Curing That Newbie Feeling
It’s that time of year again. By the time you read this, millions of people will have made, and perhaps broken, at least one of their New Year’s resolutions. I gave up making those things long ago, but this year will be different. Recent events have caused me to make two Mac-related resolutions. Both of them involve that horrible feeling you get when, in the middle of a project, you realize something isn’t working. Or worse, you have no idea why it isn’t working or where to start making it work. This is all too often a common experience for new computer users. You may see it referred to as being a “newbie.”
I haven’t had that feeling on a Mac in a long time. Even my first Mac was an easy transition because I had been using an Apple IIGS that had an interface and system structure similar to Macs. But I had that feeling a few weeks ago, and I must admit I really didn’t like it. I’ve had problems with Macs before, but I usually have a clue where to go or why something isn’t working. This time I was clueless.
You may be wondering what project could cause such grief. I was attempting to install some Unix-based geekery that might allow me to read files from my Tivo. I’ve been using my Tivo to transfer some home movies to DVD and edit them later on a Mac. I can see the Tivo on my network, but most of the tools to read these files are Unix-based. Ever try to install some of that stuff if you aren’t a Unix geek? Not a lot of fun.
After that little experiment and the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, I started thinking about what could be done to assist new users. To that end, I have some thoughts on how the Mac community—new and seasoned users—can help each other out when that horrible feeling occurs.
The Right Attitude
What I am about to suggest is difficult—I certainly didn’t practice it two weeks ago in the middle of the Tivo project—but try to keep a positive attitude. This feeling usually occurs when you are learning something new or extending what you already know. It will pass sooner than you think. Besides, aren’t scientists always telling us that learning new things and keeping mentally active are very important? Someone’s just looking out for your well-being by making the task a little more difficult than you expected (LOL).
One thing that may help is to realize that you are not alone. Not only do other new users experience this feeling, but it happens to experienced users as well. After my Unix experiment went awry, I asked several members of the ATPM staff what they were doing the last time they experienced this feeling. Each of the staffers who answered the question had a different task that he found disconcerting. Sometimes it wasn’t a new task, just something that was proving difficult.
Getting the Right Information
Now that you have the right attitude, it’s time to go in search of the right information. Missing one or two key pieces of information can make a task difficult if not impossible. So how do you go about getting the right information? Well, just like in your school days, you’ve got to find the right people and ask the right questions. I grind my teeth as I say this, but a good place to start is by reading the manual. I am not normally a big manual person, but sometimes the answer really is there. Several times over the last few years I have had the experience of finding a shortcut or tip I hadn’t tried before.
This doesn’t exempt the computer industry from writing manuals that are comprehensible and not filled with unnecessary jargon. As a service to the Mac community, let manufacturers and publishers know when they have produced a bad manual. In my early days of Mac use, I bought two different books on Microsoft Office to figure out how to print address labels. In some ways, this process has become worse, since many programs forgo paper manuals in favor of electronic ones that are often difficult to browse.
If you can’t find the right information in the manual, ask a fellow Mac user. If you don’t personally know another Mac user, look for a Mac user group. Most user groups have knowledgeable members that are more than willing to help.
Since I started writing for ATPM, I have started exploring tasks that are more difficult than basic word processing. When I get stuck on a problem, I check out the user forums at MacMentor or Mac Owners Support Group. Both sites are great places for new and experienced users. I think these sites are particularly good for new users because the members go out of their way to welcome new and returning Mac users. You will have to register in order to post questions to the forums on these sites, but registration is free. When time permits, I pop in several times a day to see what’s happening. Sometimes I know the answer to a question, but more often than not I find useful information or a use for Macs that hadn’t occurred to me.
The forums at MacMentor and Mac Owners Support Group each have distinct personalities. But they aren’t the only places I go for helpful information. You might also want to visit OS X FAQ or the Mac OS X Hints forum page, which both focus mainly on OS X–related issues. As a last resort, I check out the MacFixIt forum page. The fact that this site is my last resort is not an indication of its quality. I simply don’t have time to go to every site every day.
By now you may be wondering why I haven’t talked about the Apple Support Site or the Apple Discussion Board This is purely a matter of preference. I seem to have a much more difficult time finding the information that I need quickly on these sites than I do on other sites. This is also the reason that I try not to just search the Web for information without going to the other sites first. I get buried in more information than I have time to slog through.
What Questions to Ask
OK, by a show of hands, how many of you remember a time when you were so confused that you didn’t even know what questions to ask? It happens to the best of us from time to time but will happen less often as you get more experience. When it happens to you, describe the problem as best you can. The forum denizens at the sites I mentioned are pretty good at interpreting computer-related gibberish. If the answer you get doesn’t make sense, keep asking. Ask the question in a different way or to a different group of people.
Most of the forums are filled with people who share my attitude that there are only two kinds of questions: those that have been asked and those that haven’t been asked but need to be. The only caveat is that it is considered good forum etiquette to search and see if the question has already been answered. If you have a question, chances are someone else has the same or a similar one.
I mentioned earlier that I had two Mac-related resolutions during the coming year. My first is to assist Mac users who are experiencing that “I’m so lost” feeling. My second is to experience that feeling more often myself. If I do that it means I will be learning new things. As a first step in that direction, next month’s project will involve some simple directions for making a photo slide show. So save those holiday pictures.
Also in This Series
- Give Alert Sounds a Little Personality · March 2012
- Create Your Own iPhone Ringtones · February 2012
- Create Your Own Homemade Audio Book · December 2011
- Upgrade to Lion Painlessly · August 2011
- Make the Most of TextEdit · July 2011
- Using the Free Disk Utility on Your Mac · May 2011
- Making Use of QuickTime X · March 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · February 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · January 2011
- Complete Archive