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Blood pressure rises, face reddens, hands begin to tremble slightly, and a steady stream of aggravated mutterings can be heard, as an all too familiar “slow burn” develops in the otherwise docile human being behind a computer monitor.

Frustration is commonplace when learning to navigate the complex features of today’s software applications. For someone who just wants to type a simple letter or add up a column of numbers, all the bells and whistles can be overwhelming. Just learning to ignore the things you don’t need can be an acquired skill with its own merit. Add encountering things that don’t make sense, and even the most experienced users confess a desire to put their foot through their computer… or the backside of the nearest Microsoft executive.

Not everyone is a computer whiz, nor wants to be. But we have something in common regardless of our skill level. We’d all like to learn something to make the experience a little less frustrating.

The more you know, the more empowered you become. Sometimes a simple task can have global effects on your skill level. Understanding the logic behind a routine task takes away the mystery and frustration you experience. There are also are a number of things you can do to ease your own pain.

First of all, realize that computers were created by human beings. You cannot expect perfection from an imperfect creation. Given that you don’t expect perfection from the device in front of you, cut yourself a little slack while you are at it. You are not going to be perfect at this either. There will be a learning curve, and it will not be in direct proportion to the 12-year-old kid next door. Children are growing up with these things, so they are going to be better at them than we are. Accept it. And don’t expect them to be willing to honestly help you. This is one thing they finally know more about than we do, and they are not about to assist you in leveling the playing field.

Second, don’t be afraid of the computer. The developers have done a fairly nice job at making it “novice-proof.” I’m fascinated by the difference in my classes of adults and kids. The kids come busting in, turning on every device, clicking every button, and asking if they can do “this” or “that,” after they have already done “the other.” Adults, on the other hand, will file in quietly, sit with their hands folded, never even turning the computer on until they are told, afraid they will break something. The kids figure things out while we wait politely for someone to teach us.

Boldly go where you have never gone before. Have a sense of adventure and fun. The computer is a toolbox full of tools. Grab ‘em up and sling ‘em around. Don’t let the computer intimidate you. Be willing to make a mistake.

With that in mind, here is the first set of “tools” I reveal to new users.

The ESC key. It resides in the upper left-hand corner of your keyboard. It is your escape hatch. If you open a menu or a window you didn’t mean to, or are afraid to respond to, merely hit the ESC key. You can “back out” of the situation, no harm done.

The CANCEL button, and the X button in the upper right corner of a window, both act like the ESC key on the keyboard. Click on either of these buttons with your mouse, and escape from the situation, no harm done.

Remember, Microsoft doesn’t create a perfect computer world, and you may encounter times when one of these options won’t respond, but the other one will. Keep all three in your toolbox.

And have at it. There is a lot you can teach yourself if you have the courage of a 12-year-old.

In future columns, I’ll address computer-user complaints, frustrations, and offer helpful hints. If you have a particular frustration you’d like addressed, email me at melody(at)netw.com

Melody Martz is a Microsoft Certified Office User Specialist. She owns Computer Help, and has conducted individual and group computer training in the community since 1984. Reach her at 208-290-2924.

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Melody Martz

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