The Digital Generation

If you navigated to this site under your own power and of your own volition, congratulations, you are in the Five Percent. According to a study by the OECD, just 5 to 8 percent of the populations in the 35 member states have ‘strong’ computer skills. The generational and socio-economic divide that faces us is likely the largest any humans have seen in our flash of existence on this Earth.

The Organisation for Economic Coöperation and Development consists of 35 nations very often described as ‘developed’; 215,942 people participated in the study, at least 5,000 in each country. These results are not indicative of the average human’s computer literacy, this is representative of the populations with the greatest access to computers and the internet, an advantage they have enjoyed since the dawn of the information age. The OECD ranked user skill levels from N0-Skill to Level 3. 26% of adults in the surveyed nations were unable to use a computer sufficiently to complete any tasks. A further 14% fell into Level <1, those users were tasked with deleting an e-mail, but they were unable to progress further. A whopping 29% of the adult population reached Level 1, requiring a skill such as successfully finding ‘Reply to All’ in an e-mail client. Another large quarter, 26%, achieved Level 2, characterised by the ability to find a unique e-mail sent by a particular user. Only 5% of adults fell into the highest Level, 3, with tasks requiring multiple steps and operators.

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We are the creative class, we create the system that controls the world. Not only does this contribute to the titanic divide between us and our parents generations, it widens the gap between us and the tech-illiterate. How can we design some of the greatest tools of the modern era for the average user when we largely live among our fellow 5%ers? One must look no further than the 2016 US Presidential Election to see this divide made stark, Silicon Valley lines up neatly on the left-wing of the spectrum, as those left-behind in the New Economic Order fall to the right. Japan presents an example in extreme age disparities, with both the highest number of people with ‘strong’ skills and with no skills, a divide cleanly along generational lines.

We must design systems not to be simply used by the ‘average’ person but to empower the ‘average’ user. The easier we make our programs to navigate and understand, the more accessible they will be, and the more they will help fight this growing gulf. If our products can help users learn and grow, then they will become more-capable, independent denizens of the digital realm. It is up to us to make using these powerful tools intuitive, so they may be a learning experience for each user. Then maybe Grandma would stop asking you to come over because she is logged out of Facebook, because, for her, she might as well be locked out of the house without a key.