In her Aging With Geekitude series, self-professed “recovering technophobe” Erica Manfred writes about her adventures with technology and shares what she’s learned as she navigates the not-so-scary waters.
A year after starting this column as a “recovering technophobe,” it’s time to share my progress and pass on a few tips. I realize that most of my friends (and I on occasion) call their kids or grandkids to solve their tech issues, but some of us don’t have a 12 or 30-year-old at our beck and call, and others have called too many times. It’s humiliating to have your grown child whine, “Maaaaa, I explained this to you ten times already.”
We all laugh about technophobia, but it’s no joke. The symptoms actually match other phobias’: breathlessness, inability to think clearly, excessive perspiration, nausea, shaking, becoming angry or ‘losing control’ and much more.
My mission is to convince you that if I can do it, you can do it – and that if you figure out a lot of stuff by yourself, it will build your brainpower, too. It’s not easy. Neither is learning anything new. But the more you learn, the smarter you’ll become. I swear my memory has improved in the past 12 months that I’ve been writing about (and figuring out) tech. I still can’t remember where I put my phone, but at least I’ve figured out how it works.
How to Overcome Your Technophobia
Take a Class
If you wanted to learn Spanish or auto repair or Chinese cooking you’d probably take a class. So why not take a class in whatever tech challenge is making you sweat – be it Excel, iPad or building your own website?
There are classes in everything from email to iPad and Photoshop at your local high school’s continuing ed program. Many communities provide low cost or free tech classes to seniors (if you’re in NYC, check out the ones at the Senior Planet Exploration Center).
I’m planning to take a class in WordPress next month so that I can actually update my own website.
“Click things, drag things around, double-click things, observe and try to remember what the various things do,” recommends Stephen C. Ecker, a Facebook friend, web developer and go-to tech help guy for all his friends.
Try new devices just to see what they do. Go to your local electronics store and handle a smartphone or fitness tracker. Tap the screen, press the buttons… See what happens.
Download apps on your tablet or phone and play with them. Think of what you’d like your phone or tablet to do and find the app that does it; then learn to use it. (Chances are it exists. You can even download one that finds your car.)
Need some mouse or trackpad practice? Try playing some online games that require a lot of mouse action – check them out on Senior Planet in Mouse Mastery: 5 Creative Online Games.
Stop worrying about breaking something
“You can’t really break anything just by clicking around on a new computer,” Ecker says. The same goes for smartphones, tablets, wearables and other digital technology items.
Fear of screwing up hardware and/or losing vital data is the primary reason that newbies don’t experiment with their devices.
If you’re still nervous, familiarize yourself with System restore, a failsafe program that will bring your computer back to where it was before you screwed it up. In Windows, just type it into your list of programs and it will appear.
Make Google and YouTube your friends
Got a question about how do something? Ask Google, using the exact words. Guaranteed, 10 other people have had the same question and 20 more have answered it. Want to know why your printer has suddenly started printing weird characters? Let me Google that for you. One of Senior Planet’s most frequently searched articles is “30 Emoticons: How to Make Smiley Face, Things and Animals With Your Keyboard“; people find it by searching on Google for anything from “how to make faces with keyboard” to “how to make smiley” and “how to type emoticons.”
You can also use the search bar in YouTube (or type YouTube + [your question] in Google). For every difficult task, there is a geek who has made a YouTube video showing how to do it. I recently used YouTube to assemble my Google Cardboard goggles. Need to know how to crop a photo on your computer? YouTube has videos to show you.
More Advice From Facebook Friends (and Me)
Try to solve it yourself first Don’t immediately pick up the phone to call for help. Denise Franklin Terry says, “I explore on my own. I might Google a question, but only when I reach a roadblock do I ask for help.”
Stick with it Paul V. Leone says, “Be willing to make mistakes and stick with it. Having an experienced friend who is not easily frustrated to hand-hold and encourage will help. But if you can’t control your own inner critic, forget about it.”
Give yourself a pep talk I tell myself, “Erica, this isn’t brain surgery, you’re not going to sever the medulla oblongata.” (I watch too many “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes.)
Let go of the feeling guilty Anna Aruna Reifman – a Senior Planet fan who is very tech savvy – is not ashamed to turn to young people when she needs help. “Why do we feel bad about for turning to a young person to learn something or get help? Didn’t we teach them to read, tie their shoes, etc. We are not less than because we don’t know something.”
Go back to the store Laurie E. Faber says, “Write down the questions that come to you and then go back to the store. Do that again the next week. Keep writing down questions and going back. Try a different clerk to help you next time if the one you get isn’t friendly or helpful.” (Samsung offers free tech support for their at your local Best Buy; for $99, Apple will give you a year of one-on-one instruction for the tech item you bought.)
Reboot When something’s not working and you have no idea why, reboot. This goes for all digital equipment – computers, phones, tablets, Roku-type streaming devices. My phone was on the fritz last week and I “powered it off” (if you use the correct lingo, you’ll impress tech support), and voila! It worked!
Give yourself a lot of credit whenever you do figure something out.
And When All Else Fails…
Scream After screaming, Sigrid Heath says, “I pour myself a glass of wine and go to Google. If I’m still in trouble, I pour another glass of wine and call tech support. I ask that person to speak as if they were dealing with someone who’s been in seclusion for several decades and understands nothing.”
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out digital gadgets. Do you have any techniques that work for facing your fears?
Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.