Title

What Adults Should Know about Information Technology and How They Should Learn It

Date of Original Version

1998

Type

Working Paper

Rights Management

All Rights Reserved

Abstract or Description

Public literacy in information technology (IT) has three important aspects: appreciation of important fundamental concepts underlying computing and information, functional competency in personal computer use, and citizen literacy – critical ability to interpret IT results and to hold informed opinions on public issues. Here I concentrate on the latter two. For these, the ability of the concepts to give pragmatic guidance about dealing with the world is more important than the purity, elegance, or detailed correctness of the concepts. The most important target audience is current adults. Since they have, for the most part, left the school systems, we must find creative ways to reach them. The natural sciences offer some useful examples. Many people seek to understand some of the deep results such as relativity, string theory, and genetics. Often, they do so out of intellectual fascination – to appreciate the elegance of the theories rather than because of their everyday utility. At the same time, most people rely on simpler, more mundane models for guidance on how things in the world work. These include, for example, some simplified version of Newtonian mechanics and qualitative gas laws. These pragmatic models shape the way people manipulate their immediate environment (how hard to push a child on a swing) and make decisions about public events (how much faith to place in claims about speed and collision forces).