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 experience.
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, Calif. (http://www.human-ware.com).
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 can match.
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 or reidgold.com.