I’m good with computers. I don’t know much about how they work. I certainly can’t program them. However, like many people, I’m “good with computers”. But what does that actually mean? I guess it means that I can generally get them to do what I want them to do. So how do I do it? Well, it’s certainly not intelligence. I’ve known many super-intelligent people who struggle in front of a computer. My job involves trying to help people to use computers effectively, and I’m starting to think about how to actually help people be good with computers, rather than just teaching them individual software processes (over and over again).
So, here are the things that I think have made me “good with computers”, whatever that means. Very few are actual skills, and none of them are things that can’t be learned or adopted.
1. I’m precise. Sometimes. I know when it’s important to be precise. I also know when a problem is most likely to be because I’ve mistyped something. If my log in doesn’t work, for example, I know that the service I’m using hasn’t forgotten my details. I know it will by my fault, and the first place I look is at my own typing. I also know to look for things like spaces at the start of a username. These things are incredibly frustrating and lead to people throwing up their hands and saying “I’m just no good with computers”. You’re no worse with computers than anyone else. Just look for simple mistakes.
2. I practise. Working with computers isn’t like playing a musical instrument. There’s not much art to it. However, like anything that involves remembering a process, you need to do it a few times before you can feel really confident with it. Those people who are “bad with computers” don’t remember something after doing it once, and take this as evidence that they’ll never be able to do it. Put in a little practice and guess what? Also, like learning a musical instrument, learning one piece of music makes it easier to learn the next piece.
3. I know that Google isn’t cheating. If I don’t know how to do something, I press F1 and if that doesn’t help, I use Google. That’s not cheating. It’s research and it’s okay. If you don’t know how to get somewhere it’s okay to use a map, too.
4. I’m fearless (more or less). I know that I haven’t been given enough power to do any actual damage. As long as I back up regularly, there’s not much I can do that will create actual problems. So, I don’t hold back from pushing buttons just to see what they’ll do. Be brave and see what you learn.
5. I know what to expect. Sometimes this means limiting my expectations (for example, I don’t expect my computer to remind me of things I haven’t set it to remind me of. Sometimes this means not settling for doing too much work. I know that if I’m doing the same thing over and over, or matching boring data, that the computer can do it for me. I’m amazed at people who will happily type in 150 email addresses, when they’re already sitting in a database somewhere, but who will complain that the computer didn’t know that they meant “.com” when they wrote “.cmo”.
6. I think computers are magic. I don’t mean this literally, obviously. What I mean is that I still get a thrill from watching a computer do something in 4 seconds that would have otherwise taken a week. And I get a little sense of pride knowing that I got it to do that. And I love showing people and watching them get that thrill as well.
So there you go. People who are good with computers are like good readers; they have a set of strategies that they use to work effectively. People who are bad with computers are like bad readers; not only do they not have the strategies, they don’t believe the strategies exist. They think they were just born a bad reader and good readers are just born lucky. I’m a good reader, too. If my mind drifts while I’m reading, I go back and reread. That’s okay. Bad readers don’t do that. People who are bad with computers don’t practise vlookup functions in Excel. Not only have I practised them, I love them.
So, what have I missed. What else makes someone “good with computers”?
A bit of a disclaimer here: I’m not “good with computers” in any way that anyone who works with computers is. I’m the first to say “take it to the techs”. I’m good with them in a consumer sort of way. I’d hate anyone to think I actually know anything. I seriously don’t.