It has been called the great equalizer, the internet, touted as the thing that freely gives information to everyone regardless of race, religion, creed, class, socio-economic status; even in countries where heavy restrictions are imposed citizens have an uncanny way of getting around it and still have access to volumes of general information. However all this technology, all this information at our fingertips has changed fundamental things, not for the better. It goes beyond kids who can’t live without their gadgets, who’ve never actually had to go to a library and sift through an encyclopedia, getting all their research and info from Wikipedia, Encarta online, if they can’t find it in minutes give up. It goes beyond people who cannot locate things without their GPS or the fact you now need anti virus software for your smart phone. Law enforcement and privacy concerns are a whole other conversation. I’m speaking to something much more practical. The practicality of being buried in minutia when all you want is a good Italian restaurant; the practicality of attempting to prepare for your next job interview but you don’t know what reprography is, you don’t have time to pay 13 dollars for the full business report at such and such .com, they called you this morning and the interview is in 2 hours, for a RECEPTIONIST! So why do you need to know what reprography is? The practicality of Bing, the noodle, Google, Yahoo, linked in monster.com making everything appear to be within reach when maybe it’s not.
As growing numbers of so called digital natives graduate high school, head for college and get jobs the assumption becomes everyone can build their own website from scratch, and using web page templates and huge management sites is for amateurs. People can do things like learn HTML in a weekend to land a job or just for fun, everyone has basic computer programming skills. Similarly as more digitally integrated high schools require students to create web pages, blogs, participate in message boards, allow the creation of pod casts, regularly use Photoshop, advanced adobe applications, Google scholar and other in demand programs the automatic conclusion is everyone went to such a high school, everyone has access to the training and tutorials in a variety of PC programs. Regardless of if local libraries only teach basic PC skills, office tools, crash courses in e-mail and social media, regardless of whether career centers only provide daylong classes in popular applications such as Dreamweaver, PageMaker, In Design, Illustrator, not on par with the caliber needed in the workforce. The result is employers who have become accustomed to placing want ads for individuals with tinker skills to do database management, website maintenance are prone to thinking everyone is familiar with Facebook and Twitter updates needed for business marketing, promotional campaigns, event planning. Broad assumptions include everyone is a whiz at PowerPoint, everyone has worked with Microsoft Projects, Visio; putting forth the idea that if I need it in my business everyone must have heard of it, worked with it at least once. Meaning there is no training for it, say on a job; in fact you are met with wide-eyed unpleasant surprise if you do ask for it.
Even for people obviously born and primarily educated before the digital age, you’re looked at like you have 4 eyes and 3 heads if you don’t have, not just a cellphone but a smart phone, if you don’t have e-mail; forget if you’re poor, on a fixed income, living on assistance thus do not have a personal computer, are retired and therefore not looking for a job, lessening the need for either. Adult learning is made and seen as one size fits all translating into the concept of, if there is a class, oh all you have to do is take it; no matter if you do better in a traditional classroom or are working with materials best suited to an instructor and all you have is a situation of you the textbook, assigned tasks and the test. If you were largely a kinesthetic learner in high school, who learned best by doing things, hands on practice and learning that likely will not have changed just because you are now over 30, over 40. Related to that, with technology college, trade school and other training classes are available online promoting the thought process everyone can take and do well in an online course regardless of if that is true or not. Medical coding, billing, reception, medial assistant, dental training have become such staples in tech, training or collegiate schools, employers think nothing of requiring dental coding, medical transcription and terminology, from their receptionists.
Leaving people who don’t have access to any and all of these avenues looking lazy, unmotivated, only partially committed to getting a job, giving off the perception they aren’t trying hard enough, trying everything. When that’s not it at all; they simply know that a 5 hour class in Photoshop isn’t going to work for them because cramming that much material into such a short time means most of it will be forgotten, making it useless for a work situation. They know that a clerical program including common PC office programs absent an instructor or interactive tutorials won’t maximize their learning experience, isn’t even a guarantee as far as learning the basics; therefore, why spend money on something doomed to fail? Not everyone can do well with medical based reception, assistant jobs, may have to go to a neighboring town or city to get actual classroom instruction rather than the online variety, with the popularity of completely online universities like University of Phoenix; something else viewed as everyone can do it, a myth colleges spend a lot of time trying to debunk in order to improve drop out rates. It’s a joke now but seriously how long is it before Facebook or some sort of social media representation is not only normal for absolutely every industrialized nation but mandatory, handed out with birth certificates and social security cards?
Bringing us to outside the employment world today where everything is do it yourself; beyond gas pumps, Turbo Tax and other free tax prep software means doing it online for a quicker refund. More and more people are asked to do online banking, bill pay, benefit applications for retirement, social security. Online shopping is nothing new but now Wal-Mart is testing a speedier shopping experience by allowing people to order online then pick up their groceries to go. Going along with that is the vast amount of research, research, research forced on the average person from finding a decent babysitter to a top notch school, finding a plumber or mechanic who won’t rip you off to determining good investments, even background checking your date; someone is always selling an online service or an ap for that. Consequently the perception is there is no need for experts; everyone can get it from a search engine. So persons in business no longer feel obligated to divulge basic information as to how to get into whatever field it is, career service facilities in and outside college institutions who can’t self advertise services available, hints why we have so many college graduates with worthless degrees due to not being told they need their masters to be employed, left in the dark about required certifications, experience that make their education viable. On the opposite end of the spectrum you find people who feel empowered by the information they gather; many times so much so they forgo expert advice on financial planning, educational pursuits, career moves, home buying.
