Are you a technophobe?

16/10/2021

Are you scared to use new computer programmes and systems? Then today's blog is for you.

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember how easy it was to wipe everything off your computer when trying to format a floppy using DOS? (If you're much younger, removable memory discs used to need formatting before you could use them. Disc Operating System (DOS) was the command language used to do this. DOS predates Windows, and is still present on computers to a limited degree.) It was also really easy to see system files, and accidentally delete them. The resulting errors which caused system crashes and losses of information resulted in computer users being very afraid of pushing the wrong button, and it's that residual fear that makes people afraid to explore a programme to see how it works.

Let's deal with the fear part first:

It is not impossible to lose data or damage your computer's operating system, but it is a lot harder. Firstly, those DOS commands still exist, but you won't find them easily, unless you go looking. If you don't know how to use DOS, don't look for it.

If you use Windows, most of the system files are actually hidden, and even if you do try to accidentally delete it, you'll get a warning first. Don't delete files if you don't know what they are. If you do delete something by accident, it is usually in the recycle bin, and can be restored, as long as the system is still working.

Secondly, computer systems have built in fail safes and backups - they do need to be activated. You can find instructions here to create a System Restore Point , so that if you do muck things up, you can undo it. As long as you are happy with your current set up, then create the restore point before you go any further.

Thirdly, backups are still important. Again, this is so much easier these days, as you can synchronise (copy & update your files) to an online storage space (Cloud storage) There are lots of options for this, from Box; Dropbox; Google Drive; Microsoft Onedrive etc, and they all have free storage space. Personally, I think Google is the easiest to use, but whichever one you go with, read the instructions, and set up a synchronised system to store your important files. The alternative is a removable storage device (memory stick; portable hard drive etc)

Lastly, make sure you have good antivirus software, that is kept up to date. I used the free version of AVG for years, and now use Windows Defender.

And, if you do manage to stop your computer from working, then it is possible to reinstall Windows (assuming you have the license) and there are plenty of blogs telling you how to do this, but if in doubt, this should be done by a professional.

Knowing the language

If you've watched your kids, or grandkids pick up a new device and quickly figure out how to use it, you've probably been in awe, but didn't realise they don't have your fear but also they know the language that enables them to find their way around a system quickly.

Digital devices usually tell you what you need to know, if you know where to look. One of the most useful buttons on a keyboard is F1 (top of the keyboard. On some keyboards, you may need to push the function key (fn) at the same time as F1) which opens the help files.

All of the things you might want to do in a programme (or app) are usually held in menus where you choose the option you want. In a programme, these are usually at the top of the page. You can look through these safely (as long as you don't make changes) to find the right setting.

That also brings us to Settings - on phones these control most of the ways the phone works. Look for the symbol of a Cog for these. In a computer, the settings are found in a few different places, but the easiest way to get to them is to type "settings" in the search bar.

The "settings" (sometimes 'configuration') allow you 'customise' your computer - for example, choose the picture that is on your screen.

There are also many techies out there who write instructions on how to do things, so if you want to make a change, do a simple Google search, and type in what you want to do. It is rare not to find either a blog or a video or tutorial to help. I still use them regularly. If you're not sure what something does, read the information, Google it.

Once you have found the setting you want to change, if you're still worried about making changes, make a note of what it looks like before you do anything. Good old pen and paper works, or Windows has a built in snipping tool that will take a picture of your screen. You can then put everything back the way that it was.

There are also a series of symbols used in every day devices such as DVD players, smart boxes and in computer programs etc that are universal, and help you to know what buttons to use. Check out our previous blogs on these: understanding the code

As you explore more options and menus, you'll find your devices can do an amazing range of things to help you. As long as you explore safely, you'll gain confidence, and in the process, skills to help you.

Many people are now returning to the office, or a hybrid way of working (which I believe is technically more challenging) This means we need to become increasingly confident with a range of tools to help us do our work. If you're technically challenged, this can be scary.

Video conferencing can be particularly frightening, as none of us likes to look like a fool in a meeting. It's also a good place to start your explorations. Whether you're using Zoom or Teams or Skype, start a meeting of your own, and then go through the features with no one else in the meeting. You can explore and play with them, so that when you are in an actual meeting, you can do some impressive things like use the Whiteboard in Zoom to draw a diagram. 

Incidentally, Youtube has lots of videos showing you how these tools work, so they are worth checking out. Choose one tool at a time, and learn your way around it. You'll rapidly see that they have the same basic underpinning logic, and it becomes easier to know where to look to find that feature or setting you want.

Overcoming your fear of tech, and learning to explore safely will help you to find your way through the maze of digital tech.