The George Peabody Library

Last night, my wife’s best friend called me in panic. She just had a mail from her email provider claiming her account was suspended. She had to reply within a day providing her personal information and credential to prove her identity. She was wondering if it was legit, if her account was compromized and what to do in general.

A glance at the email was enough to see its obvious scammy nature.

Scam scam scam

The reply to field pointed on a random Gmail address, different from the from that was displayed on the mail.

The text was a total nonsense, mixing malicious activity from your account, improving outlook.com user experience and building efficient spam filters.

The form was asking for the user first and last name, both the main and secondary email address, passwords… To make it less suspicious, they were diluted with some personal information that have nothing to do with an email address. The tone was alarming, using bold red fonts, big words and exclamation marks.

I explained her all those things, ending with:

If you still had a doubt, this mail coming from outlook.com but the signature says « The Yahoo! Team ».

And she was like:

So what?

I realized something was wrong. And she was not the problem.

Always remember people view on a situation is relative to their knowledge of the world.

For me, the fact that outlook.com belongs to Microsoft, which has nothing to do with Yahoo! is part of the basic knowledge since the late 90’s. It is not. It is an information you know when you’re working in or around the tech world.

It brought back to something that happened to me in 1998.

In 1998, I was living in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is a place known worldwide for its wine and unpleasant inhabitants. You can’t spend your whole teenage years there without harvesting the grapes at least once in your life and that’s exactly what I did that year.

I was harvesting with a whole family of gypsies. They used to come around every year, selling their arms for the 2-3 weeks the harvest lasted. The first day, the chief of the family asked me what I was doing for a living. I answered I was studying in Science Po. Science is a famous French politic sciences school, which everyone in France knows about.

Well, sort of. The third day, that guy with an impressive mustache that would have all San Francisco hipster die of jealousy told me:

You look like someone who can read and write!

You can’t imagine how chocked I was. It was the first time I was meeting someone who could neither read nor write. I suddenly realized he had no idea what my school was and how little it meant for him. We were living in 2 separate galaxies.

That’s what happened yesterday when my wife’s friend who called me in panic. My wife’s not a tech person at all, but she never asked me if an email was legit or not. First, our spam filter is well configured so most scam get blocked. And living me for 12 years, she got educated enough to avoid such a crisis.

Unfortunately, most « normal people » are not technologically educated. Which means we need to forget everything we know to see the situation the way they do.

The past 15 years have shown the fastest technological evolution ever not only for progress, but also for adoption. It took about 450 years from the invention of the printing press to the book mass printing. In comparison, it took 15 years to put 2 billion people on social networks.

As a consequence, being technologically ignorant is a form of modern illiteracy. You’ll soon have 3 types of people.

The illiterates. They can’t use the new technologies and adapt to the cultural and behavior change they provoke. Buying, selling, communicating online is something they can’t do. They’re not living in our world anymore, but in a parallel one, up to the point they’re considering being in a post singularity era.

The readers. They can use the technology but don’t understand them and panic as soon as something unfamiliar happens. That’s what happened yesterday. That person has an email address, a Linkedin account, she’s browsing and buying on the Web, but has no idea what’s happening. She’s just trying to adapt to a changing world, grasping pieces of progress as they come.

Finally, there are the writers, or technologically savvy people. Not only do they feel home in this new world, they also understand how it works. They adopt new trends naturally and control the new technology.

All this is similar to most Cyberpunk science fiction books I’ve read in the late 80’s and early 90’s, without the cyber implants. And like in those books, I want my kids to be able to control the technology. For the past 10 years, we’ve taken care of teaching them how to read. This is exactly what I’m doing teaching them programming: to prevent them from this new kind of illiteracy.

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