"Is This Thing On?": A Friendly Guide to Everything Digital for Newbies, Technophobes, and the Kicking & Screamingby Abby Stokes
Like a personal trainer for the digital age, Abby Stokes is the hand-holding, motivating expert that newbies—specifically older newbies—turn to when they want to become digitally literate. And her book, Is This Thing On?, is as smart, comprehensive, reassuring, and jargon-free as she is: the epitome of user-friendly. And it is now completely/i>
Like a personal trainer for the digital age, Abby Stokes is the hand-holding, motivating expert that newbies—specifically older newbies—turn to when they want to become digitally literate. And her book, Is This Thing On?, is as smart, comprehensive, reassuring, and jargon-free as she is: the epitome of user-friendly. And it is now completely revised and updated to keep pace with the fast-changing digital landscape, covering tablets, apps, video streaming, social media, and much more. With the skill and assurance of a teacher who for over 20 years has personally taught computer skills to thousands of seniors and technophobes, Stokes covers it all: How to choose, buy, and start using the computer or tablet that’s just right for you, plus how to set everything up for maximum comfort and safety. How to connect to the Internet, sign up for email, understand and use search engines, and get started with essential skills like word processing and text messaging. How to choose, buy, and start using a smartphone. How to take and share digital photographs and videos. How to discover online communities and participate in social media like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. How to explore the world of apps, online music, streaming movies, and ebooks. And, importantly, online security— including what to do when things go wrong. Appendices include both Apple and PC keyboard shortcuts and 200 recommended websites and 100 apps; there are FAQs at the end of each chapter and tips and tricks throughout. An all-new companion website—AskAbbyStokes.com—will include video tutorials explaining the latest technologies.
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Read an Excerpt
There Is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
Bring the World to Your Fingertips
Research, find, and buy anything you can imagine, and communicate with loved ones, without leaving home—what technology and the Internet offer
My mother still can’t reset her clock radio after Daylight Saving Time. She just adds or subtracts an hour until I come home for a visit. And the first week after she buys a new car, she only drives it in the Stop & Shop parking lot. Once she feels comfortable enough to take it on the road, it’s still a few months before the windshield wipers stop being activated whenever she means to signal a right turn. Considering her lack of technical savvy and anxiety about new devices, I am incredibly proud of her for joining the community of computer users. Mom had never shown any interest in technology, but like so many seniors, she knew she was missing out on something when she began to notice that every article she read ended with “For more information, go to www.[insert almost anything here].com.”
“Peach, what is a website?” she asked me.
“Think of a computer or tablet as a combination television set and typewriter. Then think of the Internet as a library. You can find information on absolutely anything you can dream up on the Internet by accessing different websites—as you would books in a library. Just type in what you want to learn about, and it will appear in front of you in the form of pictures, text, and sound” was my answer.
A website is like a book. Instead of going to the library and looking up a title in the card catalog (which is now on a computer), you go to the Internet and type in a website address.
Because there can be more than one website for a given subject, you’ll have many choices available to you. Each website is designed individually, just as books are written individually by different authors.
“I had no idea what the Internet could do for me, but I knew that if I didn’t try it soon, I never would. Now I use it for everything. . . . I write the newsletter and maintain the mailing list for my church. I love finding out all kinds of information online and I’m a big fan of email.”
Anyone can have a website—even you. All that is needed is the desire to convey information and the willingness to pay a small annual fee to a company to register the name of your website. If you don’t mind piggybacking on another website or having advertisements on your site, you may be able to have a website at no cost.
A few months later, Mom visited me in New York and wanted to see a Broadway musical. This was the perfect opportunity to show her what the Internet has to offer and how I make my living (I teach computer skills to digital immigrants—those not born with a keyboard or a mouse in their hand). I turned on my computer, connected to the Internet, and then typed in playbill.com (the website address of a company that sells theater tickets), and like magic, their website appeared on my screen. I picked the show we wanted to see and the date that was best for us. Next, the seating chart appeared on the screen and we chose our seats. Then I ordered the tickets and typed in my email address, where I would receive the e-tickets (electronic tickets), and printed them on my printer at home.
Mom was impressed. I’ve been teaching people how to maneuver around the Internet for more than two decades now, and it continues to amaze me with the infinite ways that it can benefit those who use it. The Internet allows you to track investments, research family genealogy, contact buddies, purchase a new car, auction a coin collection, search for the best deal on airline tickets, and so much more.
“The Internet allows us to get up-to-date stock quotes, access detailed information on a company of interest, and directly buy and sell stocks any time we want. We even access The Wall Street Journal online. All this has increased our enjoyment and the value of our investments. Who can argue with that?”
—Cy and Ruth
Convincing Mom Continues . . .
The ease with which we were able to purchase the theater tickets on the computer had my mother intrigued.
“What else can the Internet do?”
“I can’t tell you everything it can do, Mom, because it’s constantly evolving. I don’t think anyone really knows its full capabilities. But I’ll give you some examples of what I think is fun and practical about it.”
