One of the roles I often find myself in when talking to colleagues outside of my department is that of The Voice of Reason for Technology. One of the reasons for this is that many of my colleagues have some pretty significant fears about technology. Even if they use technology extensively in their research or teaching, they like to claim that they really don't know what they're doing. Almost all of them say some variation of "I'm so afraid that my students are light-years ahead of me when it comes to technology. The students are much more savvy about this stuff than I am."
When it comes to using technology, this is often true. Many of our students are comfortable and savvy in this arena. They're on Facebook. They blog. They text message. They hand in assignments electronically. They are comfortable finding things online (whether or not they find good quality sources is another matter). Some of them even create their own content--music, movies, images--digitally, and do some neat things in that area.
But what I see is that, for all this immersion in technology, students are not savvy about evaluating technology in a critical way. They don't have a good sense as to why or how certain technologies work. They take technology at face value--as a means to an end--without questioning how that same technology might have been used to manipulate the ends. Technology is inherently neutral, but its uses are not--and all too often, students don't make the distinction between the two. They stop at "technology is neutral" and leave it at that.
Part of my job as a techie and an educator is to help students begin to question technology's role and its uses. The way I do that is I help students understand the how's and the why's. I get them to the point where they understand enough to start asking the harder questions, the ethical questions.
This same lack of understanding the how's and why's of technology on the part of my colleagues leads them to embue the students with more power than they possess. All they see is that the students can use this stuff more naturally than they can, and they make the leap to "and therefore, they must be able to critically evaluate it better than I can." They are amazed, and somewhat relieved, when I point out that this is not true with probably most of our students. It brings some of the power back to them, to realize that the students don't have all the answers in this area either.
I take technical literacy--the ability to use and understand technology and its applications--for granted. After all, I am extensively trained in this area. But even though technology has completely permeated our work life and our culture, we as a society are woefully technically illiterate. If we are to truly progress, we all--students and old fogies :) alike--have to make a commitment to understanding this stuff better. The students are still looking to us to lead them, to help them learn to think critically, and increasingly thinking critically about technology is becoming a vital skill.