Why it's stupid to feel stupid about tech
I’m not one of those tech reporters who writes edgy articles on ‘pwning’, spends their time buried in the Dark Web and played video games in the womb.
I’m the kind of tech writer who has to Google what ‘pwning’ means and finds out she’s about forty years behind that trend.
I’ve mostly come to terms with looking like I have the same level of tech knowledge as a plank of wood because asking the basic questions so other people don’t have to is an important part of my job.
Having said that, the fear of looking stupid when it comes to tech does sometimes still haunt me, and I’d bet I’m not the only one.
A fear of looking like you don’t know your APIs from your ARPs from your RPGs is probably one of the most off-putting things about tech.
On top of that, with social media being absolutely everywhere, a moment of stupidity can be captured on film and end up on Buzzfeed before you’ve figured out why strangers are laughing at you in the street.
It’s easy to feel there’s no room to admit you’re completely at sea when it comes to tech.
The problem is, we need to know about it.
It’s particularly true if you’re in charge of a business or a country, but even if the most that you’re in charge of is not falling off your own chair, you have a responsibility to get clued up so you can hold those people to account.
Last weekend I went to Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank – a place where science, tech and live music came together in glorious, nerdy harmony.
One of the talks was about fake news, and the panel discussed how to make sure safeguards are in place around tech for the future.
Labour’s shadow minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation Chi Onwurah – who also graced our 100 Female Role Models in Tech list – talked about how scared people are of tech. As much as I hate to admit it, I understand why.
“When tech was something that happened on the side it was one thing but now tech is the platform for how we live our lives,” she said.
“Tech scares a lot of people, and a lot of politicians particularly.
"They don’t like looking stupid and whenever they say something about tech they’re likely to be told they’re stupid, so it doesn’t get that same accountability that we’ve seen in terms of regulating other industries.”
If people don’t feel like they can admit they don’t understand the subject then they won’t learn, and tech will continue to advance faster than the safeguards around it.
So, what can be done?
The panellists talked about creating a more comprehensive tech education which includes ethics and critical thinking which I think is a great idea. But it’s also about more than the next generation – the people making decisions and using tech now need to have more support while the foundations are laid.
The tech community has a role to play in this. Mostly they’re incredibly welcoming – or at worst are just content to let us tech flailers get on with it. But staying judgement-free when someone gets something basic wrong – or even proactively helping them understand why they’re wrong– can be easier said than done.
If you know anything about tech please bear this in mind as chances are I’ll be asking you stupid questions at some point in the near future.
Ultimately though it’s on all of us to ask the questions and get clued up, and let go of the idea that not knowing makes us look stupid.
So, I’m going to make an effort to embrace my ignorance and view it as a means to learning. If anyone fancies joining me I’ll be coming to a tech scene near you soon – probably looking like an absolute wally but having a great time.