Having worked in the IT field for a number of years, I’ve come across the vast range of users and their comfort level with computers.  There’s the person who knows exactly what they’re doing and came across a genuine glitch in the system and needs help, and then you have the person who can’t figure out how to turn the monitor on every morning. EVERY morning.  I know computers aren’t everyone’s forte, and I don’t hold that against anyone at all – but it all comes down to the difference between ignorance and idiocy.  So let me take a few moments to help provide some helpful hints about how to handle some of the most common problems you might come across.

1.  When in doubt, restart your computer.  You would be surprised how often that fixes whatever problems you’re experiencing.  Application crashed and you can’t get it to open again?  Restart.  Computer moving very slowly for no particular reason?  Restart.  Just about anything else?  Restart.  Seriously, restarting not only clears out the virtual memory that may have become bogged down the longer the PC has been on, but it ends any active applications running and gives you a fresh start when it reboots.  One of my my favorite British comedies, “The IT Crowd“, addresses this best.  When one of the main characters answers the helpdesk line, his introduction consists of “IT this is Roy, have you tried turning it off and on again?”  Brilliant, and entirely accurate.

2.  Don’t be afraid to use Google.  Search engines have evolved by leaps and bounds in the past 10 years, and now you can find just about anything you could possibly want using only the internet by making use of the tools available to you.  If you have a question about computers, the odds are very likely that at least one thousand other people have at one point had the same question, and the answer is on the internet just waiting for you to ask.  You want to know how to add a printer to your computer? Google it.  Want to know how to change the background picture on your desktop? Google it.  The internet is a vast encyclopedia of knowledge, you just have to pose the right question to get an answer.  If you get an error and you don’t know what it means, type the first sentence into Google and see what you get; chances are it will auto-complete before you’re half through typing because others have also had this problem.

3.  When in doubt, don’t do it.  If your printer stops working and you think that maybe prying it apart with a screwdriver will help you find the problem, don’t do it.  There’s a difference between being proactive and being ridiculous.  You can’t do everything for yourself.  Yes, you can use the internet to search for possible causes to your problem, but you’re not helping matters by taking tools to the machine to try and get it working again.  You have to know when to stop and ask for help.  Don’t call someone for help if you can’t find the power button.  Do call someone for help if the printer is powered on, has paper and ink, yet doesn’t seem to print for some reason.  If you aren’t sure you know what you’re doing, don’t try.  There is a pretty good chance you’ll only make matters worse (even unintentionally) and that isn’t necessary.  I have never been upset or frustrated with someone for having a genuine problem they need help with; what does get frustrating however is the person who calls a few times a week with problems that they’ve either had before or are easily fixed by anyone with common sense.  You don’t have to have a college degree in technology to get by on a daily basis, no matter how much you may want to pretend that’s the case.

4.  Try to be realistic with your expectations.  I cannot even attempt to count how many times I’ve gotten calls from family, friends, and people in the workplace where they express frustration over something not working like they expect, but their expectations are unrealistic.  Technology is amazing nowadays, I’ll grant you that, but if you think for a second that you should be able to restart your PC and have it back up and running in 30 seconds, you’ve lost your mind.  Yes, some will do that.  Those “some” would be the computers with a very powerful processor, a large amount of RAM, and that were made in the last year or less.  Please don’t expect your 4 year old Dell running Windows XP with 512 MB of RAM to restart in less  than a couple minutes.  It won’t happen.  If you are connecting to the internet using DSL and trying to load a 4 minute video on YouTube, please don’t complain that it takes a few minutes.  You are using a slow internet connection and accessing a data intensive website.  It’ll load.  You just have to be realistic with your expectations.  People who don’t understand how things work often assume they’re broken when in actuality they’re performing exactly as they should be.  If you want a fast computer, you’re gonna pay for it.  That $395 laptop you bought on sale at Best Buy isn’t going to be “state of the art” for more than a couple months (sad truth, but there you have it).  Don’t expect it to last you until your toddler graduates college.

5.  If and when your computer someday breaks, please be courteous to whoever you take it to for repairs.  If you call a helpdesk or a PC repair shop, please don’t yell at them or vent your frustration on them because your computer crashed.  They didn’t build your PC.  They didn’t fill it with data and crash it.  They didn’t have anything to do with it whatsoever, yet it is not at all uncommon for people in the IT field to bear the brunt of the frustration you feel when something goes wrong.  Being in the service industry doesn’t mean they should have to stand there and listen to you whine and complain and berate them.  I’ve had it happen to me all too often, and it’s uncalled for.  Things break, it’s a fact of life.  There is an entire professional field of people who are solely there to help you find the problem and attempt to fix it.  Just please be nice when asking for help.  The fact that you’re having to ask at all shows us that something’s wrong and you’re in need of assistance, so yelling and screaming about how you didn’t do anything and it just randomly broke one day isn’t going to help matters.

And there you have it.  Five easy and user-friendly tips for handling some of the most common problems you’ll run across.  Pain free, right?  You’re on your way to being self-sufficient.  Congratulations!