Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sorry, I don't know what that error message means

Sometimes I am confronted with a minor technological problem that I am unable to solve. It may be malfunctioning software, an unfamiliar tool in Excel or difficulty operating my iPod. Undoubtedly many people experience similar frustration; countless books, magazines, and websites exist solely to help the technologically-challenged. But for me, a middle-class American who has grown up in the internet age, a touch of shame is added to the emotional mix. As someone who is expected by society to have a certain skill, I feel doubly unfortunate for lacking it, much as a black male who can’t dunk or an Asian who can’t integrate a function to save his life suffer doubly by failing to live up to their respective stereotypes. Sidenote: “positive” stereotypes may be more damaging to the victim’s self-esteem, whereas more common “negative” stereotypes are more damaging to society at large.

Contrary to what some may expect, I don’t own a video-game system, I’m perfectly satisfied with a cell-phone that reliably makes and receives calls, and I avoid texting and instant messaging whenever possible.

Nonetheless, I feel solely as a function of my demographic identity I should be a tech whiz, able to give advice on an array of topics, the scope of which increases constantly. An example of the subjects I feel expected to be well-versed in: editing a film in iMovie, explaining in exacting detail the difference between 1080i and 1080p resolution; designing a blog or website; fixing a downed internet connection; understanding the ins and outs of the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray debate, and providing a comparison of DLP, plasma and LCD television screens. While my knowledge of emerging technologies is certainly superior to that of most adults I know (some of whom have asked about the website “MyFace” and the difference between a browser and an internet service provider), I am a victim of the truism that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. My web savvy just scratches the surface of the iceberg (excuse the mixed metaphors) that is the internet. New applications and memes develop on a daily basis, and it is impossible to keep up.

To all the digitally-handicapped adults out there who need help I have an suggestion, on behalf of me and my Facebooking, texting, iPod-toting peers: you teach us how to fix a leaky faucet and put up wallpaper, and we’ll show you how to make a sweet PowerPoint presentation. We’ll email you a link to a podcast of it. Just kidding.

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