Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: Improving Your Tech Power

This article originally appeared in my Tech Tips column in Eastern Washington Genealogical Society's quarterly publication, The Digital Digest, the Spring 2013 issue. It has been revised for this post.

Do you ever feel inadequate in your computer abilities or intimidated by technology? Are you afraid that you might do something that will damage your computer, ruin your genealogy data, or at the very least, make you look stupid? Some of the most common comments I hear from people in my genealogical society or at genealogy classes I teach are that they don't understand technology, or can't keep up with it, or feel overwhelmed by it. Other obstacles may be budget or time constraints that make it difficult to purchase newer electronics or take opportunities to learn new skills.

As genealogists, it's important we make an effort to understand technology so that we can utilize it to enhance our research. Digital cameras, desktop computers, laptops, tablets (iPads), printers, scanners, smart phones, MP3 players (such as iPods) and even GPS units are used in various ways that can make gathering, analyzing, and storing genealogical information more efficient. Here are some ideas to help you improve your technological comprehension and aptitude.

Read a book or magazine. Years ago, I bought some photo editing software, but really didn't know how to use it. I went to the library and got Paint Shop Pro for Dummies. When I updated my computer to a new operating system, I purchased a Dummies book for it as well. My local library district has many Dummies books as well as Complete Idiot’s Guidebooks for all kinds of operating systems, software, and hardware. They can be found under the 004 and 005 call numbers. These books not only are educational but are often written with humor, and can definitely make you feel like less of, well, a dummy! Another favorite resource is Smart Computing magazine. The articles are written in layman's terms and the consumer reports have been very helpful to me in choosing the best product for my budget. Digital editions of past issues can now be downloaded for free at the link above. This publication is also available at my local library.

Take a local class. My local library district offers free computer classes. Additionally, several area senior and community centers offer computer classes for a nominal fee. Finally, my local community college district offers fee-based computer classes through their continuing education and seniors programs.

Learn online. Don’t know the difference between DOS and OS? Unsure what a widget does? TechTerms.com is an online computer dictionary. Not only can you look up a term and get its definition, but you can browse the terms by category (Internet, hardware, software, technical, etc.) or even by your skill level (1 through 10). You can take a quiz or read the daily definition. All will help you improve your tech word power. Another great site is GCFLearnFree, which offers free online classes, in print and video formats, in computer, email, and internet basics; Microsoft and Apple features; social media, such as Facebook and Twitter; and tips and tricks. You can set up a free account, take classes, and even get a certificate of completion in each category.

Learn from the Developers. Both Microsoft and Apple offer online classes in their products, some for free and some at cost. They range from basic understanding to training and certification. Learn more at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/default.aspxhttp://www.apple.com/retail/learn/, and http://training.apple.com/. Don’t forget to check out the websites of the companies that produce your favorite accessories or programs, such as your printer/scanner or your photo-editing software.

Make it a personal--and a genealogy--goal that you will strive to increase your knowledge and skills and not be intimidated by technology.

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