Too simple

So here’s the thing. We all use computers to do things. Whether it’s hardcore hacking, or browsing the internet for aubergine recipes, it’s just a tool that does ‘stuff’. Right?

As such, once you’ve mastered the basics and understand the main conceptual ideas, it’s a pretty easy tool to use. The mouse is relatively intuitive after a quick demonstration, the keyboard remains familiar to those who remember those clicky-clacky things that occasionally went shzipp-BING! You know, the ones you see in old movies. Typist writers I think they were called. On the whole, the mechanics of using a computer are pretty straightforward.

Conceptually you can explain a lot of the workings of a computer using simple, common, metaphors. You have a desktop to work on, you put your files into folders, you have a trash can for rubbish. The basic concepts are pretty straightforward. Moving on you start to understand that certain programs do certain things, and that you need to know which program will help you do something with a certain file.

Have I missed anything?

So, you can turn the computer on, use the mouse, start programs, work with files, operate the keyboard and you are learning more and more everyday. Doesn’t take too long and there are plenty of classes for those who are daunted by the whole idea. You don’t have to be technical to use a computer.

Yet some people seem to think it’s OK to dive straight in and start using a computer without any form of training or instruction. They don’t consult user manuals, or online help, they don’t take the time to understand the basics of what they are using.

Let’s look at something similar.

The first time I ever drove a car I was I started on a busy main road. I started the car, managed to get it into a gear and pulled straight out into oncoming traffic. Not knowing how to STOP the car I had no option but to chug forward and try and figure out what that big round thing in front of me would do. I grabbed it with both hands and twisted it and the car changed course, slamming into a car parked at the side of the road. All around me horns were blaring, angry gestures were being made and some people were suggesting that I should “learn how to drive”.

The next day I booked my first ever driving lesson.

So, to everyone who has bought a computer and has just swerved out onto the wrong side of the road, without their lights on, can you please just pause for a second. Learn what you are doing, take a lesson.

Once you’ve done that, THEN you can come and ask me for help!

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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Gordon, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Should everyone take a course? On what? What exactly do people need a course about? I’ve never taken a course, never had a class and I would be insulted if someone said I HAD to have a class before I “drove” my new computer. What’s the burr?


With all due respect, I disagree. It is most employers who expect people to use a computer without training (at least that’s been my experience) and for the most part, all people need are the basics, which as you say, are pretty intuitive anyway.

Manuals are generally 7000 page documents written by people who may be very technically gifted but have no talent for clear English or any idea of how to make them searchable.

This is a problem with techies, they may understand technical issues but have no way of communicating that to the rest of us – (it only just occurred recently that those baffling uninformative error messages you get are written by an actual human being.) Plus, you know, they can sometimes be unwilling to pass on what they know as they see you as ignorant ๐Ÿ˜‰

And what ‘lessons’ are available? ‘Excuse me, adult education college, I want to learn how to use a computer.’ ‘Right – we have courses in Microsoft Office packages, Photoshop, HTML, web design – which one do you want?’ ‘No, I don’t want a specialist course – I want to know about COMPUTERS, you know, I want to know how it all fits together…’ Click, brrr…

These days, the kids that come in for interviews in our place all have the European Computer Driving Licence.

Not one of them has crashed a computer yet, but none of them can do a three point turn either.

annie – I’m one of those people. I write the software manuals, and yes a lot of them aren’t very good. And I’d try your local library, they run courses on learning to use a PC. My Gran did one a few years ago.

My point is that some people “donรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt take the time to understand the basics of what they are using”.

Frankly I don’t care HOW you obtain that information, but until you do don’t expect people to bail you out if you break something.

P.S. annie – you are talking about the curse of knowledge, a well known concept to many. You probably have the same curse in your area of expertise.

Mr Angry (I am livid) does a fun thing from the pov of tech support. Me, I just want to know why new MSIE 7 so often chucks up ntdll.dll when I close all tabs. It appears there’s no help in the known universe for that. That and flash9b.ocx. I’d hoped with a new computer and Microsoft products I’d get at least one year’s window from annoyances like that. But no, we’re already at crap mediocrity.

Computers? You gotta hate them.

Do you have the Google Toolbar installed Peter, try uninstalling that and see if that helps.

<mumble>Could say the same thing about PHP…<mumble>


Feck, missed the / off the closing ‘tag’…

An excellent point Lyle (er.. your first one, not the /closing tag one).

You do presume that I know more about PHP than I really do.. oh no wait, I’ve not written that post yet.. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In all seriousness you ARE correct. I’m no expert in PHP and it’s probably something I should spend a lot more time getting to know well. Mind you I HAVE an understanding of the basics, and I’d suggest that learning a coding language is a little different to learning the basic of a point and click UI. It’s all about levels of complexity I guess, which then raises the subject of “complex to WHO?”.

But that’s a different post… probably for tomorrow.

I think it’s something we’re all guilty off at some point, to be honest.

For example, we criticise politicians when we’ve no real idea what they do, or why, or what they’re really talking about. We criticise businesses for their policies when (most of us) have never run a business. (something that John Reid pointed out in a lovely quote on BBC this morning, “There’s always something else to go wrong, as anyone who’s ever turned around a big company, instead of just reporting about it, would know.” – completely went over the interviewer’s head too, which made it even funnier)

I was trying to work in an analogy linked to your car one too – OK, I can drive, but do I have any idea how that car works? No, I don’t.

I can visit a gallery and appreciate or hate pieces of art, but can I draw? No, I can’t.

So I think it’s something we all do at some point. As you say, it’s a case of “OK, it’s complex, but complex is a perspective thing”

Yeah I’ll go with that.

Although the car analogy was specifically chosen. My first ever driving lesson involved a brief overview of how the engine worked, and, most importantly, what the clutch pedal was actually doing (bringing two spinning discs together) and why, then, it was so important to let the clutch out gently…

Is this just a roundabout way of saying “RTFM”? ;o)

Yeah, fair point regarding the driving lesson.

I think, though, that it’s fair to say that we do *all* use things when we don’t know how they work – whether it be computers, cars, microwave ovens (ooh, now there’s a good example!), hell, electricity in general , mobile phones – all things we use every day, but that only a specialised few truly understand.

Good, innit?

Well.. as it happens… stay tuned for the NEXT post!

I think a majority of people don’t read instructions and manage to get by, I like to think I’m one of those people. But I think the difference is if I was struggling, I would turn to the book, the course, Google, whatever, before actually bugging someone about it.

My boss drives me absolutely crazy by phoning IT for every tiny little thing, whether it’s something she’s seen before, whether it’s something they have given us instructions on, whether it’s something she just needs to read to sort it out.

If I had to answer all of those questions, I would either have walked off a pier, or pushed her in front of me.

Point taken. I’ll get my coat… (and go and read some manuals)

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