I can't tell you how many times I've met someone who bought a different computer or changed their email or some other piece of technology on the enthusiastic (or even domineering) advice of a well-meaning friend or "expert" or family member. The details of the story vary but the theme is the same: This expert did not ask the person about their needs, budget, preferences, concerns, experience, history, or situation, nor did they help them think through the consequences of this change. Instead, the expert simply recommended the product that the expert had chosen for themselves. "You should buy X because I did" is their motto, and it's unfortunate how often other people follow their advice without doing their own research or planning, and then regret it later.
It's also understandable. Technology (computers, email, portable devices, etc.) has become an integral part of our lives, and we rely on it more and more for all kinds of personal and work activities. It has also become more complicated and
more prone to problems, sometimes failing right when you need it most. Getting a simple solution ("You should buy X") to a complicated question ("What should I buy to make my life easier?") is appealing. However, this complexity makes it even more important than ever to make careful choices. My approach to solving technology problems
Clients sometimes come to me for help setting up a completely different piece of technology than they had before. For example:
- Having used Windows for years, they suddenly bought a Macintosh.
- A longtime user of one email provider wants to switch to a different company, e.g. from AOL to Gmail, or Verizon to Comcast.
- A longtime user of one email program wants to switch to another, e.g., from Outlook Express to Outlook, or Apple Mail to Thunderbird.
While on the surface there's nothing wrong with wanting to make a change, if you don't "look before you leap" you may find that the cure is worse than the disease.
Here is my approach. Before jumping into a "solution" that doesn't have any context (and that also might just make things worse), take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you state it clearly and unambiguously?
- Do you have a knowledgeable person you can talk to whom you can trust to listen to your situation, ask good questions, and recommend reasonable solutions that are best for you?
- How long has this problem been going on?
- How often does it occur? Does it correlate with anything else (time of day, whether you clicked on something, etc.)?
- What have you already tried?
- Where have you looked for a solution? Have you looked in the manual, checked the manufacturer's web site, or searched on google?
- How are you currently living with this problem?
- Have you found a way to work around it?
- If you could leap into the future and imagine the problem already solved, what would that look like?
- How soon do you need to solve this?
- Do you need anyone else's permission or consent before you can move forward with a solution?
- Are there multiple problems? Are they independent or interrelated?
- For each of the potential solutions you have already identified, have you carefully "thought through" what will happen and made a list of the pros and cons?
- Do you know someone who's experienced something similar whom you could talk to?
- Is there a store or a friend you could visit where you could try out the product or service you're considering?
- Have you made a backup in case anything goes wrong?
- Is anything else preventing you from moving forward on solving this problem?
Sometimes just clearly stating the problem can go a long way towards a solution. For example, "I can't print" could be clarified to "My printer produces blank pages" (which might be an ink or toner problem or a software issue) or "My printer does nothing" (which could be a disconnected printer, a stopped printer queue, an incorrect choice of printer queue or other setting, or simply a printer that's not powered on). How to get good information from a domineering "expert"
If you find yourself talking to someone who simply tells you what you "should" do without
asking about your particular situation or needs, I recommend asking:
Even if you've jumped into a solution that doesn't make you happy, most of the time you can "go back"
- How did you choose this particular solution?
- Are you using it yourself?
- What do you like about it?
- What problems might I run into?
- Can you outline for me the steps it will take to implement it from start to finish?
- How long will it take?
- What will it cost?
Over the past few years I've had a number of clients with older Windows computers that weren't working so well decide to switch to Macintosh rather than repair or replace their Windows machines. Their reasons have included:
- "My very smart friend told me that Macintoshes were just better."
- "I heard that they're easier to use."
- "I'm tired of all the infections on Windows, and Macs are immune, right?"
- "A PC needs so much maintenance, and a Macintosh doesn't need any, right?"
As you may already have guessed, I don't consider any of these to be good reasons to switch, nor do I consider any of these statements to be strictly true.
If you're in the early stages of changing your technology, it's usually not difficult to go back. For example, if you've bought a Macintosh to replace a Windows machine but find that you don't like it or can't get something to work, if you haven't yet switched over from your Windows machine you could:
- Return the Macintosh if it's within the store's return period.
- Sell it to someone else.
- Donate it to charity and take a tax deduction.
- Give it to your children or someone else who could make good use of it.
If you're in the later stages of a technology change it may take more effort to change back, but don't assume that you're "stuck with it." Like I outlined above, do some research and assess what it would take. Conclusions
Where to go from here
- If you're considering a significant technology change, following an organized approach to define the problems, get advice from someone you trust, and carefully consider the pros and cons is a much better approach than blindly following the advice of some "expert" who hasn't looked at your particular situation.
- If you find yourself regretting a technology change you've already made, using a similar process to assess how you might "go back" is much better than assuming that you can't and "suffering in silence."
- Get help from people you trust, especially ones who can look at your situation and discuss what's best for you.
- "Moving to a new computer is easy, right?" - http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2009_09_23.html
- If you use Quicken for Windows and are considering switching to Macintosh, be especially careful because many of the features of Quicken you may be accustomed to using on Windows may simply not exist in Quicken for Mac, especially in the newer "Quicken Essentials for Mac."
If you're confused or frustrated by something on your computer, I like to say, "You can do it!" You might just need a little encouragement, or information, or change of perspective, and that's where I come in.