Now that I'm approaching 40 in a few years the trend of equating age with technological illiteracy has really started to bug me. Most recently I've seen a few articles with respect to Congress, their advanced average age, and relying on that as a crutch to explain away their ineptitude with all things technical. It's a common trope and one that I've bought into in the past but the more experience I get the more I see it for the meme it is. Congress is bad at technology policy because of corruption, lobbies, and willful ignorance. They'd likely be very nearly this bad if the average age was 35 in my opinion.
First, I've met a fair share of Gen Z kids who I'd call incompetent with understanding the tools they use. Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that with all the screen time that kids born after the year 2000 had just how bad many of them are with basic concepts like a directory tree or just understanding what different pieces of hardware do and how they interact. Granted some of this is "standing on the shoulders of giants" in that using technology today is just a lot easier than it was 30 years ago when I was getting started. I had to know Hayes modem codes, IRQs, and TSRs. They press a button on their router for WPS or have to enter a WPA2 password in a worst case scenario. However the number of "tech geeks" in the younger generation seems rather proportional to what it was in my day despite the greater exposure to technology Gen Z has had. There are plenty of experts in Gen Z it's just not everyone under 25 years old.
Working in a university gives one exposure to a good mix of age groups as well. I know plenty of people 45 and older who know more than I do. In fact I've known a few rather tech savvy retirees who kept up with things nicely just as a hobby. There's definitely a slow down effect as one ages, I can tell you I don't pick up new languages as fast as I used to, but experience is nothing to be ignored either. Ageism is pretty rampant in the technology field overall but that's a different rant.
Technology as a subject is rather broad and deep as well. My area of expertise is generally more low level physical things. Hardware, networking, ASM, C, some Python and virtualization. For example I understand how a state machine and an ALU work but give me some higher level abstract software engineering topic and I'm not really going to follow. Likewise I've met a few brilliant machine learning experts that didn't know the difference between RAM, cache and physical storage. I don't think either of us should be called technologically illiterate just somewhat specialized. Likewise I'm not an avid smartphone user (my first gen iPhone SE still works just fine thank you) so outside of cutting most of the garbage off I don't use on it I'm really not up on that side of the world. My battery literally last days as that's how little I use it. However just because a younger person can run circles around me there doesn't mean I'm now ready to be put out to pasture or somehow technologically illiterate. Honestly, there I've just drawn a line as to where I think that tool's trade-offs not worth integrating it in my life more.
I also find large chunks of the younger generation either largely resigned to or ill-informed on the endangered species that is privacy these days and frankly that seems to be a problem at both extremes of the age spectrum. A lot of the 60+ crowd does not understand it either. I think Gen X and older Millennial are probably the most aware of what big tech and government are interested in and why it's a problem. Also, just how insidious and inside your mind social media can be. Just because a Google or Instagram and flying the flag of your pet cause does not mean they're you're friend. They just want you to hand over more that 21st century version of crude oil, data, and will tell you whatever you want to hear to get it. I don't know why, maybe it was the inherent cynicism 80s and early 90s kids grew up in but that chunk seems to have a healthy skepticism of living online overall. The point to drive home here is that you're not using these services, they're using you.
This isn't meant to be a "kids these days" rant. I also acknowledge that specific skills are different across generations. Gen Z grew up with things I did not. I just think equating younger age with greater understanding of the tools they are using is a bad move. Look at someone's credentials not their birth year before you judge them. Age is a bad proxy for "knows what they're talking about" and some of us geezers may surprise you. Likewise I know plenty of 20-somethings I respect and would call my peers. Age has little to do with it and we shouldn't overly preference one group over the other based on faulty assumptions. Ignorance knows no generational bounds and neither does curiosity.