You've had that new computer for a couple of weeks now. You've played some solitaire and maybe ventured to the much-talked about Internet. Now it's time to get down to business.
But where to start? Modern-day computing was supposed to be easy. At least that's what they said at the computer store. Same with all those articles in the newspapers and magazines.
So why is it so complicated?
Truth is, it's not that complicated. It's just unfamiliar.
And for adults, there's nothing quite so unnerving as "unfamiliar." Beginner status is for kids, not us. That's why we're are so lousy at learning foreign languages or appreciating the "joys" of standard transmissions after a lifetime of aiming automatics down the freeway.
Conversely, that's why kids are so adept at picking up the ins and outs of computers. It's not that they're necessarily smarter. It's that they're accustomed to soaking up knowledge about new things. That's the business of being a kid.
They also understand one thing that terrifies adults: Short of pushing your computer off the edge of the desk, you can't break it.
Other than some catastrophic occurrence, the worst that can happen to your computer is that it "crashes." And even that isn't as bad as it sounds. All it really means is that your computer freezes up. The solution? Re-boot - or restart - your computer.
Hint 1: "Read the manual," says Art Thomas, a computer consultant in Palo Alto, Calif. "That sounds obvious. But computer companies put them in the box for a reason - they can be helpful." Not all of them, though - just the one that offers an overview of the whole system. "It will tell you most of what you really need to know."
Hint 2: Take your computer's on-screen guided tour. Virtually all computers have them, and no matter how much you know about computers in general, the tutorial, as it's called, will teach you something specific to your computer.
"It is relentlessly cheerful and upbeat," says Michael Mace, director of marketing for Apple Computer's worldwide Performa division, describing the tutorials on Apple's Performa computers. "That is exactly what a newcomer is looking for. If you're new, it will give you a tremendous jump-start."
Hint 3: Some of those "cutesy" functions can actually be helpful. Packard Bell computers, for instance, offer a program they call "3-D Navigator." On the screen, you see a house. Enter "Kidspace" and a Jack-in-the-Box teaches kids how to use various pieces of software. Click on the study and you find a desk with a fax, an answering machine, date book, etc. Click on the fax machine and 3-D Navigator leads you through the process of sending a fax.
"We think this is a way to bring people into an environment that they're accustomed to - a home environment," explains Jack Yovanovich, product manager for Packard Bell's product line. "Navigator is all about quick functions. It makes it easy to type a letter very quickly or to get onto the Internet. All you have to know how to do is click on a button."
Hint 4: Explore your computer. Start clicking on those icons and see what's inside. If it looks like gibberish, just close the file and move on. Not only will you learn where things are, but in the process, you'll also begin to understand how things are arranged inside the computer. You don't need to become a programmer, but it helps to understand how your computer is organized.
Here are a handful of tasks you might try:
- Play a CD. CD-ROM drives will play music CDs. If you don't know how to do this, start with "help." Just type "CD," and help will offer you several options, including "playing" or "how to play." Click on it and follow the instructions.
- Change the colors on your screen. Again, start with "help" and type "color." Click on the option that says "screen" or "changing," and follow the link to your computer's color control panel. Then, start experimenting.
- Load and play a CD-ROM. Your new computer almost certainly came with several CD-ROMs. Put the encyclopedia in the CD-ROM drive and start exploring. You'll be astounded at how much information one of these discs carries.
- Log onto your local library. Most library systems permit you to log onto to their computerized catalog systems. Stop by a branch and pick up a brochure about how to connect. If you haven't used your modem before, start again at "help" and search for "calling" or "calling another computer" and just follow the instructions.