Just as there is "computerate" to describe those who show familiarity with, and ability to use computers, is there a word to describe the opposite, those who are computer illiterate? The word I'm looking for includes both those who have access to computers but, for some reason, choose to keep away from them, and those who can read and write but have never seen a computer in their entire lives. I'm not looking for insulting or pejorative terms.

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    I know it apparently shows up in dictionaries, but despite that, I view computerate as cute wordplay and not as a serious word. In that vein I would probably coin incomputerate. – Jim Jun 7 '14 at 0:45
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    The use of the word "illiterate," as in "Joe Jones is computer illiterate (or a computer illiterate)" is unfortunate at best. Some of the most literate people in the world shy away from computers, and for good reason. Would you believe there are people (confession: I'm one of 'em) who still use a fountain pen to commit their thoughts to paper? For that reason, I prefer saying either a person is computer savvy or is not computer savvy. Enough of this unfortunate and inapt use of "illiterate" to refer to someone who's not computer savvy! – rhetorician Jun 7 '14 at 1:05
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    I have more than two degrees. Yet I consider myself computer illiterate to a great degree. I'm not ashamed of it, nor do I feel it's unfortunate. It just is. I see no particular reason to replace a well-understood phrase with a politically correct one. – anongoodnurse Jun 7 '14 at 1:47
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    It's interesting to note that, according to dictionary.com, the term computer-literate was coined by Andrew Molnar, while director of the Office of Computing Activities at the NSF, who said, "We coined that phrase [in 1972]. It's sort of ironic. Nobody knows what computer literacy is. Nobody can define it. And the reason we selected [it] was because nobody could define it, and it was a broad enough term that you could get all of these programs together under one roof." – Gnawme Jun 7 '14 at 3:32
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    n00bs I believe, is the word for which you seek. – Neil W Jun 7 '14 at 6:09

10 Answers 10


Computer illiterate may be the best phrase for itself, but if something less potentially pejorative is wanted, perhaps novice would suffice, as in novice computer user or computer novice.

nov·ice noun \ˈnä-vəs\ : a person who has just started learning or doing something

: a new member of a religious group who is preparing to become a nun or a monk

Note: I included the second definition as a comment on the sensibilities involved in mastering various levels of information and computer technology.

  • I don't think there is a great term but both computer illiterate and novice are probably the most commonly heard. – RyeɃreḁd Jun 7 '14 at 17:10

computer-challenged is something that I already heard.

Alternately, consider computer neophyte.

neophyte: a person who is just starting out in a field of activity: a neophyte in snowboarding

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    Why is this so rated? I would assume anyone using either of these to be of foreign tongue, translating literally from a common term in their home country. These are absurd suggestions. – OJFord Jun 7 '14 at 15:51
  • @OllieFord [...] books.google.com/ngrams/… – Elian Jun 7 '14 at 15:55
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    I like that you stopped the chart before the rapid decline. books.google.com/ngrams/… Note also nothing for BE, and that "computer illiterate" has around 17x the mentions.. – OJFord Jun 7 '14 at 15:57
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    @OllieFord Touché! Still and all, OP is looking for an alternative to "computer illiterate." Sorry if my answer seems to you so way off what he's asking. – Elian Jun 7 '14 at 16:24
  • "Computer challenged" - you must be kidding! Our civilization will end up due to the correctness and euphemisms! It sadly reminds of Soft Language by George Carlin - youtube.com/watch?v=h67k9eEw9AY – Honza Zidek Jun 15 '14 at 13:06

It would seem logical that computer illiteracy is a trait of the cyberphobic

Cyberphobia is an irrational fear of or aversion to computers, specifically, the fear and/or inability to learn new technologies

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    Anyone who lives in a poverty belt of an underdeveloped country and has never seen a computer in his whole life, is not computer literate. Still, I wouldn't say he has an irrational aversion to, or is unable to learn how to use a computer. – Centaurus Jun 7 '14 at 0:48
  • @Luis There are plenty of quodlibetarian arguments but someone who has never been exposed ≠ with cyberphobia's association – Third News Jun 7 '14 at 1:00
  • So what's the word for a rational fear of or aversion to computers? – TimLymington Jun 7 '14 at 12:43
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    I would argue your opening assumption is wholly invalid. Computer illiteracy describes people 'not good with' computers; you could be extremely proficient in the use of a computer, whilst also fearing it. – OJFord Jun 7 '14 at 15:53
  • Given that the OP has amended his question to specify that he is not seeking a pejorative or insulting term, you might consider whether you may wish to revise your answer. Or not. – tchrist Jun 14 '14 at 22:55

Chances are if a person in a first world country is still computer illiterate at this stage it is because they are in some way afraid or intimidated by learning the technology so technophobe might fit the bill.

