For more than seventeen years now, helping smart people get the most of technology products and services at work, at home, and everywhere in between has been my life’s work. People sometimes assume that I’m a role model when it comes to such matters. That’s tremendously flattering.
Often, though, I’m something at least as useful: An object lesson in what not to do. If there’s a tech-related mistake to be made, I’ve probably made it. Repeatedly, in some cases.
Avoiding my missteps isn’t a bad strategy for success with hardware, software, and the Web. Herewith, a few of the dumb things I’ve been known to do …
- Biting off more than I can chew at once. You don’t need to address every issue that technology can solve for you all at once. In fact, if you try to, you’re more likely to create new problems. Worse, you may have more trouble diagnosing and fixing them than if you changed one thing at a time. I just wish I always remembered that.
- Not remembering that technology is made up of systems, not standalone products. Sure, you want good PCs and operating systems and application software and printers and networking gear. And I sometimes devote most of my attention to buying the right standalone products. But almost all of the power of tech is wrapped up in how hardware, software, and services work together — and a fair amount of the stress that tech can induce comes when they don’t work together.
- Working in haste. Just about every time I’ve ever had a computer upgrade go awry, for instance, it’s because I tried to rush it. My success rate is vastly higher when I take time to read instructions and double-check my work, and when I allow time for any troubleshooting that proves necessary.
- Letting troubles fester. Sometimes I’ve cheerfully ignored warning signs that something was amiss — like when I used a PC for weeks after its power supply began making weird buzzing sounds, or when I noticed a potential security hole with a Web software installation and didn’t seal it up pronto. Sometimes I’ve lucked out; sometimes I haven’t.
- Failing to devise backup strategies and disaster-recovery plans. Even the best technology products and services are far from bulletproof. And the more essential they are, the more important it is that you ask yourself what you’d do if they suddenly died on you. I know, for instance, that if I’m going somewhere to deliver an important presentation, I should at the very least tote along a copy on a thumb drive, just in case my laptop conks out. I have, however, forgotten to practice what I preach from time to time.
- Seeking help too late. Like many folks who love technology, I take pleasure in making my own decisions and solving my own problems — and I frequently dive into challenges that are really above my pay grade. I usually emerge unscathed and smarter. There are times, though, when it’s worth seeking assistance from a professional — especially when any hiccups could have serious consequences.
Whew! Strangely enough, I’m sort of proud of just how many tech mistakes I’ve managed to make over the years: If you’re not constantly boldly going where you’ve never gone before, you’re not learning. Or so I like to tell myself. If you prefer to learn from my mistakes rather than your own, I understand. And I suspect I’ll continue to make plenty of them on your behalf.
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About the Author: Harry McCracken is founder and editor of Technologizer, a new site about the Web, PCs, and personal technology. He’s been a computer user for almost exactly thirty years — and spent nearly half of that time working at PC World, where he wound up as editor-in-chief and won awards for his editorials and blog.