UPCP 1-Year Anniversary Thoughts (and 15% discount)

May 4, 2012

Today, I’m celebrating the 1-Year anniversary of the publication of The Ultimate PC Primer.  And for the entire month of May, the 15% discount is back. That’s right. This isn’t a one-day special just for Star Wars Day; I’m keeping the party going all month. Use code 3SGC9EP7 to get 15% off all copies when you order here.

In case you haven’t noticed from this blog, I’m pretty passionate about the book’s contents, approach, and mission. Here are some brief thoughts on why a guy with a family and full-time job spends 6 years of his own (precious little spare) time and money producing, of all things, a printed book explaining basic computer concepts…

Nothing else uses the same approach — analogies, metaphors, stories, and illustrations from real, physical things — to explain essential computing concepts. I searched for and even purchased a good number of “intro” computer books, only find they were mostly procedural “how-to” guides. Only one even came close to helping readers actually understand what they were supposed to be learning to use. In short, most computer books assumed readers just needed to know steps to “do” a task. I wanted to help build a foundation from which new users could begin to be self sufficient.

I wanted to help users who truly knew nothing; help them lose the fear, and begin to relate to common computer technology. Many newcomers have at least some pre-existing knowledge or computer exposure, and there are some pretty good books out there for them. But there’s not much in print from major computer book publishers for those who are at absolute ground zero, having never touched a PC before. Some naysayers have suggested to me such a book is already obsolete. Since my day job is handling technology-based training for a Fortune 100 company, I certainly know where those skeptics are coming from. Yes, the PC landscape is changing. But even with tablets, touch and persistent connectivity, many core concepts of computing are very much the same, no matter the device. It’s the mental framework for engaging a personal computing device that most newcomers really need. So while some of the content will undoubtedly eventually become obsolete, the approach certainly won’t. If anything, I’m finding more opportunity than ever to explain computers and other digital technology using that approach.

The book’s target audience is those approaching or in retirement; essentially senior citizens. This is where the greatest gap in adoption still exists. I caught wind of this new Pew research data on Internet usage, and as you can see, there is still a huge gap between those under 65 and those above. (It’s less than 50%  adoption for those 65 and older, though total adoption is 80%. 12% don’t even own a computer!) This is particularly interesting and timely considering I also just read a news article about how US Series E Savings Bonds can now only be purchased online. It’s the latest in a number of government services that can only be acquired via the Internet. You’d think in light of this, plus limited mobility of those older, would actually equate to higher usage than 50%. A lot of the people in the 60 and older demographic clearly think computing and the internet are too difficult to engage later in life. I didn’t want them to be left behind. I wanted to provide the encouragement, break down the fear barrier, and do that through everyday things each reader could relate to. And while I’m a big supporter of local community classes offered by colleges, libraries, and SeniorNet, some newcomers don’t have the gumption to sign-up for such services. It requires admitting in front of others they’re in that segment which knows nothing, feeling like an outsider. That’s precisely why I wrote and published a book (in print) rather than making an e-book, DVD, online video, lecture series or curriculum. I wanted to offer each reader the chance to explore the concepts of computing in the most familiar, safe way possible, at an affordable price.

My book will never sell a million copies. I don’t care. I didn’t do it to become famous or rich. Computer literacy training isn’t my day job (though I can say what I learned by doing it has also helped me professionally in a number of ways.) I did it because I know my approach works, no one else was doing it, and I had what it took to put it all together. It’s my hope it changes a lot of newcomers’ worlds for the better.  And for the rest — the explainers, designers, and developers — I hope the approach and concept — the way of thinking about and presenting intangible, virtual concepts through narratives, analogies, metaphors, and direct comparisons to real-world physical things — helps you think of your users and audiences in new ways as well.

Happy anniversary!

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.

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!

Books: when old and new technology meet

January 20, 2012

Are books old or new technology? Is printing books on paper obsolete, or does it still have an advantage in some cases? After Apple’s announcement about iBooks Textbooks yesterday, I think the answer is: both.

At the heart of it, iBooks is 1.) about the difference between electronic and printed books and 2.) about bringing the real-time digital world into the traditional publishing sphere. Kindle, Nook, and (to a lesser extent) iPad have been in the business of taking that which was formerly constrained to paper and making it available quickly, sometimes more cheaply, but certainly in a more portable package: e-books. And there’s not doubt that the fusion of e-books with the rest of the digital world was going to happen eventually. Plus, there’s that unspoken rule in the tech market which says, “New is always better than anything older.” So by that reasoning, books must be no exception, right? Well, there are numerous advantages, but I think there is one exception. Read the rest of this entry »

Help your parents understand their computer

November 28, 2011

Looking to give something to your parents to help them understand their PC? Or, is someone you know too afraid to engage a personal computer? Give them a copy of The Ultimate PC Primer: 15 Simple Lessons for Understanding Personal Computers (available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, from the publisher, or through many other booksellers). The gift of understanding, for less than ten bucks.