Translating to people who have no idea how to do the tons of research, no clue what websites to frequent for what they need out in the cold or out hundreds of dollars to track down and expert and solicit their advice. People who did do their research are left feeling, jipped, duped or ripped off when they walk out of college after 4 years and struggle to find work at minimum wage, when they did research their mortgage options, their investment choices only to find out much later they have been had. This weakens us as the employment world loses out on good workers, with job skills, basic PC skills who could be trained, want to be trained if only employers didn’t think it beneath them to do so. At the same time, someone moderately skilled at research, holding some acumen on a particular topic can hang out a shingle call themselves an expert taking the public for whatever they have intentionally or unintentionally. Further weakening us still when those armed with knowledge gleaned from Google searches spend thousands on educations and are unemployable, get knee deep into business ventures, mortgages then are suddenly in trouble. It weakens our economy as no one can get suitable training to obtain a substantial job; when we have workers seen as only qualified for minimum wage positions and not enough jobs for them, people trying desperately to crawl out of the minimum wage hole but can’t get the information they need to do so chiefly because the knowledge is in the hands of a person not a computer keyboard and they don’t have time to speak to much less mentor up and comings.
Reality is it is easier to find the drinking age in Spain, drunk driving fatalities nationally for recent years, the name of the debunked Dr. who linked autism and vaccines, murder and suicide rates by city, than it is to find usable information on a company, be it to take advantage of their product or interview for a job. But hiring managers expect you to find their goals, current competitors, current projects in 5 clicks or less, and if you can’t, not only do they doubt your skills for a range of jobs, but your intelligence. Fact is, it’s less work to find almost any news headline in the last 5 years than to find contact information for say your local newspaper’s editor or career information helpful in landing that internship; you are better off leafing through the yellow pages if you’re looking for an insurance company, mortgage broker, and going with a midsize well known institution than even trying to figure out if the one your attempting to research is reputable, especially if you missed the morning show segment on the topic detailing useful websites for ascertaining just that. Sadly, composition books sold in almost every Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, routinely carry more commonly used, helpful web pages for government, encyclopedic type cataloging, statistics, social services, social issues than if you type a specific subject, needed bit of information into any search engine. Oh and when you can find profiles on people, places and things fees are usually charged for business profiles, background checks. Yes free credit scores are offered and are helpful in detecting old information, alerting you to possible identity theft, but if you really want to know if you are going to be approved for that mortgage, want to estimate what rate you’ll get on your car loan you need your FICO score something, again you have to pay for.
And once you get on the do it yourself, research everything bandwagon, you’re automatically tied to another hamster wheel soon to cripple America in light of the economy, the must keep up with technology race. Because this version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel looses it’s compatibility in 5 years owing to the 2 other operating systems, office software packages now out there along with the one you have. This can reek havoc on someone trying to keep records of job applied for, jobs interested in while working with a job placement facility when all the sudden you can’t copy and paste text of said materials due to compatibility errors. You lose person files, records, papers documents stored on your PC when you are forced to upgrade and the newest thing doesn’t jive with what you were using. Perhaps you’ve been getting by with dial up or simple DSL internet access then all the sudden the pages seem to take a decade to load, won’t load because of the endless videos or interactive ads or you are forced to upgrade to be able to keep up with the amount of research you do for work, simply don’t have time waiting for 5 and 10 minute page loads while chasing 3 kids.
Unfortunately we seem to be exporting the technology bug; India now boasts the most high-speed internet coverage per land mass area. However they still suffer one of the highest infant mortality rates; students at a top California university set out to change this by finding an in home way to incubate young babies born to rural households far from hospitals. The students came up with a kind of backpack with insulators that can be heated over a fire or have boiling water placed in them until it reaches desired temperature; a happy moment for the woman in disadvantaged areas of this developing country. Point being we don’t have enough incubators in hospitals, we don’t have access for women with low birth weight babies in outlying areas, lucky to have indoor plumbing or electricity but we have the most high speed internet; priorities almost backwards. China is a similar case boasting the largest super computer while a significant portion of the population lives in abject poverty, lack paved road systems, education. Skewed thinking bought on this insatiable need to compete.
Solutions to ensuring technology doesn’t have to weaken us lies not in banning it from our lives, stopping the use of our GPS or smart phone, Facebook or Google but instead include bringing back the expertise to America; stop expecting people to know a little bit of everything, be jacks of all trades, walk around with the contents of a mini search engine in there head. Crack down on the so called experts with no training, education in what they are telling people about, crack down on people who are supposed to be experts, who are trained who are taking the public for all the money they can get. Force a change in social perception that stops us from thinking of the internet as a great equalizer, stops us from thinking it’s the only thing we need to do everything from buy a product, pay a bill, make friends, eliminates blaming the consumer who didn’t do research, didn’t pay anywhere for 20 to 50 dollars for a background check, or tried to do research and failed to gather the right tidbits. Remove the expectation that everything comes from a database, a keyboard, an interactive video propelling high level job holders back into the game of giving solid advice, agencies, entities and service organizations in the business of giving information to actually give it rather than browbeating people into finding it alone. Technology is a great tool; the problem is, too many people think it is the only tool.