John Oliver has won us over again this season, after having a challenging and well-done interview with the infamous Edward Snowden on his popular HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. As an avid viewer of his show, I can honestly say that I have gained more knowledge of the world in his half hour comedy than a weeks worth of watching programs on BBC or CNN. It's pretty clear that comedy is a useful source to inform citizens on delicate issues. His program also makes it clear that American citizens are very uninformed compared to other nations when it comes to domestic and foreign politics. This is already common knowledge to many Americans, but Oliver's program on April 5th, made one thing obvious to viewers, and that is we have a very limited knowledge about the Internet. This is particularly the concern that Oliver was questioning in his interview with Snowden. Other than the proven weakness of the media of this issue and Snowden's reckless management of these dangerous NSA documents, Americans are scarcely uneducated of this matter.
If Snowden really wants us to solve our surveillance issue in America, then we must have a conversation that Americans are capable of having just as Oliver suggested. The first step to having this conversation is to increase our knowledge of the Internet and the technological concepts needed to understand in this discussion. By June 1st, Congress will renew our current government surveillance program unless we have this debate to reform it. This can't happen though if we aren't educated from the concepts used in the language of the Patriot Act or the documents that Snowden wants revealed of the NSA.
Oliver demonstrated several times that Americans are ignorant and gullible towards politics of the Internet and the Internet in general. However, one observation in the interview that caught my attention was after Oliver asked Snowden if the American people have the capability of having a conversation on government surveillance. As soon as Snowden started explaining the complex nature of the Internet, Oliver quickly interrupted and jokingly responded that this explanation is equivalent to when an office worker see's the IT guy come in to the office. He quoted, "Don't teach me anything, I don't want to learn", which inherently characterized the American reaction towards learning the technology behind the Internet. This led to Snowden accepting this truth as he peered away from Oliver's face and stated he was "sympathetic to the problem."
It's evident that we need to have a basic understanding of the Internet and the engineering behind it. I myself am a victim of this ignorance and I am sure you the readers are stricken to this as well. We admit this and we also take this for granted. In a 2014 Pew survey, they found that Americans have an alarmingly low basic knowledge of the Internet. They tested over 1,000 participants with diverse backgrounds and found that only 23 percent of people were aware of the difference between "the Internet" and "the World Wide Web", as they are same thing. Other data they found was that 34 percent of the surveyors actual knew what Moore's Law is, which is about the number of transistors that can be on a smartphone. In addition, 44 percent responded true when asked if "private policy means company keeps users info confidential". These are technical facts that you think so little about that you didn't even notice I lied about all of them. The facts are that the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing, that Moore's law is actually about the number of transistors in a computer chip and not in a smartphone, and private policy does not necessarily mean that companies keep the information they collect on users. Now I hope I've kept your attention and realize the importance of why we need to learn this information. The Internet has become part of our lifestyle and we seriously need to know how it works before someone with disagreeable intentions will use it against us.
This is not entirely our fault for having this low skill set, as it's purely a systemic one. Most people receive basic training from schools, but our public education system has yet to fully stress the importance of including computer science as a core curriculum. As a student who received his whole education from New York State, a state with a supposedly succeeding education system, I have not attained any sort of technical training. This is not because I or any other students weren't interested in acquiring this knowledge, but our administrators neither offered these classes to begin with nor stressed the importance of graduating with these courses as we were overloaded with the basic liberal arts classes such math, science, history, etc.
To learn skills in information technology, one must either teach themselves the expertise, take a class outside of school, or wait until college to learn. However, waiting until college may not be the best solution as we enter college with a higher liberal arts background than in technical training, which means a student who wants to learn programming must start with zero preparation and potentially struggle throughout the courses. Also postponing your desire to take classes in computer science in college might also be a problem if your university prohibits you from taking these courses unless you are majoring in that degree or are in the engineering school.
This is a troubling aspect in our American education system where we are doing a poor job at preparing our youth in this sector. While focusing on liberal arts is definitely important to teach our children, John Oliver's uncovering of Americans ill-informed comprehension of the Internet proves we need to place computer science at the same core level as math, science, history and reading. Especially since we learn and are given assignments from those latter subjects on our computers. If we don't do so now then we will have some government agency make us "sacrifice our values" as Edward Snowden mentioned and potentially watch over us like "Big Brother".
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