of interactive computing, as opposed to batch computing with punched cards, was playing ADVENTURE on the George III-based ICL system at Lancaster University helped. I was used from the beginning to plunging in, looking around, seeking what I can find and using it.

I still find this today if someone asks me, say, how to do something in Word. My answer is 'I can't tell you how to do it, because I don't know how, but if you give it to me I'll fiddle around and find it.'

I'm not sure if the solution to the problem Ofcom is highlighting is to send all those with low DQs into Colossal Caves to do a bit of adventuring, but we certainly need to encourage them to lose that fear. There might be a little pain along the way - notably learning to ensure that everything is well-backed up - but we could certainly do with a computing mantra along the lines of 'There is nothing to fear but fear itself.'

You can have a go yourself with a simplified version of the DQ test here.

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