By Meredith Farkas | February 18, 2008
After reading Rochelle Hartman, Steve Lawson, Jenna Freedman, Dorothea Salo and Laura Crossett’s posts about their “Tech-Nots”, I started thinking about what it means to be tech-savvy. I was once I was eating lunch with some people I just met at a conference and one said “well you must have the new iPhone right?” Even if I did live in a state where I could get an iPhone (which I don’t), I wouldn’t spend the money on the device and the plan for all I’d use it. I’d wanted a mobile device for a while, but it was only because carrying around my laptop hurt my shoulders at conferences. I realized though that I could save lots of money by buying an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) and my 2 lb., 7-inch, $399 Cloudbook will be arriving tomorrow (woo hoo!). I’m glad I waited for the hardware that actually meets my needs to come out.
My dad was definitely a tech freak when I was growing up. We were the first family I knew of to have a video camera (of course it was the type that required you to carry a giant VCR along with the camera) and a PC. He was always buying the latest and greatest gadgets — from bread machines to those cheesy 80s electronic organizers. My husband is a gadget person too. He bought the first MP3 player that came on the market and has had many others since then. When I moved in with him, I found that his garage was basically a monument to dead tech (complete with laser disk player and an Atari). He is dying for a giant LCD TV home theater system thingy. I don’t get it.
Somehow, I missed out on that type of technolust. I didn’t own a DVD player until I moved in with Adam (and only because he already had one). I have a four year old MP3 player that I’ve used probably six times. I’ve never accessed the web from a mobile device. I have a cell phone, but its primary purpose is for if I drive into a snowdrift and can’t get out. I use it so rarely that I’m still on my dad’s plan. I don’t txt; whenever someone txt messages me at a conference, I call them back. I had a 13-inch TV made in 1976 until 2000 and only minded it when I watched movies with subtitles. I just don’t seem to notice picture quality and sound quality the way other people do. We have some gaming systems, but the only thing I really enjoy playing is Dance Dance Revolution. I always feel pathetically uncoordinated when I try to use the newer video games and I miss the simplicity of Super Mario Brothers III, Paper Boy, and Toejam and Earl.
Does that make me not tech-savvy? No. I’m just pragmatic about the tech I buy. Every time I buy a gadget I don’t need, I end up not using it. So I’ve learned to wait until I really need something to get it.
Similarly, just because people are into gadgets doesn’t mean they’re tech-savvy. I know a lot of people in the library profession who are thought of as being really into technology because of the tech they buy. I’d say I’m right in the middle of of the continuum between being tech-illiterate and being John Blyberg. But also, what does tech-savvy really mean? Is it all about being able to code or is it also about being able to see the value of the tools in different settings and how to implement them successfully. I don’t really know much PHP, but I can mess around with the PHP code in a MediaWiki skin until I get it the way I want it. Laura Crosset may not know how to use Photoshop, but she created a damn fine website for her library using blog software.
I makes me think there are many different kinds of tech-savvy. There are people who can build a computer or take apart a gadget and put it together again (not me). There are people who can code amazing web applications (not me). There are people who can’t do much more than design a web page, but understand how to implement technologies in ways that make it look like they “slaved over a hot stove all day.” I may not be all that into gadgets, but if I ever saw the value of using them or supporting them in my library, I’d be leading the charge. I’ve never actually been that into IM (which is why you won’t see me on AIM that often) but I’m the one who pushed for IM reference in my library. I tend to focus on the things that I think will provide the most practical benefit to me or to my patrons, which is why I don’t bother doing much with podcasting or making videos (other than screencasts). At other libraries, those may be key technologies for serving patrons.
This discussion reminds me a lot of the idea that’s been floating around for years that Gen Y is more tech- and media-literate than previous generations. Just because they are immersed in the Web doesn’t mean they’re savvy about it. When I gave a training on our subject guide wiki, a student worker told me she couldn’t use the subject guides because they’re not allowed to use the Wikipedia. She didn’t understand that the Wikipedia was just a type of wiki (this was a big part of the reason I used a different MediaWiki skin for our subject guides). Students may have lots of gadgets, but it doesn’t mean they understand how they work. Spending all your time on MySpace does not make you an expert web designer. We make a lot of assumptions about people based on the gadgets they have (or don’t have) or how much time they spend on the web. It’s not a good measuring stick.
Steve Lawson said “I guess part of the anxiety around this subject is that many of us feel caught in between, falling behind on one end of this discussion or the other.” I think that’s true. I definitely wish I had more facility with scripting languages. I’d love to know more about server maintenance since I’m supposed to be maintaining our servers at work. But I’m completely ok with a lot of the other stuff I can’t do yet. And anything I don’t know, I feel like I can learn if I need to. I think that’s what being tech-savvy is really about. It’s not about owning a certain number of gadgets or having a certain number of programming languages under your belt; it’s the facility for learning new technologies.