Explaining Open Source software

July 25, 2011

I was recently asked to explain Open Source software. I’ve always been a big fan of Open Source because it has been an invaluable helper on a number of occasions. In fact, the interior of The Ultimate PC Primer was produced entirely with Open Source products — OpenOffice for composing the manuscript and final page layout and Inkscape for all the illustrations. As an explainer, however, I can understand why software newcomers might be a little confused by the concept of Open Source.

In The Ultimate PC Primer, I liken software to Read the rest of this entry »

Analogies/Metaphors of Technology

July 14, 2011

At a friend’s suggestion, I’ve started reading Mike Kuniavsky’s book, Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design. Though focused more on design of future computing, Kuniavsky dedicates an entire chapter to metaphors in computing. The brief chapter provides some great history behind the use of metaphor in computing and also divides metaphors into helpful classifications. What I found most interesting in the chapter was the observation of how metaphors and analogies have impacted the user experience, for better or worse. Yet, what I found most encouraging was that Kuniavsky opens the chapter with a nod to the same reason I based The Ultimate PC Primer on analogies and metaphors — that they’re a helpful way to bridge the known with the unknown.

Metaphors are widely employed in technology and learning, but how does one select the most effective analogy or metaphor? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using analogies to explain technology: Read the rest of this entry »

4 Lessons from a 96-Year-Old Grandpa on Learning to Adopt Technology

June 30, 2011

Derek over at consumer bell has the story of a 96-year-old explainer of technology. Bill Sleepers of Seattle is apparently not only an adopter of current technology, but also teaches others in his retirement community. Derek says Bill offers a few important realizations: Read the rest of this entry »

4 quick tips for explaining tech to parents (and other non-techies)

May 12, 2011

To celebrate the launch of The Ultimate PC Primer, I wanted to share a few of the teaching strategies I leveraged in crafting the book. If you’re struggling to explain a new technology to a parent, grandparent, or coworker, consider these before your next attempt.

1. Lose yourself.

Forget that you know what you know. Admit that you have The Curse of Knowledge, despite how annoyed you may feel about how “basic” you think the subject matter is. This is extremely difficult, to imagine what it’s like to not understand something that you indeed understand all too well. (That’s partially why it took so long to write the book.) But you have to start here. It will save you frustration. It also will help you empathise, or at least be able to say things that sound empathetic in those key moments when your learner is deciding to tune out or stay with you.

2. Make connections with things known.

Draw comparisons from familiar things. Find something your learner can relate to. This may be hard, based on the cultural or age differences between you and your learner. I admit, it was a stretch for me to write The Ultimate PC Primer because I had to continually learn about how others see the world, based on their experiences and mental reference points. You want to look for common ground in the least-technical space possible. The everyday world is filled with these opportunities. You just have to find them. When I present in front of groups, I try to know the audience as much as possible and leverage examples that I’m fairly confident they can relate to. Speaking of analogies…

3. Find analogies that go the distance.

Analogies and metaphors can be fantastic ways to connect the known with the unknown. You start with something ordinary, of which the learner has no fear. You use it as a bridge to the “scary technology concept.” It takes away the fear and can help create a solid mental model of the technology or concept you’re trying to explain. However, all analogies are not created equal. They break down at some point. (That’s why they’re only analogies.) But a well-conceived analogy can go the distance, being relevant and helpful in multiple situations and scenarios. The best analogies contribute to the learner’s mental model, rather than fracturing it. So search for the golden analogies. It’s hard work, but it keeps you from having to say “forget I said that” or “well, in this case, this technology is actually different from what I said before.” You want to make a lasagna, where all the noodles fit neatly together, not analogy spaghetti.

4. Don’t overload.

When you begin to see the lightbulb go on, it’s easy to try to quickly piggyback on that lightbulb moment — to want to move expediently toward “the end game.” I know getting across the finish line will make your life easier, and you undoubtedly want to make their life easier. But if you want to truly get your learner across the finish line, be prepared to hold yourself back. As a concept is newly formed in the mind of your learner, you don’t want to cause cognitive overload by quickly dumping all kinds of other foreign concepts on top of it in your earnest attempt to “get them up to speed.”  In writing The Ultimate PC Primer, I went through several manuscript revisions trying to make sure I wasn’t crowding too much into each lesson. When I started writing, I worried about having too little in my book. Eventually, I started pulling content out, to keep from overloading the reader with too many new concepts. And that’s why the book ended up being a primer. You have to give people somewhere to start… a foundation. I found I couldn’t explain everything a PC user would need to know in one book, and you can’t build your learner’s house right after pouring the foundation.  Let it solidify, lest you dislodge what you just built. Though tech-savvy people like you and I are conditioned to wait for little in this age, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you want your learner to truly understand something of depth, several cumulative lessons may be needed.

Best wishes as you endeavor to explain technology to your learner.  For some additional ideas on explaining personal computers to new or confused users, pick up a copy of The Ultimate PC Primer on Amazon or through your favorite bookseller.