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    This is making a totally unfounded assumption on the reason for lack of familiarity with digital devices. Someone with a passion for technology might very well have no interest for modern digital devices exactly because they virtually exclude any possibility for a hands-on contact with the underlying technology. (Not considering stroking a touch-screen as hands-on contact.) – Marc van Leeuwen Jun 7 '14 at 11:09
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    @MarcvanLeeuwen - That is why I used soft words like 'chances are' and 'might'. I realise it isn't a direct hit. Most if not all the technically illiterate people I know are so because they feel like they don't know how to get in and feel intimidated by the amount of information they think they need to know in order to get on board. However, the person you describe is not technically illiterate or a technophobe, they just prefer older technology or prefer a different means of access. – GenericJam Jun 7 '14 at 13:53
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    @GenericJam The world is much more than England, Western Europe and the U.S. Many African, Asian and Latin American countries, including the one I live in, have poverty belts where people can read and write but have never seen a computer in their entire lives. You can't call them technophobes. Nor can you say that they "prefer old technology". – Centaurus Jun 7 '14 at 17:28
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    @Luis I adjusted my answer. Also, as per previous comment I would view this term as a correlating term with computer illiterate not necessarily totally descriptive. – GenericJam Jun 7 '14 at 17:32
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    @Luis that scenario was not described in the question, hence all of these phoboa and choice related answers. – Preston Jun 7 '14 at 20:04

If it's an intentional avoidance of technology, Luddite may fit nicely. It broadly means one who is opposed to especially technological change. While it sometimes has a negative connotation, it can also be used quite lightly: "I'm such a Luddite I can't even turn on my computer without help."

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Luddite


digilliterate is something I've occasionally seen used.

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    While I like this one in general, it has the problem that it's impossible to tell in spoken speech whether it's meant to be digi-literate or digi-illiterate. – Dave Sherohman Jun 7 '14 at 13:48
  • Good point. And apparently it's hard to tell in written speech too: my link shows the different forms as "digiliterates", "digiliterately" and "digiliterateness". – hvd Jun 7 '14 at 16:10

I think just unmodified "illiterate" would work. No need to bandy about the bush. There is no more excuse these days for being computer illiterate than book illiterate.

  • That shows no understanding of the word's construction; there's innumerate, too. – Walf Aug 11 '16 at 0:08

In our project we call it digital illiterate.

In Dutch we have a word for it, by the way. Digibeet is a word play on digitaal (digital) and analfabeet (illiterate). In English the same would become digiterate. If you Google this word, you will find some references to it.

  • How does that work? You've completely replaced the not prefix – a pretty important part of the word – with "digi". – Walf Aug 11 '16 at 0:07

The construct 'non-computerate' has been used in this context in recent publications.

Keep in mind that 'computerate' is a 1980's attempt to popularise a contraction of 'computer-literate', which did not meet with overwhelming success (despite inclusion in the Collins English Dictionary).

When it comes to less synthetic options, one who is computer-illiterate by their own intent or desire might be described as a luddite. If they are instead willing users of computers, they might better be described as a novice or neophyte, but none of these terms are specific to computer literacy.

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    People who have a dislike of technological progress, rather than a dislike of social progress, or humanity in general, can be more precisely called a Luddite. – Andrew Grimm Jun 7 '14 at 5:20
  • Inappropriate suggestion - totally different implications to describing somebody as "computer-illiterate". – OJFord Jun 7 '14 at 15:54
  • Given that the OP has amended his question to specify that he is not seeking a pejorative or insulting term, you might consider whether you may wish to revise your answer. Or not. – tchrist Jun 14 '14 at 22:55

In IT jargon we sometime use lamer.

A lamer is widely understood to be the antithesis of a hacker. While a hacker strives to understand the mechanisms behind what he or she uses, even when such extended knowledge would have no practical value, a lamer only cares to learn the bare minimum necessary to operate the device in the way originally intended.

ADDED after the OP had added a limiting condition:

I'm not looking for insulting or pejorative terms.

I guess you will hardly find any single-word term (in general, not only in connection with the computer literacy) with a meaning "lack of something", especially "lack of knowledge", with non-negative connotation.

For the IT craft, any word meaning "computer illiterate" would be pejorative :) I cannot see any difference in connotation between lamer and technophobe or digital illiterate or luddite or cyberphobic.

  • Given that the OP has amended his question to specify that he is not seeking a pejorative or insulting term, you might consider whether you may wish to revise your answer. Or not. – tchrist Jun 14 '14 at 22:55
  • @tchrist: well, for the IT craft, any words meaning "computer illiterate" would be pejorative :) I cannot see any difference in connotation between "lamer" and "technophobe" or "digital illiterate" or "luddite" or "cyberphobic". "Computer novice" does not answer the OP's question at all, and "computer challenged" sadly reminds of Soft Language by George Carlin - youtube.com/watch?v=h67k9eEw9AY :( Why have you particularly chosen my answer as not correct? I cannot see it more or less incorrect than the other answers. – Honza Zidek Jun 15 '14 at 13:05

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 7 '14 at 17:25

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