Man Confused

Survival Skills for the Technically Challenged
How to Find and Communicate Effectively
with Technical People

by Bonnie Best

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Survival may seem like a dramatic word to use in this context. However, our world today is so dependent on technology, that survival may be the appropriate word to use. Some people believe they can live without knowing anything about technology, and may not want to use it very much. Many people feel confused and wish they knew more, but struggle to understand what technical people are talking about.

We all use technology, even in areas we don't think much about -- the telephone, your car, your TV, electricity, Microwave oven, washer and dryer, hair dryer. Many people find they need to use a computer to communicate via the Internet.

  The computer and the Internet are perhaps the most frustrating to understand and use. Most of our appliances have been developed to be fairly simple. We turn them on, use them and don’t have to think much about them. If they break we take them in to be fixed, or replace them. Man at PC  
  PC The computer is another story!!! There are decisions to be made about the type of computer, how much memory, how large a hard disk drive, what kind of CD/DVD player and backup device, what kind of printer/scanner. Then we have the Internet and the many decisions about which service to choose (there are many Internet Service Providers available!!), what will our email address be, and how to communicate effectively with people around the world.  
  World Globe with Man and Woman at PCs I have been a teacher for many years, and sold computers for awhile – both MACs and PCs. Daily I support people in their struggle to make wise choices and to get the support they need to keep their machines working. Their children, parents, siblings or other relatives encourage them to get access to the Internet, because it is less expensive and easier to ‘keep in touch’ via email.  

My family lives in different states in the US, and we now communicate

Woman at PC on Phone Phone Lines Man at PC on Phone

more often by email than we did by phone or regular mail.
My family uses email to coordinate family reunions.

My friends and relatives in their 60's, 70's and even 80's are saying "I never wanted or expected to use a computer in this life time. Now it looks like it is time to get one." I talk to many older people, or those starting a home-based business, who now say they want or need to use the computer. I've worked for years with Rotarians, an International service organization. We find it very helpful to use email and the World Wide Web to communicate. Older Rotarians surprised us, because they used it more often than the younger Rotarians. They have more time and enjoy the connections with new people with similar interests.

So, how do you begin? How do you learn enough to communicate? Man with Question How do you find the right technical people who can speak to you in a way that makes sense and are helpful? How do you find the right book? The Dummy books are popular, yet they don't seem to be 'perfect', or 'right' for everyone. A friend told me that she found a better book that had good photos and short, clear directions that she could follow. So how do you find the right book, and the right class to take, the right teacher/consultant, the right repair person to fix things that go wrong?

Here are a few guidelines you may find helpful:

  1. Be gentle with yourself, and realize that it may be frustrating at times. It might feel like you’re a child again, taking those first few steps before you learned to walk. Child CrawlingIt might seem strange that at your age you have to ‘begin again’.
    Life today is a continuous learning process.
    Develop tolerance, patience and flexibility.
    Enjoy the learning process.

  2. Do your best to be as clear as possible about what you want to accomplish. PC The computer is a tool. Start by answering a few basic questions:
    Why do you need a computer? How will you use it? The more clearly you can describe this, the more help you will find from the right people.

  3. When talking to technical people, you might think they are using a foreign language – they are! PC TUTOR They tend to use a lot of ‘shorthand’; most of this is created by taking the first letter of each word in a phrase. Have you ever traveled in a foreign country, where they speak a different language? What do you do to survive in a foreign land? Think about the strategies that work there and use them when speaking to technical people. One strategy is to find an interpreter, or someone to translate the ‘jargon’ into a language you understand.

  4. A good question to ask is "Do you understand and use the KISS principle?" KISS stands for ‘keep it simple stupid’. Note that it is not the one asking the question who is ‘stupid’, but the one answering the question who is perceived as stupid if they cannot make the answer clear to the person asking the question. I personally prefer to think of KISS as 'Keep It Super Simple'!

  5. When talking to technical people, find those who are flexible and patient. They do exist! Find those willing to explain technical terms with analogies to other life experiences. For example, I like to describe memory in a computer like a chalk board or white board used in classrooms. The computer uses memory, called RAM (Random Access Memory), to store information; sometimes it is called ‘working memory’ or ‘working space’. The memory is used over and over again; new information is written to memory and then it is erased and new information is stored there. When you turn off the computer or lose power, the memory is erased. Our brain functions like this also, using short-term memory for facts we want to remember for a short time, then it is erased and we remember new facts. If you have trouble finding a technical person who is willing to use these helpful analogies, find books or other resources that can help you do this for yourself.

  6. When looking for the right book, determine if you like pictures or words better. What is your level of knowledge? A true beginner, or intermediate to advanced? If you prefer to hear information, then audio tapes or CDs or DVDs with a person’s voice guiding you might work better than a printed text. There are videotapes that can be very useful for learning. YouTube has become popular because you can watch videos that are helpful.

  7. When choosing a class, find out if it is a hands-on or lecture/demonstration type class. They both have value. Lecture/demonstration is useful when you want to learn about the ‘big picture’ or ‘overall content’ of a subject. It can be useful to hear an instructor answer questions for a group. The hands-on type class is good when you want to refine your skills with a specific topic. The challenge with hands-on computer classes is that people in the class go at different speeds. Small groups are easiest to manage, and are most effective for the learner. What seems to work best for many of my clients is the one-on-one tutoring in their home or office, using their computer, and going at a pace that is best for them.