Technology literacy: It’s more than just computers
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
By Neeru Nagarajan
Technology and innovation have become so omnipresent and user-friendly, that they’re practically invisible. Modern solutions to our everyday problems are designed to be unintrusive, so we don’t even take a moment to truly notice them or learn how to use them to their fullest potential.
First of all, what is technology?
When you hear the word ‘technology,’ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you thought of ‘computers,’ you’re not alone. A Gallup poll asked the same question and 70% of its respondents thought of computers as well. But, of course, technology means more than computers and internet.
In Improving Technological Literacy, the authors state that technology is “technology is the process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants.”
Consider this: Humans have always needed water. One solution was to go to the nearest water body, such as a river, lake, or pond. Imagine if that was still the only way to get water for our daily needs.
What if we could bring the water to us, in our own homes? Thus, plumbing was born. But what if the plumbing of today looked exactly like it was when it was first invented way back in 4000 BC?
Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in Orkney, Scotland with home furnishings including water-flushing toilets 3180 BC–2500 BC
Roman lead pipe
Michael A. Hayden puts it well: “Technology is a set of processes by which resources are utilized to extend human potential within a given environmental context.” It’s easy to think of technology as only tangible objects such as computers, chemicals, airplanes, and so on. A lot of knowledge, thought, and processes go into creating these things that have become such an integral part of our lives, including technical skills, manufacturing, engineering, and design.
Technological innovation is all around us. For example, TVs have come a long way since they were invented!
So, what is technology literacy?
In the book Technically Speaking, the authors identify three dimensions that make up technology literacy: knowledge, capabilities, and ways of thinking and acting. The last dimension also means critical thinking and decision making.
Critical thinking and problem-solving are important skills for the 21st century
A technologically literate person must:
· possess the knowledge of basic engineering concepts and why technology is crucial to making lives easier
· ask questions about why / how things are done and can be improved
· have hands-on skills to identify and fix problems, be it at home or work
Why is technology literacy important?
Today, employers are seeking skilled people who, even if they’re not necessarily technically competent, see issues within a broad context, are comfortable with discussing complex concepts, and can proactively fix things. You may not know how to wield a particular software or tool; but, if you can apply the above dimensions to identify and solve problems, you’d have the basic foundation to learn quickly and adapt to the requirements of your work.
People who are technologically literate are assets not just to their individual organizations, but also to the nation. Someone with broad knowledge and capability in technology will be able to contribute more to the nation’s problems as a whole. These people would also be strong leaders who can evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of technological developments and apply them in a way that has the most impact on people’s lives.
As citizens, individuals would be more capable of and involved in making informed decisions in their own lives, since everything is affected by technology. Is it efficient to use taxpayer money in a power plant? Does the new waste treatment plant pose health risks to the people in the neighborhood? Technologically literate people will be able to hold their governments and leaders accountable.
Someone who understands the basics of technology, appreciates its complexity, and thinks critically about risks, benefits, and trade-offs will be on the alert and hard to exploit. For example, technical competency is about being able to use smartphones and computers for your needs, perhaps even some basic coding skills. Technology literacy is about having the skills to defend yourself from internet scams, malicious software, etc., which means you need to know something about cybersecurity as well.
Let’s look closely at digital literacy, which we now know is a subset of technology literacy. Interactions between humans and computers are at an all-time high now, making it crucial to know how to use computers to get anything done. This World Literacy Day, we must acknowledge that digital literacy is an essential skill. We must commit to bridging the digital divide: the growing rift between those who know how to use and have access to computers and those who don’t. Knowing how to use digital technologies nowadays has become the same as having access to information, and that comes with the added responsibility of protecting our own information as well.
Ultimately, the aim is not to know everything and be capable of doing everything. That would be impossible, given newer and better technology popping up every day. The aim is to have a thoughtful understanding on how technology shapes our lives — because it does and will continue to do so in the 21st century and beyond.
That’s why Qshala is a fun and educational way for children to gain all the essential skills that will help them become well-rounded leaders. Explore our programs for more information.
About the Author
A recent MFA Creative Writing graduate, Neeru Nagarajan writes fiction, tech stuff, the occasional poetry, and lengthy Twitter threads (@poonaikaari). She loves cats and reality TV surrounding food.