Mom had lost track of a dear friend of hers several years ago and, after much effort, sadly gave up on finding her. I signed on to the Internet and typed in whitepages.com (a website where you can search for people and businesses, much in the way you would with a phone book). Within a few seconds, there were seven listings of people with the same name as Mom’s long-lost friend, one of whom was unmistakably her. The listings that appeared included telephone numbers and street addresses. The happy ending is that Mom found her friend. From that moment on, she was sold on the Internet.
Shirley, one of my mother’s friends, suffers from a very rare cancer. Once she learned how to get online, she found detailed information about her specific form of cancer and alternative treatment ideas, but she also found a group of people with the same condition. She now communicates with some of them daily. All of this is done through the Internet, which enables her to be involved in the world around her even when she is housebound.
To say that the Internet can give you information on just about anything you can dream up may sound like a huge overstatement, but it’s true.
Tablet vs. Laptop or Desktop Computer
All of these devices will connect to the Internet, check email, and offer photo sharing. Tablets are small, lightweight, and easy to carry with you. Computers have more processing power than tablets. There isn’t necessarily a “winner,” only a more preferable choice for your specific needs.
A Taste of What Some People Do with the Internet
One of my students, Graciela, always has an interesting list of things she wants to find out about on the Internet. During one lesson, we visited websites with information about renting a house on Martha’s Vineyard, tracked down an artist whose work she wanted to buy, and found a doormat with Jack Russell terriers emblazoned on it.
By typing “Martha’s Vineyard rentals” in a search engine (which I’ll explain to you later), we came upon more than a dozen websites, many of them with photos of the interiors and exteriors of the houses available. While looking at a photo of one of the rentals, we noticed the words “how to get here” on the screen. We clicked on the words and a different website appeared that offered us driving directions and a map that showed the best route. Graciela printed the directions and set them aside to put in her car’s glove compartment.
Then came the mission of tracking down the artist whose work she liked. First, we typed in the artist’s name, but because Graciela couldn’t remember the exact spelling, that didn’t work. But she did remember what gallery showed his work and typed that in. Not only did it give us contact information, but the website featured one of his paintings as well.
On to the doormat. That took a little ingenuity. We searched for “doormats” and “doormats with dogs.” We found tons of doormats and a surprising number of doormats with dogs, but not the right kind of dog. Then we searched for “Jack Russell terrier doormat.” We found a great-looking mat and bought it over the Internet with her credit card. It was delivered the next week. We both had ear-to-ear grins of satisfaction.
What More Does the Internet Offer?
Another really great feature of the information superhighway is that you can communicate inexpensively with other people all over the world. I remember when we would call my grandparents and have just enough time to say, “Hello. How are things?” before my grandfather would say, “OK. Enough, ladies. This is long distance. Say good-bye now.” I don’t mean to make light of the cost of a telephone call or how hard my grandfather worked for his money, but wasn’t that why they invented long distance, so we could talk to one another? Well, thank heaven for digital technology. I have students who communicate with friends and family across the globe every day. If it wasn’t for the Internet, this would be financially impossible for most of us.
“I’m sure when my son gave me my tablet he thought I might never use it. I guess I wasn’t sure either. But I’ve always been a tinkerer, and the tablet became a new challenge. Last month, I gave my son advice about websites to check out for buying a new car. That felt good.”
Email = ?
Email, or electronic mail, is the same idea as sending a letter (now lovingly referred to as snail mail), but rather than waiting for it to go from a mailbox to your local post office, get sorted, sent to another post office, and then delivered to the recipient, you send your message through the computer by way of your phone line or a high-speed connection to the Internet. This all happens in a matter of seconds rather than days.
Still confused? Well, email confused me, too, until I could actually see how it all worked. So if things in this book get a bit murky, have faith that when you get in front of a computer and see what I’m talking about, it will all make sense.
What Else Can a Computer or Tablet Do for Me?
It’s hard to deny that along with all the other things you can accomplish on a computer or tablet, it is the Internet, with its access to the information superhighway, that has made digital technology a must-have over the years.
However, having a computer or tablet offers you much more than the Internet. You will have the ability to organize your address book, create a family newsletter, and, if you want to, simulate flying a plane or master chess. Some of my students track their frequent-flyer miles, inventory their collectibles, and design their own stationery. The computer can consolidate your paperwork, create order in your world, and track your finances.
There is no end to how technology can organize, simplify, and enhance your life. But first you need to learn a bit more about computers and tablets, decide what you want to buy, and get it up and running. The whole undertaking of buying these devices can seem overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged. This book will guide you through the entire process. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it will be to make an educated purchase and how quickly you will learn to use and love your buy.
Meet the Author
Abby Stokes has taken on the role of the Johnny Appleseed of technology, crisscrossing the country to help “digital immigrants” conquer their fear. She has visited more than 20 states, 120 public libraries, and 100 senior centers/computer clubs, and has hosted webinars across the country. She has taught courses at both Cooper Union and NYU’s School of Lifelong Learning, and has also taught private and corporate clients. Ms. Stokes divides her time between New York City and Niantic, Connecticut.
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