The button that destroys your PC

Sven Krumrey

As children, we learn from adults. The dawn of the computer age brought a lot of change and reversed that role for many of us. Since I make a living off software and writing about software, I am a welcome guest in the homes of many elderly PC users. That's usually not a problem, they have taught me about the world some 30 years ago so I should gladly return the favor in today's world of computers. I should ...

But there are two mysterious phenomena that remain inexplicable to me. Two whimsical conditions that keep intelligent human beings from sending off an email or burning a CD...

paralyzed from shock

Peter E. stared at his screen in disbelief, visibly scared by Microsoft Outlook 2010. "How can I send my message now?". He had taught children orthography for more than 30 years, rode his bike all the way up to the Atlantic, repaired vacuum cleaners and radios for his relatives and now he was at his wit's end. I switched into "you can do it" mode and asked him kindly to take his time and look at the available options. As minutes went by, I knew that I was facing the first phenomenon - the sudden inability to read. Once your eyes and mouse pointer start wandering across the screen aimlessly, this state of mind is all too easily reached, a sort of nirvana without the Buddhism part. It might be worth checking whether this may come in handy for hypnotherapy sessions or as a sedative because those affected appear totally gone.

Peter had this sense of calmness about him. After a while, I said "On the top left", he awoke from his fixedness and carefully took aim with his mouse pointer. When he got to "New E-Mail Message" he stopped. And then - nothing. No click. This is the second phenomenon, fear of destroying your PC with a single click. Another unfathomable mystery.

Taking a sober view, I can see some programmer built in a button and it appears rather unlikely that it will instantly shred your PC! And yet I can see the fear of hitting an unknown control in his eyes even when it is perfectly obvious what it does. How is this possible? Are people afraid a click will expose naughty images and send them to their relatives? Unlikely, it is simply fear of the unknown, fear of unexpected consequences and fear of failure with keyboard and mouse.

just the wrong click

To get around this, my "students" like to rely on pen and paper to carefully write down a step-by-step solution. This may work to some degree, but it is ultimately analogous to sticking a load of post-its to the dashboard in your car explaining how to hit the brake and clutch while holding on to the steering wheel. It prevents you from getting the broader picture. To grasp the logic behind it, you have to read, observe and practice.

I once explained the intricacies of Ashampoo Burning Studio to a senior executive of a large German company in a sales pitch. I was prepared for the worst and had a speech ready for every possible occasion but in the end, I had to do very little talking. He just read and clicked! Without hesitation, he tried out the various features, went back and forth, looked at previews and burned a disc with a broad grin on his face. He had never seen the program and was no computer scientist - he was simply curious and brave. That's exactly the key to getting to grips with a new piece of software. And don't think for a second that I use a different strategy! Even after 25 years of PC work, I still employ the old trial and error approach. The more applications you get to know, the more parallels you will recognize and the faster you will get going with new programs.

Your PC is a playground, not a prison! Good software is intuitive and displays features in a clear, logical fashion. Have fun with it, click your way through your applications and discover their available settings. You will be surprised by how many possibilities will open up to you and feel at home very quickly. As kids, nature gave us all the tools we need: Curiosity, a lust for experiments and a good dose of trust that nothing disastrous will happen.

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