Why Computer Literacy Matters

Throughout the history of computing, much has changed about the interactions between people and machine. With the introduction of the first workstations, large corporations and universities gained access to a powerful computational devices that produced results faster than any human could ever possibly attain. Then, with the spread of personal computing and the miniaturization of hardware, homes and offices were equipped with the power these large institutions possessed. Now, with the exponentially growing use of computers and technology, computers and people are interacting more and more, as the communication of information has become the single most important factor in everyday life.

Computers have become increasingly predominant in today's society. They exist in our schools, in our workplaces, in our libraries, in our homes, in public malls, and in many other places. They are the subject of countless magazines, advertisements, and commercials. They control manufacturing plants, satellites, surgical instruments, and countless other objects. In recent years, they have formed the backbone of an amazingly powerful information superhighway we know as the Internet. At every turn, one cannot go long without running into, hearing about, or using these fascinating devices.

The presence of computers have revolutionized the way we do many things. They have changed the way we learn, the way we work, and the way we communicate. In our educational systems, computers are quickly becoming the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students use them to research on-line periodicals, to find books in libraries, and to locate information on CD-ROMS. They depend on them for word processing, creating multimedia presentations, solving complex mathematical formulas, and simulating natural phenoma. They need them to keep up to date with an ever-changing, ever-moving technological age.

In the workplace, computers are just as prevalent. Every desk in every office has at least one of them it seems. They store large databases of information that used to take up rooms and rooms of filing cabinets. Not only that, but they can search for and retrieve information in a blink of an eye. Tedious financial calculations are reduced to a matter of mouse clicks and keyboard strokes. In labs across the globe, they have changed the way research is done, giving us new ways to approach problems that would otherwise be impossible. In the entertainment industry, they have completely transfigured the process of motion picture making and musical recording. Fast food restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping malls are all equipped with computers. It is without a doubt that the computer is the singlemost important machine in the workplace.

Even in our homes, computers have found a place. Video game machines thrive in front of household televisions. Coupled with the Internet, computers have given us a new form of media, where news, community guides, stock quotes, articles, and special interest documents can all be reached at the tip of the fingertips. Need a recipe, need advice? Use a search engine to find it. The possibilities seem endless, as this tiny tool can transcend into almost any interest, hobby, and pastime.

So why do we care so much about computer literacy? Because in today's computer-dependent society, one is put at a tremendous disadvantage without working, functional knowledge of how to use and operate them. Many careers and educations depend on them.

Unfortunately, not everyone has complete access to computing. Many groups, minorities and lower-income classes in particular, face barriers that prevent them from furthering their computer literacy and continuing their careers in computing. In order to give everyone equal opportunity, arrangements must be made such that access to computing can be achieved by anybody. As socially responsible computer scientists, we are the ones that must ensure that these barriers are torn down so that anybody, regardless of race and class, can have free, open access to computing.