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One woman's journey to understand technology

Stephen Bell | Aug. 31, 2012
What's it like to grapple with the language and manipulations of technology in detail for the first time?

The tutor, Helen Waddington, was exemplary when it came to answering students' random queries, Moon says -- and gave students her email address for further inquiries. A major problem, Moon says, is that as an 80-percenter "you don't know what you don't know; in some cases you don't even know the right questions to ask."

One of the other students wanted to know how to construct a hyperlink as part of a Word document and this was covered. Ironically, it can be done rather more easily -- in this writer's opinion anyway -- in Open/Libre Office.

One of the most useful lessons of the course, Moon says, was "the whole business of organising work into files and folders and the several ways of searching for anything you've lost, in the file store and the recycle bin. [Waddington] told us it's really almost impossible to lose something irretrievably; I'm not sure I believe that."

Discussion of internet and email followed; students were taken through the process of setting up a Gmail or Yahoo account -- which Moon had already done.

What comes out is that you need practical experience and that one of the bedrock pieces of knowledge is the terminology, says Moon. People experienced with computers unthinkingly use terms that are not exactly jargon but are still unfamiliar to 80-percenters. "I didn't know what 'favourites' were in a browser and that another browser calls the same thing 'bookmarks'; and when someone asked me whether I had an Android, I didn't know what they were talking about. Now I know an Android is one kind of smartphone and an iPhone is a different kind." A whole different course is probably needed just to establish those taxonomies in the minds of 80-percenters, she says.

This, Moon suggests, should be the "foundation", followed by further specific courses for more in-depth understanding of specific technologies and their application.

"I'm thinking more and more that the course I went on will be subsumed before long into the need to know more about new technologies as a whole and how [the various devices] interact," she says. And thereby hangs a considerable tale. Relatively tech-savvy friends have been trying to help Moon with an ill-starred saga of establishing a reliable internet connection. The most recent solution -- so far holding up -- is that she acquire a smartphone and a voice-and-data plan with 2degrees and tether the phone to her PC for the infrequent occasions she needs internet and email access and a large screen -- or internet music with the PC hooked to the stereo.

Tethering, even with the help of friends and the 2degrees and LG helpdesks, was "a nightmare", she says. One vital part of the setup was missed -- possibly because everyone concerned thought she would just know -- and in the end she figured that element out for herself.


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