Featured Columns

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech


I was talking with a friend about what new technology she was wrestling with or was curious about (secretly fishing for article ideas), and she told me new or upgraded technology sometimes makes her anxious and frustrated. We considered the possibility of starting a new company and making techno-Xanax (it sure seems like there would be a market for this, or maybe freezing the current state of software so that there would be no more upgrades). But perhaps an easier first step would be to write about things I have learned while helping people with new technology over the years.

Work With Not Against

The first thing to make it easier to learn and use new technology is to work with and not against it. Eventually, we may get to Star Trek’s vision from the 1960s where working with computers is as easy as chatting with a knowledgeable friend (“Computer, what is the lifecycle of a Tribble?”). Until then, we have today’s reality and often that means adapting to how the computer works. For example, remember the Palm devices and their Graffiti alphabet? They required us to communicate a K as a sideways ribbon and a T with only half a top bar. We could insist that it was wrong, but that would not help us use the device and would just lead to frustration. Instead, to use that device and the benefits it brought, we needed to be flexible. Another example is making use of the formatting styles which come with Microsoft Word. I have seen many people spend hours formulating their own Title, Heading and Sub Heading formats in Word. In most recent versions, they provide over a dozen professionally created formats ready to go. If you accept and work with them, you get an automatic outline for your document in the view Document Map feature. Adapting to the technology has its benefits.

Slow Down

Another tip for working with technology is to slow down and take time to invest in your understanding of the new tool. If you wait until you need to accomplish something on a tight deadline, then the pressure is ratcheted up which makes it more difficult to learn, experience your early mistakes, and adapt to the new tool. For example, when I am learning new video editing software, my first project is not my daughter’s wedding video. I go out and shoot some snippets of my son playing basketball with friends, and then put the new software through its paces with content that can be ruined with little consequence. The pressure is low, I have carved out some hours just for this purpose, and yet it is a little project which is of interest to me. Sometimes on this point I am told, especially by my family, “But you enjoy doing these kinds of things, I just want to get some work done.” Enjoying the journey does make things go more smoothly, but it will be easier for you in the long run if you invest up front. Say you want to learn how to drive a car with a standard transmission. You probably don’t want to attempt a first drive in your neighbor’s Ferrari. Rather, it would be better to spend some time on a lightly-traveled country road with your other neighbor’s Civic.

Follow the Trailblazers

Following a trailblazer is another way to ease the learning of new technology. Unless you have been standing in line since midnight to get the latest smart phone, you are likely not the first person to attempt what you’re trying to do. And in the age of the Internet, many trailblazers love to write about and video their experience and share it with the world. So if you’re attempting to learn the steps to accomplish a task and sense the steam starting to waft from your ears, take a deep breath and search for someone else’s trail notes. If you search across the Internet, you are likely to find a blog entry or forum discussion for the very thing you want to do. YouTube is a great place to locate others illustrating the exact steps you need to take (and the mistakes you need to avoid). If you want to take a more formal approach, you can subscribe to Lynda.com which has thousands of training videos on every technology subject under the sun.

So when you are forced to accept an upgrade, or when you need to learn a new piece of software or equipment, don’t panic! Instead, go with the flow, take your time, and consider finding examples of the trailblazers who have gone before you. If all else fails, consult the manual.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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