Get smart, please

Rating: NNNNNI'm proud to say I have friends in high places: actors, writers and directors, captains of industry, successful.

Rating: NNNNN

I’m proud to say I have friends in high places: actors, writers and directors, captains of industry, successful entrepreneurs. They’re totally good at what they do, but when it comes to technology, these people are clueless. And lucky me, I’m the guy who gets their frantic calls for help.

While listening patiently to their complaints about not being able to find an e-mail attachment somebody sent them two years ago or about their keyboard suddenly not working after they accidentally poured coffee on it, I can’t help but wonder, “Would it kill these people to learn some basic computer skills?”

Some mask their ignorance with arrogance. A friend once proclaimed to my face (and this is a direct quote), “Computers aren’t advanced enough for me.” This same person gives me a blank stare when asked to right-click.

Others will own their shame about how little they know but are still unwilling to do anything about it. They treat their cute little iMacs well on the outside, adorning them with photos of loved ones and customized mouse pads with pictures of their cats, but they remain blissfully unaware of what’s going on underneath their screens until something goes horribly wrong.

Computer manufacturers deserve part of the blame their ads’ claims about ease of use are a little misleading. Even a user-friendly desktop video app like Apple’s iMovie won’t be of much value if you can’t grasp the basics – like having enough hard drive space to capture those two-hour movies of baby’s first poop, or the insight to edit those two hours down to a finished product that someone else can actually sit through.

The machines have come a long way from the Commodore PET I used in my grade 10 computer class. Unfortunately, some users haven’t progressed as far. I’ve had people tell me they’re absolutely terrified of running even the simplest repair utility on their PCs for fear of messing something up. To them I say, “I’ve learned my lessons from not backing up my hard drive on a regular basis. Why can’t you?”

Then there’s the whole hysteria surrounding identity theft. I hate to break this to you, folks, but unless you’re Paris Hilton, what’s on your computer really isn’t all that interesting to potential hackers. Don’t get me wrong – they’ll be happy to appropriate every last e-mail address you’ve got, but only to spread their evil worms and viruses further out into the Net. So if you’re blindly opening every single e-mail attachment in your in-box without even checking who it’s from, guess what? You’re part of the problem.

This raging sea of ineptitude spills over into other digital devices as well. I once had someone ask me how to transfer data from his old BlackBerry to his new one, failing to realize that the whole point of having a BlackBerry in the first place is to sync it up with your damn computer. Someone else rang me up in a panic when she could no longer sync her Palm to her PC, but hadn’t thought to check if the batteries on the handheld had run down, which of course they had.

With the Internet fast becoming an essential service, we desperately need to raise our collective computer IQ. I propose mandatory proficiency tests. If you can’t perform rudimentary troubleshooting on your computer, PDA or cellphone, then you can’t have one – simple as that. This may sound harsh, but, hey, there are still lots of Internet cafés out there with PCs and network connections ready and waiting to log you into your free Web-based e-mail account.

And if something goes wrong, just ask the guy behind the counter for help, and get another fancy coffee while you’re at it.

Trust me, a lot of you will be much happier with this arrangement. And so will I.

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