Information technology is playing an increasingly important role in the work and personal lives of citizens. Computers, communications, digital information, software—the constituents of the information age—are everywhere.

Between those who search aggressively for opportunities to learn more about information technology and those who choose not to learn anything at all about information technology, there are many who recognize the potential value of information technology for their everyday lives and who realize that a better understanding of information technology will be helpful to them. This realization is based on several factors:

  • Information technology has entered our lives over a relatively brief period of time with little warning and essentially no formal educational preparation for most people.
  • Many who currently use information technology have only a limited understanding of the tools they use and a (probably correct) belief that they are underutilizing them.
  • Many citizens do not feel confident or in control when confronted by information technology, and they would like to be more certain of themselves.
  • There have been impressive claims for the potential benefits of information technology, and many would like to realize those benefits.
  • There is concern on the part of some citizens that changes implied by information technology embody potential risks to social values, freedoms or economic interests, etc., obligating them to become informed.

And, naturally, there is simple curiosity about how this powerful and pervasive technology works.

These various motivations to learn more about information technology raise the general question, What should everyone know about information technology in order to use it more effectively now and in the future? Addressing that question is the subject of this report.

The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that information technology is changing rapidly. The electronic computer is just over 50 years old, “PC,” as in personal computer, is less than 20 years old, and the World Wide Web has been known to the public for less than 5 years. In the presence of rapid change, it is impossible to give a fixed, once-and-for-all course that will remain current and effective.

Generally, “computer literacy” has acquired a “skills” connotation, implying competency with a few of today’s computer applications, such as word processing and e-mail. Literacy is too modest a goal in the presence of rapid change, because it lacks the necessary “staying power.” As the technology changes by leaps and bounds, existing skills become antiquated and there is no migration path to new skills. A better solution is for the individual to plan to adapt to changes in the technology. This involves learning sufficient foundational material to enable one to acquire new skills independently after one’s formal education is complete.

This requirement of a deeper understanding than is implied by the rudimentary term “computer literacy” motivated the committee to adopt “fluency” as a term connoting a higher level of competency. People fluent with information technology (FIT persons) are able to express themselves creatively, to reformulate knowledge, and to synthesize new information. Fluency with information technology (i.e., what this report calls FITness) entails a process of lifelong learning in which individuals continually apply what they know to adapt to change and acquire more knowledge to be more effective at applying information technology to their work and personal lives.

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