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Most Americans maybe aren’t as computer literate as they should be

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article

When it comes to updating Facebook statuses, posting pics on Instagram or retweeting a celebrity message out into the Twitterverse, most Americans (especially teens and 20-somethings) can do it with their eyes closed.

But the truth is that the accessibility of information available via the Internet goes far beyond social media. And in an overwhelmingly digital age, many of us lack the basic computational skills needed to thrive on a global economic scale.

Don’t believe me? It sounds nuts, but in 2011, Google said that 90 percent of people who participated in their studies didn’t even know how to use CTRL+F (the keyboard shortcut that allows you to search for specific words on a webpage or Word doc in two seconds flat).

“This is on a sample size of thousands,” Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, told The Atlantic.

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What’s more is that understanding the most basic computational concepts continues to elude many Americans. According to a 2005 Pew study, tens of millions of Americans deal with computer problems that are likely caused by spyware or viruses. In fact, the report found that over half of home Internet users say their computer runs slower than it used to, and freezes up or crashes.

“If you have three or four toolbars on your browser, or you have background programs running that you don’t notice anymore, that will run in the registry and give you a slower performance,” said Andrew Connors, senior manager for SlimComputer.

SlimComputer is a program that runs a scan to identify the top issues slowing down a computer. It also takes steps to remove these files.

“The majority of us aren’t super techy, and the average user doesn’t know how to ID what’s running in the registry,” said Connors. “And even once they get there, it’s difficult to ID which files are critical and which ones aren’t.”

According to Connors, improving computer literacy skills should start with better understanding your own home computer. For example, many new PCs come with pre-installed software including promotional programs, toolbars, links to trial offers and more. The free version of SlimComputer identifies and assesses these programs, then offers up the data it finds to the user. This gives that person the option to pick and choose what they want to keep on their computer.

“A free download upfront gives a minimal scan and will ID for free the top few issues,” said Connors. “A user who upgrades to purchasing the product will get a much deeper scan, which will ID every single potential issue.”

Grasping this kind of information goes hand in hand with computer literacy, which is crucial in today’s digital age. The gist here is that preparing up-and-coming generations for success undoubtedly involves sharpening these basic computer skills. Cathy N. Davidson, a Duke University professor, perhaps put it best in a 2012 piece she contributed to The Washington Post.

Davidson argues that while the 19th and 20th centuries have been all about the 3 R’s (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic), the 21st century needs to include the fourth one – ‘rithms, which refers to algorithms/basic computer literacy skills. In her post, Davidson says that having a strong grasp of basic computational skills is necessary to prepare kids for success in the digital age that goes beyond the ability to just write software.

A recentMother Jones report echoes the same idea, arguing that the development of simple software solutions can be cost effective and even life saving. Enter skilled computer programmers, which are in high demand. The same report notes that the Department of Labor estimates that the U.S. will add 1.2 million new computer-science-related jobs in the next decade. However, fewer and fewer people are graduating with computer science degrees.

 
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