|Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
|Volume 12 Issue 8
|A Brief Look Back at 20 Years of Computer Consulting
Having previously worked as a software engineer for almost 20 years, when I started this business in 1998, for the average computer user:
- "Going online" meant accessing bulletin boards and internet services using slow dial-up connections (which tied up your landline phone) or somewhat-faster DSL (which didn't).
- Earthlink, AOL and CompuServe were major players, and the World Wide Web was growing.
- Amazon.com only had a million customers and was just starting to sell more than just books.
- Yahoo and AltaVista were the dominant search engines and Google was a new, minor presence.
- Computers had 486 or Pentium or PowerPC processors, 16 to 512 megabytes of RAM, floppy drives, CD- or DVD-ROM drives, the largest hard drives held 4 gigabytes, and the faster USB 1.1 interface was new.
- Cell phones were simple, email was becoming more than a novelty, and online banking cost $10 per month or more.
- The "dot-com bubble" was growing, with extreme optimism and speculation fueling inflated stock prices.
- Computer viruses on both Windows 98 and Mac OS 8 were widespread.
Today, the technology has gotten faster, more complicated, more sophisticated, and deeply embedded in the average person's everyday life and work.
What hasn't changed
- Many longstanding industries have evolved and adapted, others have disappeared, and new products and services and innovations appear almost every day. The online economy is a well-established given.
- While the cost of some technology has come down, and free and subscription online services (and software) have become common, having the latest and greatest device still carries a premium price.
- Email has grown to become a fixture in personal and business communication, but text messaging is becoming more popular than email for personal use, and businesses are starting to expand their customer communication to include it as well.
- "Social media" platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have become extremely popular, both for personal and business use.
- Fueled by trust concerns, reputation and quality ratings have become common, like the positive/negative feedback ratings on eBay and the 1- to 5-star reviews on Amazon and Yelp, along with the ability to post fake reviews which can artificially push those ratings higher or lower.
- Technology-related physical and mental health issues are on the rise.
- Viruses and malware are even more pervasive and varied, and scams and privacy threats are common.
- Online bullying, stalking, harassment, and hate speech are becoming major problems.
- On the upside, there have been many positive technological advances in health care, education, online communities, safety, and lots of free online information.
Every day I see regular people who are juggling the many demands of modern life, and in addition to the traditional areas of work, family, education, health, recreation, scheduling and more, the struggle to understand and cope with technology adds another layer of complexity and stress.
The good news is that technology can bring people together from all over the world. You can find help and support for almost anything, and it's easier than ever to post your perspective online or start a support group or discussion. People with clever ideas are sharing them online, creating new online services, and inventing useful gadgets every day. Inspiring stories, artwork, photography, music, video and more are just a click away.
No matter how much technology may change and evolve, the fundamentals still apply:
I'm an optimist
- You are important: Your needs, goals, budget, preferences, and limitations matter. Don't let anyone tell you what's right for you if they haven't taken the time to understand you and your needs, whether you're thinking about getting a new computer or cell phone, or thinking about changing how you pay your bills, handle your email, or anything else. Even well-meaning people can confuse what works for them with what will work for you, especially if they are fond of (or excited about) some particular technology that may not serve you or interest you at all.
- Trust: If you're having problems understanding or using technology, get help from someone you know and trust. If you don't know someone, get a recommendation, either from someone you know or a reputable source. Since it is easy for malicious people or companies to create fake web sites, merely searching online (including Google) is not a safe way to find people worthy of your trust, nor to find software to solve a problem. Just like you might check out a car mechanic or plumber, check the reputation of any person, service, or product before you consider using them.
- Protection: Viruses and malware are more of a threat than ever. Get reasonable protection for your computer, or have someone you know and trust set it up for you.
- Backup: Despite many advances in technology, your computer and portable devices will all still eventually wear out, or they may just suddenly stop working, or get damaged or lost or stolen. This makes backup critically important to protect your years of valuable data and software from loss. While I have seen computers that still work after 5 or 7 years (and sometimes even longer), a typical hardware warranty is only 1 to 3 years. So, you should set up a thorough backup system for your computer and your portable devices, it should run on a regular schedule if possible, and you should verify that it really works as often as you can. Or, if this is too difficult for you to do, get someone you know and trust to do it for you.
- Be careful: Don't send confidential information by regular email (passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.), it's very insecure. Don't post personally identifying information online for all the world to see. You could be opening yourself up to hacking, financial theft, identity theft, stalking, or worse.
- Be skeptical: I have also not yet seen any technological advances that can prevent an email or on-screen message or phone call from someone claiming that they have magically detected a problem with your computer, portable device, bank account, credit card, etc., especially ones that say that they are from Microsoft, AOL, the FBI, the IRS, or some other institution. Don't believe it, and don't get pressured into doing anything. Just hang up the phone, delete that email, close that window, or turn your computer off and on again. Such claims are most likely to be just a scam designed to trick you into paying hundreds of dollars for a "solution" to a nonexistent problem.
Despite all of the problems and risks, I've seen firsthand how carefully-chosen and thoughtfully-applied technology can solve problems and connect people. I also feel that technology is just one part of a larger picture, so it's not always the solution to every problem.
Be careful. Have fun!
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.