Mythbusting the techno-savvy youth

Posted on November 30, 2009


Look, Bob. I can make the cursor move up and down!

I’m in a rush so I hope this makes sense, but I’ve got to do something other than write comments like, “I think you mean, ‘Children can be very suggestible,’ not ‘salable.'” Or “I’m not entirely sure that Perez Hilton is a reliable source.”

Anyhow — I really like the show Mythbusters. Partly because I have a strong commitment to facts — such as whether a cannon made entirely out of duct tape can fire a cannon ball (it can) — but mostly because I like seeing things explode.

It’s surprising how many common beliefs are actually myths.

Coca-Cola can dissolve a tooth overnight.


Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.


George Clooney is better looking than I am.


Plus? That last one is kind of hurtful.

But the myth that’s bugging me the most right now has to do with young adults and their computer savvy.

They don’t have any.

"Pull my finger" is not considered the best opening for an elevator pitch.

I was sitting in on a colleague’s class. I didn’t really want to. It’s a long story. But the point is, it’s a class where students learn how to get jobs. They learn about networking, in which every form of human interaction is turned into a business contact. They learn about the “elevator speech,” a particularly annoying self-promotion in which you talk someone’s ear off for the length of an elevator ride — or until they call security and have you evicted from the building. And of course, they learn about the proper way to answer questions in job interviews.

The woman teaching the course is nice enough. I think. Truth is, I don’t feel like I’ve ever met her. She’s always “on,” which gives me the feeling that I’m talking to a movie extra desperately trying to land The Big Part.

Some of the advice is not bad. The majority is at least non-objectionable. But a good chunk of it is total balderdash.

Take the interview questions, for instance. She’s a big fan of questions that “shake things up,” as she puts it.

“When I’m interviewing people,” she said, “I like to find out things about them other than just their skills, so I’ll ask questions that really make them think, such as, ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?'”

“I’d be an autumn tree,” I said, “and leaf.”

Okay. I didn’t say that. I just thought it.

But really! Isn’t that the kind of question they used to ask teen idols in Tiger Beat magazine?

“David Cassidy, tell me — if you could be any kind of animal, what would it be?”

When I first applied to J. Walter Thompson back in the mid ’80s, this kind of question wasn’t yet popular. But even then, some of the questions struck me as being a little on the dumb side.

“How do you handle pressure,” my interviewer asked me.

I thought about it. I knew what I should say — something like, “I try to keep a cool head,” or some such drivel. I just couldn’t do it. So I asked, “How is everyone else handling it?”

Another question, and the one that actually got me the job, was, “Why do you want to work at an advertising agency?”

Well, the truth was, my career as a commercial artist and freelance ad copywriter was pretty much dead, and I was willing to take a job washing windows if it paid the rent. However, while I might not have been particularly sophisticated in job interview answers, I did know that saying, “I need the money” was not what he was looking for.

So instead I said, “Because I always wanted to tap dance on a desk.”

He nodded, still looking at his sheet of questions.

Then he stopped nodding and looked up.


“Well, when I was a kid I saw this movie with Donald O’Connor where he worked in an ad agency. They landed this big account and he tap danced on the desk. I’ve always wanted to do that.”

The upshot is that I got the job. And at the end of my three-month probationary period, the guy who interviewed me came into the office with these plastic clicker things to attach to the heels and toes of my shoes, and made me get on the desk and tap dance.

Those were good days.

But there was a point in here somewhere and I seem to have lost it.

Oh, yeah. The dumb class and the dumb interview questions

During the class discussion, one girl whined (and I use that word only because it’s completely accurate), “What really bugs me in an interview is when they ask me, ‘Are you computer literate?’ I’m 20 years old! Of course I’m computer literate!”

Oh, bull pucky horse dirt!

This idea that the young are automatically knowledgeable about everything to do with computers is complete and utter hogwash. They can download music. They can play computer games. They can watch YouTube.

But computer savvy? Myth. Big, big myth.

Every semester I waste at least two classes labouriously going over and over how to double space, indent paragraphs, insert a header, put in page numbers, change the font, and set margins. And yet when I ask about it at the beginning of the semester they say they already know this stuff because they’ve taken the Computer Skills course.

They’ve been working on computers all the way through grade school. During four years of high school they use computers to write their essays and projects. At the end of it they come to college and take a Computer Skills course.

And they still can’t figure out how to indent a gorram paragraph!?

They can use Google to find out about movies and musicians, but when it comes to looking up actual information they haven’t got a clue how to frame a search phrase. And if they do,  they consider  “Bill’s Ranting Blog Against Everything” as a reliable source. When  prospective employers (or peer rivals) discover the drunken party photos they posted of themselves on Facebook or their blog, they’re shocked and horrified.

“But that was private!”

Right. And if you close your eyes, nobody can see you.

Computer savvy my ass.

Now I’ve got to go back to correcting papers.

Let’s see, this one’s arguing for gay marriage.

You can’t always say that something is wrong unless it effects other people, and gays getting married isn’t effecting anybody besides it’s not like its anybodys business anyways.”

Which reminds me of another myth:

Young people can articulate their thoughts quite clearly.