Born to be wild

I, robot

My Slate column on computer illiteracy

A couple of days ago, one of the blog readers here criticized me for my position that computer illiteracy is a problem. This might have been a bit mysterious — the poster wrote this in my blog entry about a virtual bugle. But what the poster was responding to was a piece I wrote for Slate last week but have yet to blog.

So, henceforth, here’s a self-aggrandizing link to my article of last week, which surveys the world of malware — adware, spyware, and viruses — and proclaims the dismal truth: Some of the problem is rooted in our massive cultural ignorance of how computers work.

At the center of my argument is this point:

Is it fair to expect computer users to be knowledgeable about the innards of software? We use plenty of other complex, dangerous tools—such as cars—without needing to understand the fine points of their internal mechanics. But our computer ignorance is, even by those standards, horrific. When a computer user doesn’t know that an “.exe” file is a program (and possibly a virus), it’s like not knowing that cars are fueled by gas and that gas is explosive. It’s basic stuff.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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