Of course younger people don’t know how to use a printer

I’m not usually writing something because I was annoyed by an article, but today will be an exception. Well, being annoyed by articles may actually be the main reason behind this blog’s existence, but this time it felt particularly annoying, so pardon my French.

I’ve just read this article on the Guardian, ‘Scanners are complicated’: why Gen Z faces workplace ‘tech shame’, and it feels a lot like an article that was written based on a random observation, and quickly documented with a few quotes that reinforce that same idea. To be more explicit: this article felt lazy and wrong.

For starters, I am not a big fan of this whole “generations gap” thing. I don’t like seeing people summarised and labeled based only on which year they were born. Obviously the generational divide exists, but the lines are more blurry than most of what you read about it let you believe. Between two persons born on the same year, a lot of things can change, depending on the social background, on the family situation, on whether or not one has older sibling, the country one lives, depending on which school one goes to, what their parents’ jobs are, etc.

Generations are certainly useful to talk about big trends in society, behaviour and sensitivities differences. These differences are useful to understand and therefore important for journalists to write about, but maybe it would be good to remind the readers that these are just broad terms, used to describe large populations and that they are not a community that one can belong to.

I also suspect that we — as readers — find some guilty pleasure into making fun of older or younger generations, and this engagement into this kind of content makes it even more interesting for publishers. People read it, people share it: it’s just good for business, never mind the societal accuracies and clichés being nourished.

Let’s go back the Guardian’s article shall we?

Gen Z workers tend to be well equipped to edit photos and videos all from their phones, or use website builders like Squarespace and Wix. They grew up using apps to get work done and are used to the ease that comes with Apple operating systems. Their formative tech years were spent using software that exists to be user-friendly.

But desktop computing is decidedly less intuitive. Things like files, folders, scanning, printing, and using external hardware are hallmarks of office life.

So apparently Apple operating systems are opposed to desktop computing? And should we understand that desktop software doesn’t exist to be user-friendly? Are we solely talking about Salesforce here? What does “software that exists to be user-friendly” even mean? Also, and I don’t mean to speak for everyone here, but who scans and prints anything today at the office? I certainly don’t and every time I have to do it, even as an old millennial, I am completely lost. It doesn’t have to do with generations, it has to do with the fact that printers are pieces of junk and famous for being everyone’s tech nightmare, regardless of generations.

Another example: based on my own observations in the workplace — a knowledge that seems to be strong enough to be quoted in a Guardian article apparently — nobody really knows how to use word processing software, let it be Microsoft Word or even Google Docs. Everyone think they do, but most of people I’ve worked with, Gen Z or not, just keep using the bold button and changing font sizes to define titles instead of styles, as you should. Older colleagues, younger colleagues, every one is shit at using these. Same goes with Slack, everyone just refuse to use threads, or even Google: how many times I’ve seen people going to google.com before pasting an URL. Nothing to do with generation: more a lack of education and/or bad teachers when it comes to these services and apps.

The truth is that older generations expect the younger generations to be better than them at new things. But why should they? That would be true if they had learned these new things at school like my grandparents used to learn how to sew or how to tend a garden. But they don’t. Like our parents and ourselves before them (when I say ourselves, I am talking about the “Xennials”), they learn on their own, which means that they don’t learn about work stuff, obviously. They learn how to play games, how to use fun software maybe, but why would they learn to use freaking Google Calendar on their own time?

The tech company HP coined the phrase “tech shame”, to define how overwhelmed young people felt using basic office tools. According to the study, one in five young office workers reported “feeling judged for having tech issues”, which made them less likely to ask for help. And in another survey, the employment firm LaSalle Agency found that almost half of the class of 2022 felt “underprepared” when it came to the technical skills relevant for entering the workforce.

Not going to comment on the vagueness of the word “workforce” here, but this whole things reads as a problem with the education system more than anything. And who are the shitty coworkers “judging” new employees for not knowing how to use X or Y? Weren’t they recruited by their company and other colleagues in the first place? Maybe they should add a question or two in the recruitment process if knowing how to operate the office scanner is so important. People barely know how to properly use PowerPoint and they make fun of the new kid for not knowing how to print a document on the shitty open space printer? Clearly there is a generational problem here, but I believe the problem lies with the older generations being so judgmental and not being able to help, and share their “precious” knowledge.

For Simon, it’s another problem to blame on the brain-melting power of social media. His hunch: apps like Instagram and TikTok are so easy to use that younger people expect everything else to be a breeze, too. When it’s not, they’re more likely to give up. “It takes five seconds to learn how to use TikTok,” he said. “You don’t need an instruction book, like you would with a printer. Content is so easy to access now that when you throw someone a simple curveball, they’ll swing and they miss, and that’s why Gen Z can’t schedule a meeting.”

Seriously, screw that guy. Nice for the editor to call this a “hunch” instead of a load of bullshit, but why use this guy as one of the sources of the article? This whole quote is insulting and he should be ashamed. It reads like “Gen Z” is one single person, and this person only knows how to use TikTok or Instagram. Ever heard of life pal? Or school? Or job interviews? Or — if we have to go down cliché road — Fortnite? This “Gen Z” did all of these before they came to work for your shitty company, and none of it was a breeze so at least show some respect, and just explain how to use the company calendar: it should take 2 minutes, they’re “fast learners” remember?

There is at least some sense in the article:

“There is a myth that kids were born into an information age, and that this all comes intuitively to them,” said Sarah Dexter, an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia. “But that is not realistic. How would they know how to scan something if they’ve never been taught how to do it?”

Duh. I have been around cars all my life, and up until I was twenty years old, I probably got inside a car every day of the year. Do I know how to change oil on a car? Absolutely not. Should I know? Probably, but I never felt judged or mocked for not knowing.

And this is what is bothering me in this article. It mentions that “Gen Z” is feeling tech shame, and is being too shy to ask for help. The article should focus on older generations being terrible coworkers and not being able to understand what new employees need to learn or not. It’s easy to point fingers at someone “ashamed of not knowing and afraid to ask” when the problem seems to be with unrealistic expectations and shitty behaviour from older and more experienced colleagues.

The title of the article should not have been “‘Scanners are complicated’: why Gen Z faces workplace ‘tech shame’” (because yes, scanners are complicated), but something like “’Scanners are complicated’: why older employees should share their knowledges without being dicks about it.