Learning to Use a Computer After 40 – Is it Too Difficult?

I was in my mid-forties before I even turned a computer on for the first time, with help. Within a few months I was using the computer to do all my correspondence, and loving it. A couple of years later, before re-entering the workforce, I took several basic computer courses, keyboarding (to teach me to type faster), Word ( a word processing program), Excel (numbers and spreadsheets), and Access (a data entry program). A couple of years after that, I had my first experience with the Internet and e-mail.

Now in my fifties, between work and personal matters, I often spend several hours a day at my computer. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. When you’re learning basic computer skills, you discover that there isn’t one single difficult thing to learn, from turning the computer on to sending an e-mail, to doing your bookkeeping. Every step is easy. This is why four-year-olds can operate computers. (Whether they should is another matter altogether.) The hard part is remembering the dozens, even hundreds of easy steps. It can be incredibly overwhelming. That’s where good notes come in. Or “Computers for Beginners” types of books. Because no one can remember all the steps, not at first.

2. On the computer, there are always several ways of doing everything, whether it’s opening a document, or bolding a sentence, or saving a file. Plus, almost everything on the computer can be done either with the mouse or by various combinations on the keyboard. Again, overwhelming! I finally decided to spare my brain and keep it simple. I picked one way of doing each thing, and gave myself permission to forget all the other ways. What a relief!

3. If you have a computer at home, you MUST have someone you can call to assist you with the hard problems, like security programs, viruses, or any one of the hundreds of malfunctions and error messages that are sure to pop up. You could call your computer’s manufacturer… if you’re happy to sit on hold on the phone for long enough to cook a large turkey. Most of us aren’t. So you need your own personal IT department. If you aren’t fortunate enough to be married to a computer geek, as I am, perhaps you can call a friend. Or one of your children. Or grandchildren. Or anyone under 20. Be nice to them – at first you’ll need them a lot!

So don’t be intimidated. Learning to use a computer takes time and patience, but it isn’t hard, and you’ll never regret it. Your new challenge will be keeping yourself off it long enough to get anything else done!

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