Recently, I helped a very smart friend with a computer problem. She was having an issue with the program she uses most and asked me for some assistance.
The solution to her issue turned out to be simple and involved copying a file into a folder.
“How do I do that?” she asked.
At first I was a little surprised. As I said, this is a smart person, but she did not know how to perform a task that's Basic Computing 101. Like a lot of people — some of whom have used computers for years — she only knows what she thinks she needs to know and isn't interested in stepping outside that box.
That's fine until a user hits an issue that's easily fixed but can't fix it because of lack of basic knowledge.
With that in mind, I asked the folks who read and participate in my TechBlog to offer their thoughts on the basic skills needed to be computer literate. That request generated more than 70 responses, and I've distilled them into nine things required for basic computer literacy.
•Files and navigation. You should know where the files you use are stored on your computer, as well as what they are. For example, when you download a file from the Web, do you know where it goes? Do you know that a file with a .doc extension was created by Microsoft Word, while a .jpg file is a picture? Do you know how to copy, move and delete files?
•What things are called. When you're discussing something happening on your computer, you need to know the names of its various hardware and software components, particularly when asking for help. You should know that a computer's memory is not the same as its hard drive; that Windows Explorer is different from Internet Explorer; and that a Web browser is different from “the Internet.”
•Mouse and keyboard. You should know basic keyboard commands — for example, Control C for Copy, Control V for Paste, Control X for cut, among others (you'd use the Command key on a Mac). You should also know how to highlight, copy, cut and paste using the mouse. Finally, you should know about right-clicking the mouse to bring up pop-up menus.
•Basic hardware. While you don't need to be able to assemble your own PC, you should know that files are stored permanently on the hard drive; that memory is where programs run and data is created; that your video card is what generates the picture you see on your monitor.
•How to get online. You need to know how to connect to the Internet and how to use the basic functions of your Web browser. If you have a portable computer, you should be able to connect to public Wi-Fi hot spots.
•How to search. Once you're online, you should now how to search for something via Google, Bing or another search engine. That includes simple search techniques, such as putting multiple words inside quote marks to search for an exact phrase.
•Security. You should know better than to click on e-mail attachments you weren't expecting (even from people you know), or random links in an e-mail. You should know not to use passwords that are easy to guess and not to share log-in information. You should also keep your antivirus and antispyware software updated, along with patches and fixes for your operating system and programs.
•How to get help. You should know how to use the help features on your computer. There are help files for the operating system, as well as for each application. You should also know how to find support information on the Web site of your computer's manufacturer.
•Program basics. You should know the basic functions in the programs you use most often. For example, can you attach a file to an e-mail? Use File > Save As... to save a Word document in a different format? Reduce the size of a digital photo before you e-mail it?
Want more? You can read the original blog post and the resulting discussion at www.chron.com/pcliterate.