One of the truisms about computers is that they’re
difficult. Despite the fact that the PC Revolution is
now well into its third decade and despite the continuing
improvements in the user friendliness of PCs and Macs,
printers and scanners, and software and the Internet,
using a personal computer can still be a hair-raising
This is particularly true with people older than 40
who weren’t weaned on computers as kids are today.
But it can be true with anybody who’s not detail-
or technically oriented, including people in work situations
who need to use computers as part of their jobs.
As many as two-thirds of managers and executives as
well as clerical and support staff still feel hesitant
about using technology in the office, according to research
by Larry D. Rosen, psychology professor at California
State University, Dominguez Hills, and Michelle M. Weil,
president of the consulting company Human-Ware in Carlsbad,
Fortunately, one of the many magical things about information
technology is how you can use it to learn more about
it. Personal computers and the Internet can provide
tools and information to help you learn about and become
more comfortable with personal computers and the Internet.
CD-ROM-based tutorials are one tried-and-true method.
You work at your own pace, repeat modules if you’re
still unclear, avoid any embarrassment in front of others
for not getting it right away, and, most importantly,
learn the technology by using it.
A number of different businesses produce learning aids
for individuals looking to get up to speed as well as
for organizations looking to educate their employees.
MacAcademy/Windows Academy (800-527-1914, http://www.macacademy.com)
and KeyStone Learning Systems (800-748-4838, http://www.keystonelearning.com)
are two such firms.
Not surprisingly, the Internet (as a huge repository
of information) includes information about itself as
well as the silicon-powered tools that take you there.
At CNET’s Help.com (http://www.help.com),
you can take free online courses with names such as
Setting Up Your Home Office and Digital Photography
Made Easy, and you can ask questions in moderated discussion
forums with names such as Computer Newbies, Windows
XP, PC Hardware, and Virus & Security Alerts.
At Learn the Net.com (http://www.learnthenet.com),
you can read engagingly illustrated articles that are
titled “Surf the Web,” “Harness E-Mail,”
“Find Information,” “Join Newsgroups,”
“Build a Website,” “Do E-Business,”
and “Protect Yourself.” You can also enroll
in interactive classes and play an online game to test
your “Net IQ” and solve an Internet crossword
puzzle. In recognition of the worldwide nature of the
World Wide Web, the site is in Spanish and French as
well as English.
Computerized learning tools can go a long way to improving
your productivity at the computer or the productivity
of those you work with. But the world of dead trees
isn’t dead yet. Magazines and books can still
play a vital part in the computer learning process.
Though computer magazines are sometimes too fervent
in enticing you to buy the latest and the greatest,
they’re a portable, handy way of keeping up-to-date
with new products and new techniques. Well-regarded
magazines such as PC World and Macworld
offer lots of well-written, well-organized tips, reviews,
and commentary for beginners and experts alike.
If you’re not satisfied with the manual that
came with a software program you use a lot, consider
buying a computer book. But browse through any book
before you buy it—some computer books are put
together hastily in the rush to get them in bookstores
at the same time the program is released.
But don’t forget to look through the manual that
came with your PC, peripheral, or program. User manuals
will never read like Hemingway, but they’re better
and shorter than they used to be, and you skip them
at your own risk.
Beleaguered support technicians long ago coined the
acronym RTFM as advice they would like to give to users
calling with questions that are clearly answered in
the manual. RTFM spelled out politely is, “Read
the flipping manual,” and taking a little time
to browse through it can save a lot of time later.
Finally, don’t forget people in the rush to learn
technology. Taking a class or hiring a tutor offers
a warm and fuzzy environment for learning that no machine
Classes are offered through local YMCAs, high school
evening programs, community colleges, universities,
computer stores, and computer training organizations.
The “Computers-Training” section of your
local Yellow Pages has particulars on both classes and
tutors, though a recommendation from a trusted source
is often your best bet.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author
of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org