A Thought on learning

May 22, 2008

Common wisdom is that we humans are adaptive creatures who are able to learn new skills and techniques. We can learn to use new technology as technology progresses. Such a capability, so one might think, is what enables us to engage in new paradigms, from agriculture to industry.

Yet, if this is the case, and we are so capable of learning new skills, why do the older generations have, in general, such difficulty using computers? What is simple and common to the younger generations is arcane and abstruse to those who are more advanced in age. If it were as simple as humans being able to learn new skills, then we would see no such generational gap.

However, perhaps we as humans are not so malleable. Perhaps the malleability is in general applicable only to humans as a species. We, as a people, are able to change and adapt; whereas, we as individuals are more static than we might like. In this view, the younger generations have been imprinted with knowing how to use advanced technology, because its use has been common since their birth. Whereas, the older generations who have not had access to the technology may pick it up, but with less facility and celerity than those born into it.

In this regard, technology may be like language. See the easy with which an infant comes to speak a native tongue. It is with considerably more effort that an adult can come to speak that language, and often not at all devoid of an accent. The adult must learn, whereas the infant simply may imprint. Technology, it seems, is much like language. Those born into a given technology adopt it more readily than those humans who must rely on their limited capacity to learn.