David Pogue wants you to get to know your favorite devices a whole lot better, through tech’s best-kept usability secrets. The author, speaker, former New York Times columnist, and founder of Yahoo Tech has put these essential tips together into Pogue’s Basics, the perfect gift for the would-be tech-savvy person on your list. Here’s Pogue on the what and why of his new book:
My biggest challenge is going to be explaining what Pogue’s Basics is. Yes, OK, it’s 200 tips about technology. But “tips” isn’t really the right word. These are essentials. Fundamental techniques for anyone who uses a phone, tablet, computer, email, camera, or web browser. Because guess what? There’s no driver’s ed class for tech. They don’t teach it in school. There’s not even a user manual.
Can you imagine? We buy devices that cost hundreds of dollars—and we’re supposed to guess at the most efficient way to use them! Maybe we pick up a technique here and there by watching other people, but that’s not a very thorough system of learning. Fifteen years ago, I was waiting in a publisher’s office, watching a receptionist try to select one word in a document. She would drag her cursor across the word, but go a little bit too high or low, and wind up selecting an entire extra line of text. She was getting frustrated and wasting time.
I finally blurted out, “Why don’t you just double-click the word?”
She had no clue you could do that! That experience led to a “things you thought everybody knows, but they don’t” post on my New York Times blog. BOOM—1,500 reader comments in two days. And then I gave a TED talk, where I demonstrated 10 of these tips. TED posted the video of the talk. BOOM—4 million views.
That did it. This needed to be a book. People say, “Who is this book for?” I guess they want me to say, “It’s for your parents,” or “It’s for people who struggle with technology.” But the more I talk to people, the more I realize everyone is missing at least some core knowledge about their own gadgets. Even the young technophiles who grew up with touch screens and mobile devices. How many of these did you know?
- Tap the Space bar to scroll down one screen full on a Web page. (Add the Shift key to scroll up again.) Much more convenient than groping for your mouse.
- When you’re filling in a form online, press the Tab key to jump from box to box. For a pop-up menu, just type the first letter of your state or country. Type that letter key repeatedly to cycle through the different state names that begin with that letter.
- For bigger text on a Web page, press Ctrl-+ repeatedly. Use the – key instead (also with Ctrl) to make the text smaller again. (On Mac, use the Command key instead. That is, press Command-+ to make the text larger.)
- On a smartphone, end a sentence by tapping the Space key twice. That shortcut does three things. It creates a period; adds a space; and automatically capitalizes the next word you type. (Works on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone.)
- To call somebody again, tap the Call button on the dialing pad. Doing that puts the most recently dialed number into the typing box, as though you’d just typed it out again. Now tap Call again to place the call.
- Into Google’s regular search box, you can type, for example, define schadenfreude to see the complete definition, right there beneath your search box. You don’t even have to click anything. You can also type a flight number, like delta 323 or UA 31. Google shows you the gate, terminal, time remaining, departure and landing times, and other great info—again, you don’t have to click anything else. And Google is a unit converter. Into the search box, type inches in 32 cm. Or liters in a gallon. Or ounces in 3.5 quarts. It works for currencies, too. Type dollars in 25 euros. Or rubles in 400 francs.
- When you’re giving a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, press the B key to black out a slide, so people will attention to you instead of your slide. Press B again to bring the picture back. (The W key works, too—to white out the slide.)
Anyway, you get the idea. This book’s mission in life is to collect, in one place, every essential you’d think everybody knows about technology—but you’d be wrong. You may know some of these tips already. No problem; skim them and savor the rosy glow of smug superiority. But it’s also certain some of these tips will be new to you. And that’s good. If Pogue’s Basics teaches you just one new trick that makes your life easier…
Well, then it wasn’t a very good book.
But you’ll probably pick up a lot more than that.
Pogue’s Basics is on sale today!