Last updated on December 26, 2013
This evening I stumbled across an excellent article: Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You
Adults have worn their computer illiteracy as a badge of pride for many years now so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that their children share their digital inadequacies. Moreover, neither group is even willing to try to solve a problem when they encounter it.
In order to help those of you out there who are confounded by computers on a daily basis, let me provide three simple steps for success.
How to be a “Computer Guy/Gal”
Step 1. Read the screen.
What is going on? What is the message instructing you to do? What action do you need to take? Is it offering you steps to resolve the issue you’re facing? Read. The. Screen. And all will become clear.
Step 2. Check cables.
Is the cable plugged in? Is the other end of the cable also plugged in? Is the thing the cable plugged into on? Having your computer plugged into your power strip and the power strip being off isn’t going to work. This should go without saying, but since I’ve gotten this call…
Do you have power in your location?
If you’re in the middle of a power outage, your computer that requires power will not work. If you’re in the middle of a storm and cell phones are out, your cellular network connection will also not work.
Step 3. Search.
Seriously. Got an error message? Type in the error message to Google and read the first page of results. Don’t know how to do something in Word, Powerpoint, Excel or any other program? Look up “How Do I do the thing I want to do?” and click search. You will find the answers you seek.
If you have gotten through all three of these steps and still need assistance, then reach out to your support technicians. This will save you time, and the inevitable embarrassment when a technician shows up and plugs your mouse back into your computer, flips on your power strip or reads the error message and follows the directions provided.
Most of the people I work with and support have no idea how to use a computer. Reading through the examples in the post I was nodding my head as I’ve seen these same situations or ones nearly identical to them in the course of my work.
‘What anti-virus are you using?’ I ask, only to be told that he didn’t like using anti-virus because he’d heard it slowed his computer down. I hand back the laptop and tell him that it’s infected. He asks what he needs to do, and I suggest he reinstalls Windows. He looks at me blankly. He can’t use a computer.
Anti-virus is vital. If you’re running Windows, you need to be running an anti-virus. It doesn’t even matter which one. Just choose a free one and run it and keep it updated. Microsoft even bundles one with Windows 7 and 8. You are 5.5 times more likely to be infected without anti-virus according to a Microsoft study.
A kid puts her hand up in my lesson. ‘My computer won’t switch on,’ she says, with the air of desperation that implies she’s tried every conceivable way of making the thing work. I reach forward and switch on the monitor, and the screen flickers to life, displaying the Windows login screen. She can’t use a computer.
I have had calls because monitors, power strips and wireless mice and keyboards weren’t turned on. Also, if you use a mouse or keyboard with batteries, check them.
‘Bloody thing won’t connect to the internet.’ she says angrily, as if it were my fault. ‘I had tonnes of work to do last night, but I couldn’t get on-line at all. My husband even tried and he couldn’t figure it out and he’s excellent with computers.’ I take the offending laptop from out of her hands, toggle the wireless switch that resides on the side, and hand it back to her. Neither her nor her husband can use computers.
In her defense, the hardware wireless switch is the single worst idea in all of computer design. I have never come across a legitimate use for it. But I have taken dozens of calls from people in meetings or on travel or both because they had hit the switch and didn’t even know it was there. I’ve frantically searched for diagrams of customer’s computers to find out exactly where their particular switch was located.
I bet you don’t even know your laptop has such a switch. Dell loved to either put them on the front or the right side towards the front. My Lenovo puts it in the front right corner. If you see a weird switch you’ve never noticed before with a tiny antenna icon near it, that’s the wireless switch. It’s what stands between your internet access and nothing at all.
A kid knocks on my office door, complaining that he can’t login. ‘Have you forgotten your password?’ I ask, but he insists he hasn’t. ‘What was the error message?’ I ask, and he shrugs his shoulders. I follow him to the IT suite. I watch him type in his user-name and password. A message box opens up, but the kid clicks OK so quickly that I don’t have time to read the message. He repeats this process three times, as if the computer will suddenly change its mind and allow him access to the network. On his third attempt I manage to get a glimpse of the message. I reach behind his computer and plug-in the Ethernet cable. He can’t use a computer.
Remember the tips for success? Read the screen and check the cable. If you had read the screen you may have been led to the cable. If not, reading the screen to the help desk would have resulted in a fix over the phone.
