rapid early acquisition of tech adaptability

What is “rapid early acquisition of tech adaptability”?  It’s a term I made up.  I haven’t yet Googled it to see if I’m ripping something else off, so for the time being I’ll keep it as my own term.  I’ll call it REATA because I’m not going to type that unwieldy phrase more than once.

Here’s how I’ll define it.  All of us know the guy who claims to be Mr. Nontechy-guy.  “I just can’t manage a computer,” he guffaws.  “My kids have to turn it on for me!  I don’t know how to text, so forget these smartphones!”  This guy is proud to be tech-illiterate.

And we all know the woman who just gets flustered when dealing with all the buttons and sites and likes, oh my.  She could figure it out but she gets overwhelmed in a minute or two.  She doesn’t like dealing with all the emails!  the Facebooks!

Finally, we all also know the outlier.  The great-grandmother who’s active on Facebook.  The business exec who is a master of Excel.  The mom who runs multiple blogs.

What’s the difference?  I think people who experienced significant life changes at an early age become far more adept at embracing new technologies – and new ways of thinking in general – than people who locked into a lifestyle early in life.  Think of immigrants.  According to “The Millionaire Next Door ” I learned an astonishing statistic – the ethnic group with the highest likelihood of becoming first-generation immigrant millionaires was ex-Soviet Russians.  Think about that.  People from a non-capitalist society with no cultural commonalities with America are the ethnic group most likely to become millionaires in America.  Why?  I’ll make my nonscientific claim that it’s because of REATA.

If you’re expected at an early age to keep up with rapid changes in technology (and with life in general) I think you’re more likely to learn the skill of acquiring new tech skills than someone who slowly acquires those skills.  That may sound obvious, but it’s not.  Think of a child who learns how to program at an early age.  I did.  I got a Tandy computer at age 10.  There were no games.  I learned BASIC and coded my own games:  my favorite was a game where you headed up a rock band and made strategic decisions to tour or record an album – making the right choice gained fans, the wrong choice lost them.  Now think of a child who wasn’t exposed to computers early, but got a job as an accountant circa 1994 when computers started infiltrating the workplace, and the groundwork for Skynet was laid down.  That person might work just as intensely with computer, but never would have been forced to engage in the steep learning curve of a child desperate to make a fun game out of nothing.

I see it as an adult:  executives or ex-execs claim not to know Excel and chuckle about their lack of tech skills.  Would you chuckle along with someone who never learned to drive?  Cook?  Manage their finances?  No.  People who have to learn early on to self-educate and self-manage are going to have far greater success later in life.  I bet that great-grandmother who’s on Facebook probably had to take care of her two little sisters while mom worked the farm and dad was fighting in World War I.  I bet the business exec who mastered Excel had a bad setback early in his career when he couldn’t get something done and gritted his teeth and learned how to do what needed to be done.  I bet the mom who mastered blogging felt like she had to get a story out and learned what to do.  The people who didn’t were the people who early on learned to adapt only when pushed to the brink.  Or maybe they never learned.

As we age, the temptation to rest on our mental laurels increases.  I am well-read, so I ease off on reading challenging new works.  I am tech-savvy, but for years I resisted learning to text, because it’s fine to get by on “calling” (that’s the thing you do with your phone and your voice, kids).  I know how to work with Excel, so there’s no need to learn how to work with XML.  It can go on and on.

But I think once you’ve learned to adapt to new systems – and if you learn this skill early on – you’re going to have an advantage over others in life, and this advantage will be massive.  It’s fine to be an expert in one area, and hammer away at it.  Then again, there’s a trite old saying – no less true for being trite – which says that “the only constant is change.”  People who don’t learn early in their lives to adapt to change are eventually going to hit that brick wall.  Would you hire someone who doesn’t know how to do something a 20-year old can do effortlessly?  By that, I mean, would you hire an accountant who scoffs at Excel or QuickBooks and says “hey, ledger paper’s worked well for me, kiddo!”  No, I don’t think you would.  I think adaptability – regardless of what you’re adapting TO – is a skill in an of itself, and the lack of adaptability is a major problem.  How do you avoid that?  Learn something new – and just start today.

photo Attribution Some rights reserved by MiromiTintas

2 Replies to “rapid early acquisition of tech adaptability”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, your argument extends beyond technology and into other areas of life.

    When it comes to technology and finances, I’ve always been highly literate and adaptable to change. And until about a year and a half ago, I thought this was enough. And if my only goal was to make lots of money doing a job I’ve slowly grown bored with, that would be fine.

    Then one day I woke up and thought “WTF – you can design complex electrical circuits, but you can’t change the oil in your wife’s car!?!” Since then I’ve dedicated myself to learning new things – cooking from scratch, doing all maintenance and repair on my bike and motorcycle, fixing a broken lawnmower… Things I would have paid someone else to do prior, not out of laziness as much as out of a feeling of pride that I’m so good at my job I can pay others to handle this “peasant work.” I’m almost embarrased to admit my outlook back then.

    It’s these skills that have allowed me to become a more well-rounded and content person. Not to mention, getting me closer to my early retirement goal.

  2. Hey Steve

    You know this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot! Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were also REATA people. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier’s it talks about how his private school had access to cutting edge computers. Him and his buddies would hang out into the midnight hours programing, for fun!

    As someone thinking about having children, how do you you expose your kids to opportunities that force them to adapt and learn new things? I’d love to learn about getting kids into computer programming like you did. In any profession that knowledge will serve you well. I’m a doctor and I see how older practices that are stuck in the stone age could be much more efficient. The doctor is all, “well I’m just not into that computer stuff.” Well GET into it.

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