My introduction to computers began in about 1969 at the University of Utah. However, my intensive involvement began in 1982. Since then, I have used some model of computer almost daily now for over 40 years. Much of that time was also directly involved in providing both computer and genealogical support to other people of all ages. During all this time, I have often heard about how young people are so computer literate and old people are not. However, in my opinion based on experience with both old and young, I find the real difference is education and income. People of whatever age, with more education and income are more likely to be computer literate than those of lower income and less education. Most children's competency with computers depends on their education level and the income level of their family.
This opinion is supported by an extensive survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's study entitled, "Digital divide persists even as Americans with lower incomes make gains in tech adoption." Quoting from this study:
Roughly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year (24%) say they don’t own a smartphone. About four-in-ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%). And a majority of Americans with lower incomes are not tablet owners. By comparison, each of these technologies is nearly ubiquitous among adults in households earning $100,000 or more a year.
Americans with higher household incomes are also more likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online. Roughly six-in-ten adults living in households earning $100,000 or more a year (63%) report having home broadband services, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer and a tablet, compared with 23% of those living in lower-income households.
A common opinion held by many older adults is that children, usually teenage children, are all computer savvy. My own experience is that their knowledge of computers is generally limited to operating a smartphone for text level communication with a high emphasis on computer games and YouTube. Again, referring to the Pew Research Center "Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022."
YouTube tops the 2022 teen online landscape among the platforms covered in the Center’s new survey, as it is used by 95% of teens. TikTok is next on the list of platforms that were asked about in this survey (67%), followed by Instagram and Snapchat, which are both used by about six-in-ten teens. After those platforms come Facebook with 32% and smaller shares who use Twitter, Twitch, WhatsApp, Reddit and Tumblr.
What is missing from the use of computers for entertainment and communication is learning. I probably spend nearly as much time online as any teenager, but I do not play games and I spend very little time on social networking apps.
There is, of course, a remnant of people old enough not to have had access to computers while they were still young. But when you realize that some of us who are old have been working with computers for more than 40 years, the idea that being old somehow equates to a lack of computer literacy is just not reasonable.
When I was very young, my mother could not and therefore did not drive a car. She finally did learn to drive but she never learned or even wanted to learn how to operate a computer (or even a typewriter for that matter). The reasons for both her lack of driving skills and her antipathy to computers came from complex social issues. As I said above, I think that computer use is more of an economic rather than entirely social issue. Unless you have a job or an overriding interest in learning about computers and you do not have a significant measure of disposable income, you a much less likely to be motivated to spend the time and the money to have a computer or use a computer.
How does this apply to genealogy? Genealogy has become almost entirely computer driven as billions of newly digitized additional records are made available online every year. It is presently very unlikely that you can do original research into original records that is not being duplicated by someone else without verifying that there are no records online in digital format. Even though there is still resistance to online family trees in some segments of the genealogical community, it is abundantly clear to me that good genealogical research will increasingly depend on your personal computer skills.
I am constantly confronted by complaints about irresponsible activity on family trees. A major part of what is viewed as spam activity comes from a lack of understanding of computers and computer systems. This is especially true for an open, source-based, cooperative family tree such as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. As time passes and computer users become more sophisticated, many of the shortcomings of an open, wiki-based family tree will be resolved. Presently, the growth of the online genealogical community is far out pacing the learning curve needed to operate these programs effectively.
As time passes, I am sure that many of the issue of family trees will be resolved.