This post was originally published in the January issue of Women Business Owners of Montgomery County Networker.
To survive at home and work, you need to develop abilities to help you navigate today’s digital world. Gone are the days when technology and computers were the purview of the office. As computers become more pervasive, it is important that we all make time to learn the basics. After all, the most important thing is for you to get what you want and need from computers and the Internet.
To make the most of your digital life you need basic knowledge in these 6 computing areas:
- backing up your data;
- preserving your security, privacy, and reputation;
- organizing your computer and your information then finding it again;
- learning, having fun and saving time and money with the Web;
- staying connected to people who matter online; and
- troubleshooting and problem solving.
Backing up your data
If you can’t be without the information on your computer (financial information, client documents, photos, etc.) you’ll want to back it up. Backups are insurance against file corruption, hard drive failure, or computer destruction (like your office flooding). Be sure to develop a backup process and stick to it. You can backup your files on a DVD, USB key, external hard drive, or online service—whatever works for you. Don’t store your physical backups near your computer. It would be tragic if the water pipes in the ceiling above your computer burst destroying your computer and your backups.
Preserving your security, privacy, and reputation
You need to be able to protect your computer from outside threats like viruses and spyware. You don’t have to become a security expert to do it. You just need to install anti-virus, antispyware, and firewall software, which are often bundled in one package. Check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see if they provide security software for free.
In the age of the Internet it is also important to maintain your privacy, protect yourself from identity theft, and preserve your reputation. There are lots of scams out there. Many arrive in the form of an email trying to get you to reveal personal information so criminals can steal your identity.
Whenever you surf the Web it leaves digital footprints—information about where you go and what you look at online. The average person has a digital footprint from email, social networking, blogs, viewing websites, and other communications. When it comes to digital communication, assume everything you write will become public at the most inconvenient time possible. Write carefully.
Organizing your computer and your information then finding it again
We are truly in the Information Age, but information is of little use if you can’t find it, Desktop search has improved immensely in the last few years, but it is still inefficient to search for every file you need on your computer. A much better plan would be to organize your information in a way that makes sense for you, and then rely on search selectively. You will benefit from organizing your information, knowing the basics of file structure, having a plan for how to organize your files, what to save, and how to search your own computer (as well as the Web). If you’re consistent, it will be much easier to find things when you need them.
Learning, having fun and saving time and money with the Web
As using the Web becomes a way of life, people keep creating useful sites, services, and sources of information that can help you learn, provide entertainment, and find money-saving deals for your business or household. Using the Internet for self-education is one of the most exciting things about living in a digital world. You can find information about most anything, and you can discover many points of view on any given topic. Of course, all sources are not created equal and anyone can post anything on the Web, so you have to use some common sense and learn how to evaluate the information you find.
Staying connected to people who matter online
Whether you want to gain friends, professional connections, or community, the Web provides many ways to stay in touch with people. There are new ways to stay in contact with people outside of email: social networks, blogs, online collaboration, Instant Messages, and online calls. Have a look at some of the different ways to stay connected, and then figure out what will work for you. Social networking (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter) and blogging (a web log of regular updates on varying topics) are increasingly popular and offer great ways to communicate with a wide range of people.
Solving Problems and Troubleshooting
Essential skills for a digital world include solving problems and troubleshooting when something goes wrong with your computer. Calling someone to fix your computer may not always be an option or even desirable. Like everything else, you will need a strategy to give you direction throughout the process. Computers act up with all users, regardless of experience levels, so you might as well learn how to handle it. As you become more adept at troubleshooting your computer you’ll rely less on the graces of others (paid or not paid).
Your problem solving process ought to be consistent and thorough. Get yourself a notebook for recording problems, then you can refer to it if something goes wrong in the future. Keep notes about what goes wrong with your computer, solutions you try, and what actually solves the problem. Be sure to make only one change at a time so you can tell what works. Google is a great place to look for more information when something goes wrong, your problem has likely happened to someone else too. Rebooting (restarting) your computer will fix many problems so always start there.
Digital survival requires a foundation of basic knowledge for making sense of what you need to know and learn, along with skills for taking care of yourself now and in the future. If you invest in yourself and take the time to improve your skills and knowledge, you will become a more confident and competent computer user who can participate in and enjoy 21st century life.