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File not found: how Gen Z forgot how to use folders



A new generation of students no longer uses folders to organize and confuses professors. Why Google is to blame for everything - in a retelling of an article by Monica Chin of The Verge.


In 2017, astrophysicist Catherine Garland noticed a problem. She taught an engineering course and her students used a program to simulate jet engine turbines. She explained the assignment, but the students received the same error message: The program could not find the file.


The teacher thought it was easy to fix. She asked the students where they saved their files - on the desktop, perhaps on a shared drive? But the professor's words disconcerted them. Not only did they not know where their files were stored, but they also did not understand the essence of her question.


Gradually, the professor came to the conclusion: the concept of folders and directories with files on a computer, which was used by previous generations, is completely incomprehensible to many modern students.


Beginning in 2017, many teachers began to notice this trend: new students do not know how to use folders. In the same year, student posts began to appear on the technical educator forums asking for help in explaining the concept of the file.


Catalogs and "laundry baskets"


Folders are part of a larger mental model called the directory structure. The directory structure looks like a hierarchical file ordering system in which files are stored in folders that are nested within one another. For us, this scheme is intuitive - a modern computer not only saves a new file in infinite space, it saves it in the Documents folder, which is located in the Desktop folder, which is located in the This Computer folder.


However, for students who grew up with access to search engines, this system is alien.


“I tend to think the item is in a specific folder. He lives in one place, and I need to open this folder to find him, ”says the professor. "They see it as one basket and everything is lying in the basket."


Modern students use a different mental model - the laundry basket structure. This scheme assumes that users save all their files in one place - like things in the laundry basket - and then use search to find the file when they need it.


This can result in desktops that look like this:


Aubrey Vogel, a journalism teacher, says she used the directory structure before - as a child, she was shown how to store items in folders. But as she grew up, she moved away from this system - now she has one large folder for student papers and one for her work. The documents that she is not sure about are placed in a third folder.


What does Google have to do with it


The rise of Google has led to the fact that search tools are now built into everything - computers, mobile phones and voice assistants.


This could also be due to popular apps like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube, which are all about extracting content from a vast sea rather than placing it in a nested hierarchy.


There is a search function everywhere. A situation arises when folders are simply not needed.


Teachers say that in some cases the directory structure is irreplaceable. For example, computer programming often requires programmers to refer to the exact location of a file.


Although, most likely, the folders here will be destroyed too. Even professors teaching the "directory" structure believe that it will soon disappear and Gen Z will create their own tools without folders.



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