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Gustin Partners | August 20, 2014 |

The Technology Literacy of the Modern Computer User

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

In the old days, many a keynote speaker at major technology industry conferences [e.g., Comdex] would use as a laugh-line the comment that the technology industry was one of only two professions who referred to their customers as “users”. The other industry of course being drug pushers. The phrase “user” implied a one-sided relationship with customers who were perceived as being ignorant, powerless and semi or totally addicted to the digital substances being distributed.

Power has changed in IT. During the 1980s, Bruce Rogow, an IT tribal leader and one of the greatest story tellers in the business world today created a caricature of the CIO persona named Garzog. Garzog had a stick – a baseball bat with a spike in the end. Bruce assured audiences that Garzog actually represented the mindset of many CIOs he was interviewing at the time. The technology adoption issue of the day in the 80s was PCs.  Garzog would patrol the corridors of the workplace shouting, “You bring me the damn user that’s got a PC. I will crush their skull.” In the 80’s the power of technology choice was thought to reside with the CIO.

Consumerization has changed all that. Computer users are no longer powerless. Enterprise IT no longer maintains a monopoly over digital devices and services. Indeed, some argue that the CIO is now a slave to the whims of dictatorial users – who insist on getting whatever they want. Is this a good thing?

We can all agree that it is probably a good thing that the days of the “My Way or the Highway CIO” are long behind us. I am not convinced however, that the time is right to grant total digital sovereignty to the computer user. In my opinion the greatest risk facing the continued advance of civilization and the number one factor contributing to the failure of many organizations to capture value from technology investments is the fundamental lack of technology literacy of the general public. While totally and obsessively dependent on the various devices of their lives for modern existence, the muggles [i.e., non-IT folk] – for the most part – have no idea how or why their technology works.

Users Can Be “Less Than Clever” in Their Technology Choices

At the various University programs I have the privilege of being associated with [The Ohio State University; The University of Kentucky; and the Olin College of Engineering] I periodically conduct a “Crazy User Story Scavenger Hunt” exercise. What this entails is setting aside about twenty minutes to have program participants try to outdo each other with “Crazy User Stories”. Each group reports out their best “Crazy User” story. One cannot help but be fascinated at the stories that emerge. Try it with your team and see what you come up with.

The big issue facing organizations today is what can/what should they be doing to create a smarter group of technology users? How smart are your computer users?


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