Explaining Abbreviations

February 29, 2012

If you’ve ever wondered why AM means morning, PM stands for afternoon, “e.g.” means “for example,” and “lbs” is the abbreviation for pounds, here’s a clever short video from the Yahoo! Who Knew? series that explains all of those and more.

While this video doesn’t have much to do with explaining technology, it’s still a wonderful explanation. I appreciate it because, as an author and consultant, I do write a quite a bit and have always wondered where these common abbreviations find their origin.

Who knew? Now we do. Thanks, Yahoo!

How to Help Others Embrace New Technology

February 21, 2012

If you know someone who would benefit from embracing a new technology but seems strangely resistant, here are four important techniques to try.

1. Help them overcome fear.

Resistance is usually due to fear (though it can also be because someone doesn’t see any need for or value in the technology). Like I’ve said previously, you need to show them that fear is normal, that many people have such fears, and that most have overcome them with great success. (Bill Sleepers has a great success story resulting from the determination to “push in.”) Making a logical or legal argument won’t help; newcomers want emotional support. Knowing that experimentation and even failure is okay helps disarm the fright.

2. Help them understand.

People won’t trust magic, but not everyone wants the full tour of all facets of a technology. Tailor your explanations to the point they’re comfortable and don’t give them more at that point. They might be ready for more depth later, but restrain yourself in the near term for their own good.

Help them picture it. Help them see where they fit in the picture. Help them relate. See 4 Quick Tips for Explaining Tech to Parents (and Other Non-techies) for some additional ideas.

3. Help them own their experience.

At some point, each new adopter must make the decision to take their own steps. Let them fly on their own. Hand-holding may be a great way to start, but you don’t want to become a crutch that cripples a newcomer’s ability to blossom into a self-sufficient user.

Remember, everyone’s needs aren’t the same. That means their needs and uses for a technology may differ from yours. Not everyone needs the most sophisticated firewall and anti-virus software. Remember that just because you embrace certain technologies, they may want a different depth in how and what they embrace. Some people don’t want to have a Facebook account. Some people don’t like text messaging. Some don’t want to try to make a video akin to a major motion pictures with their new video editing software; they might just want to add music and titles to a few photos and video clips.

If you can take a skeptic to the point they’re no longer afraid and understand the technology enough to make the choice to embrace it, you then have to be willing to let go a little bit so that they can decide for themselves how to integrate the technology into their life.

4. Encourage them to keep learning.

Technology keeps moving, and especially for some older adopters, the pace will be unexpected. Again, they might not need to hang on every tech announcement, but they’ll need to know that what they’ve chosen to embrace will continue to evolve and may eventually morph into something else entirely. These are hard lessons for newcomers, but that shock can be mitigated by preparing them for the need to continue learning and growing with the technology marketplace.

The above four were the fundamental tenants upon which my book (The Ultimate PC Primer: 15 Simple Lessons for Understanding Personal Computers) was written, intended to help newcomers — scared, skeptical, and stubborn — learn to understand and embrace personal computing. However, these four techniques can be applied to any technology and used with newcomers of all ages.

The #1 Barrier to Technology Adoption: Fear

February 16, 2012

Know someone too scared to embrace a new technology? Wondering how you can help them get beyond the fear to the benefits? Let’s talk about doing battle with technology adoption enemy number one: fear.

I’ll be the first to admit, many technologies — computers especially — seem scary, complex, and in some ways, intelligent. Newcomers might even perceive that level of sophistication like a foe or enemy force. I remember well how daunting personal computing was for me to willingly engage. In hindsight, it seems silly for me to have been so worried about a machine. But my perceived inadequacy and lack of knowledge about the subject made it feel very real at the time.

So, is it possible to get someone to want to embrace the technology? Yes, but here’s your primary objective. If you even want to get your foot in the door and have a chance to win them over, you must first find ways to shut down their fear. Even if there are incentives for embracing the technology, they often won’t be enough beause fear is more powerful.

Eliminating fear was one of my primary goals in and purposes for writing The Ultimate PC Primer, and it’s also why the book went through four manuscript revisions. It took that long to figure out how to integrate multiple ways and angles for maximizing encouragement and disarming fear at every possible point of newcomer worry.

People find security in knowing they’re not the first to have trod the road of technology adoption, and it’s comforting to know that others who have had the same fears go on to overcome them and do well. (See the Introduction of The Ultimate PC Primer for my personal story, which is available in the Look Inside feature on Amazon.) Stories of success go a long way to reassure fearful skeptics.

So if you’re trying to convince a parent, friend, or colleague to embrace some new technology without success, take a step back and ask if that person is likely afraid. If so, drop the logical arguments and make the emotional barriers your first battle. Find examples of others who have overcome the same skepticism and worries. Empathize with their fears, even if you know those fears are unnecessary. Lastly, remember to be patient.

In my next post, I’ll offer some other ways to further encourage technology adoption.

Explaining Computer Viruses (with zombie chefs)

February 8, 2012

Ever wondered how to explain the concept of computer viruses? My PC recently acquired a virus. While I was killing it (using my anti-virus software), one of my children observed, “Oh! Computers get sick, too?”  Cute? Well, adults often have the same question. So here’s an answer and explanation using analogies and a fun story involving zombies…

No, computers can’t get biological diseases. Like most personal computing concepts, the term is metaphorical, borrowed from the real-world equivalent. A real human or animal virus is an entity that intrudes — gets into the inside of the body — and goes about doing something it shouldn’t, usually causing harm.

The same is true in computing. In The Ultimate PC Primer, I explain that computer programs (software) are really sets of instructions, like a recipe. The computer is just a mindless machine following these instructions. In fact, it knows nothing else except how to follow its instructions — precisely. And ideally, that’s what you want from a computer: consistency and precision in obeying the instructions given it. That’s what makes it useful for you. It follows instructions presumably intended to produce a helpful result. But what would happen if some instructions were given to it that were designed to do something harmful?

Imagine you are entering a cooking or baking competition. You must organize and direct the efforts of five chefs who will prepare five dishes you have selected from five recipes. The completed dishes will be presented to the judges of the competition. The chefs will follow any instructions exactly. (They’re like mindless chef-zombies who know only about following recipes.) All you need to do is provide the instructions for how they are to prepare each dish. So you select five sophisticated recipes from your recipe collection or cookbook and set them out for the zombie chefs to follow. But… Read the rest of this entry »

A sweet discount on a helpful computer book

February 4, 2012

For the month of February, you can get a 15% discount on The Ultimate PC Primer by ordering through this product page on the publisher’s e-store site and using code 3SGC9EP7 at checkout. That’s 15% off 15 Simple Lessons for Understanding Personal Computers. Sweet!