A teacher brings me her brand new iPhone, the previous one having been destroyed. She’s lost all her contacts and is very upset. I ask if she’d plugged her old iPhone into her computer at any time, but she can’t remember. I ask her to bring in her laptop and iPhone. When she brings them in the next day I restore her phone from the backup that resides on her laptop. She has her contacts back, and her photos as well. She’s happy. She can’t use a computer.
Having setup a dozen new iPhones and Blackberries this week, I can attest that no one has any idea how they work. Where are those priceless photos of your child’s birthday party? On your phone somewhere?
I had a customer call me frantically because she had lost all the pictures of her daughter’s 3rd birthday and she was distraught. She had taken all of them on her Blackberry and now they weren’t showing up.
The problem was her micro SD card had come loose and the phone couldn’t read it. I popped the back of the phone off, inserted the card, and her pictures were returned to her. Then, I immediately showed her how to back up her photos to her computer which she did.
A teacher phones my office, complaining that his laptop has “no internet”. I take a walk down to his classroom. He tells me that the internet was there yesterday, but today it’s gone. His desktop is a solid wall of randomly placed Microsoft office icons. I quickly try to explain that the desktop is not a good place to store files as they’re not backed up on the server, but he doesn’t care; he just wants the internet back. I open the start menu and click on Internet Explorer, and it flashes to life with his homepage displayed. He explains that the Internet used to be on his desktop, but isn’t any more. I close I.E. and scour the desktop, eventually finding the little blue ‘e’ buried among some PowerPoint and Excel icons. I point to it. He points to a different location on the screen, informing me of where it used to be. I drag the icon back to it’s original location. He’s happy. He can’t use a computer.
Shortcuts are not programs. Just because your little blue E is gone from your desktop doesn’t mean your Internet is gone. If an icon is missing from the Dock of your Mac, it doesn’t mean the program is gone.
Programs are stored on a Mac in the Applications folder (or should be). Programs on Windows are stored in the C:\Program Files folder. Or even better, under the Start menu.
I have had calls for applications not being installed when they were, but there was not a desktop shortcut. Or there was not an icon in the Dock. These are both extremely basic concepts of computers that have not changed in a decade.
Whenever I see someone struggle with navigating Windows XP, I just want to say, “It’s been the same since 2001! Nothing has changed!” But I don’t. I calmly and patiently create desktop shortcuts and wish them a good day.
A kid puts his hand up. He tells me he’s got a virus on his computer. I look at his screen. Displayed in his web-browser is what appears to be an XP dialog box warning that his computer is infected and offering free malware scanning and removal tools. He’s on a Windows 7 machine. I close the offending tab. He can’t use a computer.
If you’re on a Mac and you see a Windows error, it’s not real. Close it. If you see an error message that looks absolutely nothing like the rest of your windows, close it.
The same goes for phishing emails. I’ve covered them before.
Not really knowing how to use a computer is deemed acceptable if you’re twenty-five or over. It’s something that some people are even perversely proud of, but the prevailing wisdom is that all under eighteens are technical wizards, and this is simply not true. They can use some software, particularly web-apps. They know how to use Facebook and Twitter. They can use YouTube and Pinterest. They even know how to use Word and PowerPoint and Excel. Ask them to reinstall an operating system and they’re lost. Ask them to upgrade their hard-drive or their RAM and they break out in a cold sweat. Ask them what https means and why it is important and they’ll look at you as if you’re speaking Klingon.
I’ve worked with people ages 20-80 and it’s the same across the board. I’ve had 22 year-old interns in our just our of college that were completely clueless how to use a computer. It wasn’t that they knew how Macs worked and were in front of Windows or vice versa. They had no idea how to maneuver around a computer.
The future is here and it’s computerized. Computers are not going away. They are going to be a bigger and bigger part of life and work. If you’re unable to use a computer, you’re going to be left behind.
I don’t expect everyone to be able to explain to me how the internet works or what the circuits on their motherboard does. However, knowing what a motherboard is, or at least where to find it would be a good start.
Computers have come a long way since the early days. Installing an operating system today is a series of clicks and answering complex questions like what timezone are you in and what language you speak.
I urge you to read Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You as the author, who is an educator in England offers solutions to the problems.
Replace “kids” with “adults” and every example is and statement is just as relevant. I’ve seen that someone holding a higher level degree doesn’t mean they have any better idea how to use a computer than my 5 year-old niece.