I am not a digital native, darn it, but I’m close. I don’t remember a time when my family of origin didn’t have a home computer. When I was in grade school, we bought one I was actually allowed to use—and my brother and I spent the next five years fighting over who got to play Brickles.
For the past few years, I’ve been using a MacBook (my first). During back-to-school season, we bought an iMac to replace our aging family PC.
In short, I am surrounded by machines I don’t know how to use.
It took me a few years to realize my own ignorance, because I could do what I needed to do, for the most part. But as I accumulated ever-more data on my machine, problems began to emerge: problems even I could recognize.
My biggest problem with my computer was simple organization. Technically speaking, it’s what you call a “disaster.” Or perhaps the more precise term would be “absent.”
When we bought the iMac, I cried uncle. I coughed up the extra cash for the One to One sessions, so I could learn how to actually use the thing.
Last month (yep, four months later) I finally signed up for my first class: iMac basics. It was humbling to check the box for the beginners’ class, since I’ve now been using a Mac (two Macs!) for nearly three years. Until I signed up for it, I assumed those classes were offered for people like my grandmother: extremely intelligent people who are nevertheless clueless about technology. Nope, it turns out they’re for people like me.
I showed up with my laptop and told my über-patient instructor that I’d been using computers for nearly thirty years without knowing some very important basics. When my computer was new, I didn’t know I had a problem. But as I continued to save more and more work, finding anything in my unruly hard drive gave me a headache.
I explained all this in a very grown-up way, I never once said “stupid” or “idiot,” and I carefully avoided the word “remedial.” I did say that I needed to go back to the beginning and learn some best practices.
And that’s what I did.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have a lot to learn. But after just a few classes—like, three hours total—my progress is evident every time I turn on my computer. My once-cluttered desktop is bare, the files now neatly sorted into folders. (Bonus: now my computer runs faster. Who knew?)
When I need to find something, I hit “command + space bar” (like a boss) and can find it in, literally, one second, because I indexed all my files.
I’m slowly working my way through my photos, splitting events and creating folders like a pro. Or at least like a non-novice. My old awkward workarounds—the ones I used because I didn’t know any better—have been replaced with speedy and mostly-sure workflows.
I was so embarrassed when I signed up for that class, and a little bit angry, to be honest. I have so many new things I want to learn and do and read and write and think; I didn’t want to waste my time going back to learn things I should have already known. I resented my lack of knowledge and the its subsequent demands on my time and energy.
Being dissatisfied with where I am doesn’t make anything better. But when I admitted that I needed to go back to the beginning, I began to learn all kinds of things that are making my life much easier.
I’m just talking about file organization here: this isn’t exactly life or death. And I’m not going to pretend that everyone is as technologically incompetent as me. But I would venture a guess that most of us feel like we’re missing something important—something we wish we’d known a long time ago—and we don’t want to admit it, not even to ourselves. Maybe it’s something small, like you can’t remember the name of that nice guy you talk to at church every week, or you don’t actually know how to do that thing at the gym. Maybe it’s something huge that’s foundational to your work or an important relationship.
Being dissatisfied with where you are isn’t going fix anything. But admitting that you have some gaps to fill in—that might get you somewhere.
Stop a second and think: what are YOU supposed to be competent at, but you should really go back and learn the fundamentals, again? I’m looking forward to hearing your answers.