Tech Talk
September 23, 2005
Technopeasant or just computer illiterate?

Every now and then, our Prime Minister uses a word or phrase which catapults it from relative obscurity into a place of prominence in our Vincentian lexicon.

The latest such word is “technopeasant.” Dr. Gonsalves referred to himself as “a technopeasant” two Mondays ago as he addressed the persons gathered to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Cable & Wireless and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to launch the Information Communication Technology (ICT) driven literacy program.{{more}}

But who exactly is a technopeasant? My research tells me that it is a phrase that was coined by book publisher Steve Osborne to refer to people who are “unskilled at using computers and who prefer to remain unskilled.” We all know the type, they brag about how little they know about computers. They find using technology a chore and a bore, and are happy to putter around in their comfortable, familiar world, blissfully unaware of what they are missing.

Increasingly however, the term is used to describe someone who has a low level of computer literacy (a low level of expertise or familiarity with computers), without reference to how they feel about their state of “not knowing.” I somehow think the Prime Minister was either using this definition of the term or speaking tongue in cheek, because he is not one to remain comfortable in a state of ignorance on any topic for very long. In fact, in the same address he spoke about how easy it was to use the “Max” computer, and the fact that he uses it to read newspapers online.

This drive to use ICT in our national literacy campaign is applauded and will reap dividends. Minister of Education Clayton Burgin mentioned at the same forum that research has shown that students, especially boys, are highly motivated when computers are used to assist learning. The computer aided methods to be used in this program then, should more easily reach the15% of our population who have been found to be functionally illiterate, than our traditional teaching methods.

But back to the technopeasants. There is no virtue in being willfully ignorant. Being computer illiterate in today’s world is like being textually illiterate a few decades ago. Computer literacy lays open a whole world of education and understanding for the student and offers a high degree of mobility to the technologically empowered.

For a country like St. Vincent and the Grenadines where our only natural resource is our people, investment in computer literacy training for our people is a must. No education system can teach persons everything they need to know, but we can teach them how to learn and how to navigate the information environment to find what they need. As Jack Powers, Director, International Informatics Institute, puts it in his essay “Technopeasants and the Info Aristocracy,” “Children who understand computers can figure out the Internet, puzzle through the next software glitch and wrestle the latest program into productive use. They may have been born technopeasants, but once they’ve logged on there’s no stopping them from joining the Info Aristocracy.”

Advice for technopeasants thinking of

changing their info-societal status:

• Seek out techno-savvy family and friends. They are often happy to help the computer-challenged.

• Fight computer illiteracy and learn the language. Add basic techno-terms to your vocabulary.

• Make friends with people under the age of 25. This generation grew up playing video games and using computers.

• Pay for professional help when necessary. Sometimes it is worth it.

• Commit to lifelong learning. Explore how to use the features on your computer through

books, classrooms, and online courses. You’ll be amazed.