February 2, 2012

Giving new meaning to knowledge worker

Photo by Akash Khairate — sxc.hu
How many so-called knowledge workers in today’s office environment know the first thing about computers? Sure, they can save a Word document. But can they do simple chores such as type in the IP address of a network, plug in the Ethernet cable and get connected without help?

Computers are tools and most users today have given up on learning the fundamentals of the machines that dominate their workdays. I’m not saying that every knowledge worker should be a full-blown geek … I’m talking about the basic computer skills…

John C. Dvorak wrote “Know-Nothing Knowledge Workers Must Go!” ten years ago. Yet nothing has changed. If anything, things are worse. Now, we regularly deal with people who not only can’t plug in their own computer, they are proud of it. I’ve known people younger than I am to gleefully declare themselves “Luddites” with no interest in learning any of that geeky stuff. Their usual stance?

“I’ll leave that to you.”

Gee, thanks. But what if I have work of my own to do?

Although it may seem that technophiles and technophobes often break along generational lines, it’s not a clear-cut generational divide. Plenty of Boomers and their elders have made it their business to know this stuff. Heck, some of them invented this stuff. Ethernet was developed in the 1970s.

Educators use the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to separate those who grew up with technology from those who didn’t. Those Luddite juniors of mine? It’s not that they didn’t have access to technology. It’s just that they didn’t take advantage of the access they had. I, however, learned to program in BASIC in high school. Because I’m just that nerdy.

But that’s why I, though I’m in a generation that’s just a bit too old to be truly native, am still a high-functioning, fluent immigrant. Not quite as fluent as my twenty-ish colleagues who grew up with computers in their homes, but I guess you could say I’ve “gone native.”

One of the main things that will hamper the professional advancement of Luddite immigrants from any generation will be the ability of digital natives and fluent digital immigrants to kick tail in the IT area. Tech-savvy workers will make themselves more valuable, while Luddites will weigh down their workgroups.

It may have been an overstatement for Dvorak to say the Luddites “must go.” They can stay where they are. But they need to do so with the knowledge that they are likely to be left behind.

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