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Tech Journal: Love the Learning Curve


Overwhelmed by the idea of learning yet another new program, device or app? Trounce any technology with a few simple steps.

Often, part of succeeding in today’s technology-driven culture is knowing how to use something new. Some people seem to have a natural talent for quickly picking up new tech. But for most, learning new technology can be daunting.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new fitness tracker at home or a new team-based IM application at the office, being able to learn new technology could be considered an essential skill today. Even if you’re working remotely, you’ll often have to learn tools that keep you connected with clients, customers, and other people you need to interact with. So how do you stop fighting with tech and start being efficient with it quickly? Don’t be afraid of it.

Jump In, Ask Questions Later

When I was younger, I remember my school got four brand new Windows-based computers. I was enamoured with the machines but too afraid of breaking anything to really get to know how to use them. I had never used a computer before, and I didn’t like the idea of learning by trial and error on the school’s machines.

Once my family got a computer (this 90's era IBM Aptiva) I ditched my fear of breaking things and learned by trial and error.

Once my family got a computer (this 90’s era IBM Aptiva) I ditched my fear of breaking things and learned by trial and error.

I learned to ditch my fear of computers using this machine.

Later, when my family got a computer I started experimenting on my own, and things grew from there. What I didn’t know how to do, I learned by trial and error. But one of the first things I overcame was my fear of breaking something, because it turned out, no matter how badly I screwed up, it was really hard to break the computer.

So much of learning how to use new technology involves exploration. Almost all gadgets and devices offer a surplus of features that are not explained fully unless you go looking. That’s why I would encourage you to dig through all the menus, press all the buttons, and try all the features out when you get something new. For example, I recently bought a Fitbit with the idea that I could track my steps and compare with my friends. It wasn’t until I started digging around the settings that I realized, when combined with a smartphone app, Fitbit can also do GPS-based run tracking.

The Internet is Your Best Friend

If you’re having a problem with your new gadget, device or software, chances are, someone else is too. Even if you’re just curious about how a feature works, often the fastest way to discovering new information is through a search engine like Google. Often, some of the best results can be achieved by simply trying a search for your exact question.

The same thing goes for error messages. You might not understand everything your computer or phone is trying to tell you, but error messages are usually a great starting point for resolving your problems. If you have to, write down the message you receive and search the exact phrase. Generally, you’ll come up with step-by-step instructions on how to resolve the problem. At worst, you’ll turn up the number for tech support.

My old friend, the infamous blue screen of death. Tinker enough and your bound to meet once or twice. This serves as a good reminder: always back up your important files in two places.

Enter YouTube

Some of us prefer to read instructions, while others need to see things visually. If you fall into the later group, try searching for the task you’re trying to accomplish on YouTube. There are thousands and thousands of how-to’s and walkthroughs for nearly anything you can think of. What’s great about YouTube is that these tips aren’t limited to technology skills. You can learn everything from how to drive a manual transmissionto how to how to cook the perfect steak. The obvious disclaimer to this is that YouTube is filled with a lot of great advice, but not all of it comes from experts, so always use common sense, and if something doesn’t sound right, look up a few other sources.

Unlike in Life, There is (Almost) Always a Reset Button

Normally, I would leave it there and encourage you to start tapping, clicking and pressing buttons, but I feel like I should impart something I have always found freeing. It’s rare to break a piece of technology beyond repair, especially if you’re not tinkering with the actual hardware itself (and even then, there’s iFixit). Most software, devices and gadgets are just a few clicks away from resetting their default settings, so even if you think all is lost, it isn’t. Unless you’re planning to film drop-tests it’s become very hard to permanently damage technology simply by exploring. When it doubt, back up your important files, but never let fear of breaking something hold you back. You might not always get everything right, but what you learn in the process is invaluable.