Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
New words and concepts come along at a frightening pace and we're all somehow expected to know what words to use to ask for help. Here are some ideas.
This may not be a very straight forward question, but how does one even begin to find a solution to a problem, when they have no idea what's causing it, or even the terminology to describe what is happening? Are there any concrete ways to narrow down a search, or steps to follow? It would seem that much of the time, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, pretty hit and miss, and many times if you find an answer at all, it's by sheer luck that you have stumbled upon it at all, and then many times, it's only after days and weeks of searching. Some times months even.
I love this question because I think it represents exactly where a lot of people are. I know I get a lot of questions every day where people try to describe their problem but have no idea what, or even how to ask the question. The result is that I'm often left scratching my head wondering just what the heck they're talking about.
It's not their fault or problem. It just is. But it also makes dealing with these issues all that much more difficult.
Now, re-read the question and the response I've written, imagining that I were an on-line car advice guru instead of a computer geek. It all still applies, doesn't it?
And as complex as cars are, computers are worse.
You really don't need to know the difference between a carburetor and a catalytic converter if your car breaks down; you just need to know the phone numbers for tow truck and repair shop. From then on in exchange for some of our hard-earned cash, (hopefully) well-trained professionals take care of the rest.
Computers are different.
While you don't need a tow truck, the number of repair shops you might take it to are much fewer than you'll find for your car. Even if you find one, the costs can be comparatively high. And unlike a car, which you hope never breaks down but accept that it can, the expectation is that your computer will "just work". The expense of a technician or repair shop is something that you never expected and try very much to avoid.
And just like a car mechanic, a trustworthy technician is difficult to find.
By and large, we're still in the stage where "normal" people are expected to do most of their own maintenance, diagnosis, and often their own repairs.
Much like the early days of automobiles, actually.
And that means that in some very practical ways, you do need to get educated about the computer you use, if only to be able to ask the right questions when you do need help.
And for the record, "I'm too old", "I'm not techie enough" or any of a hundred other excuses don't cut it; they are just that: excuses. I've received wonderfully appropriate questions from several folks in their 80's and older as well as folks from all walks of life. All that's required is a willingness to learn.
First off, I'm a big believer in learning by doing. That means don't be afraid to do, ask, try, and even occasionally break things. By far the best education we get is that we get from practice.
It's great to have a tech savvy friend or family member, but be sure to "use" them in the right way. Don't just expect them to fix things for you - it's much more important that you learn from them so that you can go on to fix things yourself later. They're especially great because you can point to something on your screen and say "what's that gizmo called?"
If you're near a community college or other institute that offers them: beginners classes will not only help, but could put you in contact with others that are learning along with you. In fact, those contacts after the class could be more important than the class itself!
Q&A services and forums like Ask Leo! are a great place to start on line. I try to be, but not all are friendly to newbies, so definitely spend a little time looking at the on-line archives that you find to see if the tone of the answers is appropriate for your level of knowledge and confidence.
Not all forums and services will work for everyone. I've had people complain because Ask Leo! is too technical, and I've had people complain later that same day that Ask Leo! isn't technical enough. Make sure you spend some time really reading the ongoing conversations. That'll not only tell you if the conversation is appropriate for your needs, but you'll probably learn a lot just by following along.
When you do ask a question, try not to make too many assumptions about what you think the answer is. For example just this morning I was asked something along the lines of "what do I need to change in Internet Explorer to fix the Start Menu?". Well, the two items are unrelated: IE doesn't control the start menu, Windows does. I realize that it's often difficult to tell where one program begins and another ends; that's why symptoms and data are much more important than guesses as to what might be broken.
Don't be disappointed if you don't get an answer your first try. Speaking just for myself, I get way more questions every day than I can actually answer either here in print or in email. I know that the same is true in many of the various other support services as well. The bad news is that you may need to be patient or try again. The good news, if you want to call it that, is that you are most definitely not alone. A lot of people are asking questions.
I'll include a couple of the "ask a question" sites like mine that I personally trust and I know do very well with beginner and basic questions. If you know of a resource yourself that might also be appropriate or friendly towards folks just starting out, add a link to it in the comments to this article - everyone can benefit. There are thousands of possibilities out on the internet, and word of mouth is perhaps the best referral source of all.
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