If You're not a Geek, You'd Better Know One

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Bad enough that I'm my own tech support person. Thanks to the muddled magic of digital technology, I also get to handle the support calls of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. It's not that I'm so smart. It's that truly smart people have learned they can get more done by willfully ignoring the petty details of the technologies in their lives. When something goes wrong, they figure they can find some kindly geek to set things straight. And they're right.

Concepts that seem obvious to those of us who cultivate technical savvy are utterly alien to the nontech majority--with good reason, since most products, services, and technologies aren't nearly as simple as techies and tech companies would like to believe. Just ask anybody with half a dozen remotes on the coffee table and a spouse who merely wants to watch a pay-cable show--even without the complication of getting it to play through a home audio system.

Take a flight anywhere, and you'll discover that few people know how to turn off their cell phones' annoying startup and shutdown tunes. Backing up files? I've known people who thought that copying their data to a second drive was a great strategy--until the first drive crashed and they learned that the second "drive" was actually just another partition on the same dead hunk of hardware.

I'm still astounded at how many users of free e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail either don't know or don't care that ads of questionable taste are appended to their most serious messages. The subject line of a brief but urgent note from our local block-watch captain read "Watch out for an arsonist in our midst tonight!" Neither intended nor seen by the sender, the e-mail's tagline: "Sick sense of humor? Visit Yahoo TV's Comedy with an Edge to see what's on, when."

With the Web's increasing sophistication, things that used to be straightforward no longer are. Once upon a time, the mail you saved or the document you created resided on your hard drive. Now it may live on your provider's server unless you take special action to make it local. That's fine until you need the file 38,000 feet above Albuquerque, or the provider's system crashes or its business goes bust. Plenty of users fail to grasp basics like these--until it's too late.

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