How To? On Despair, Guidance, Manuals and Fiddling


First encounters with software applications can be overwhelming, and usually they are if one is not an insider or geek. I am neither one nor the other and thus I am addressing people like myself: Perhaps already advanced in age, but still eager not to miss out on the incredible powers of modern digital technology. So, despair is my daily experience and the following is based on it. Or better put: It is based on the experience that despair is inevitable but with some proper guidance it can turn into pleasure and mastery.

There are application which are more accessible than others, which guide you better into their workings and functioning, and the best of them, in terms of layout, offer a high degree of intuitive learning via trial and error. But even the best make you stumble and stop, scratch your head and drive you into despair. Either by their own faults and shortcomings, but very often by our own “blindness” and lack of digital imagination. This is the moment when manuals become important, but also any other kind of tutorial help, in written form, as audio instruction or as video clip.

It is my experience, that it is very advisable and helpful, before starting with a new program, to take the time to read some basic introduction which usually comes with it. Software production has improved enormously in the last 15 years and it is rare that a program does not offer more or less extensive information and tuition in written or audio-visual form.

I have made it a rule, to “study” introductory material which comes with a program. (I have to admit, that not always do I follow this rule und often I regret my impatience.) But I also have learnt not to be narrow about this idea and slavishly follow its instruction. There is something to be said about playing around and fiddling. Just finding out what happens when one pushes one or the other button. Very good applications will invite you to do that because one can rely to some degree on their intuitive setup. But, and here comes a second “rule”: one has to really look around on the computer screen and see what it shows. Again, very good application will show you what you need and what can be done at every particular stage.

Manuals could explain you everything, but written instructions are so much more complex and will not match direct visual learning. My advice: Fiddle and consult, written manual, audio-visual tutorials, contributions in forums.

“Forums” belong to my third “rule”: Learn to look out for “forums” in which the application is discussed. At least 50% of all help I need I find in forums in which other digital compatriots share their despair and their recoveries and most importantly solutions.