CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Don't forget what the "P" in "PC" stands for: "Personal"

Originally Published: June 23, 1997

Cathi Schuler

What is your customary reaction when someone says, "it's a personal problem", or "the relationship is personal", or simply, "it's personal"? Most of us typically retreat in haste since this message is usually loud and clear: "This is none of your business!"

So why doesn't the "personal computer" merit the same respect? Maybe the term PC really stands for "public computer" since people are so bold in venturing into this high-tech inner sanctum of other's lives with little or no true expertise and often without invitation. Moreover, I'm amazed at the number of people who so willingly offer up their expensive systems to anyone who says, "hey, lemme try something".

In the last few months I've received an alarming number of calls that always start with, "My brother-in-law was over last night and..." or "My neighbor said he could fix..." or "This guy at work told me he knew how to..." or "The kids were in the office all day and..." Regardless of how the story begins, the ending is always the same: "It doesn't work anymore."

What do you expect? As long as you've handed over your personal computer to your brother's stepdaughter's boyfriend's roommate's nephew, why not give him your house keys as well? Then leave town for a few days and let him redecorate your house, throw away anything he deems unnecessary, add a few pieces of furniture and funk art, renovate your kitchen and overhaul your underwear drawer.

Seem absurd and frivolous? Perhaps, but it's to make a point. People seem to have about as much respect for the personal nature of this sophisticated machine as they do for a toaster. Your personal computer should be every bit as private and personal as other areas of your life that merit this distinction.

Especially if you've grown to depend upon your computer for work and personal productivity you can't afford the downtime required to remedy software, hardware and online problems. Such interruptions can be disastrous for businesses that depend on PCs for daily tasks.

Do your homework and be very thorough when it comes to choosing someone to help with your computer settings and software installations. You're careful about workers and contractors you select for repairs and maintenance. Exercise this same good judgement when it comes to maintaining your computer files. Talk to business associates and friends to get referrals of good, competent computer technicians or refer to the manufacturer for service recommendations.

If you're assured that a friend, relative or co-worker is qualified to fine tune your computer system, then pay close attention. Take notes and document any changes that were made. When troubleshooting computer problems, the first question usually asked is "What's different or new?" Before giving the O.K. to delete files or programs, make sure they don't impact other programs or system configurations.

When unsure about deleting files or making changes, bite the bullet and call on tech support. The manufacturer of every feature on your system maintains some level of tech support and help. Some are more readily available than others are, but with persistence, you can communicate with someone who can give you expert advice. If you've misplaced your original documentation, visit the Internet and look for tech support options at the various vendors' websites.

If you have a specialized setup, such as a network, always refer to the original vendor or reseller for assistance in upgrading or changing your system settings. Certainly second opinions and bids are always warranted, but oftentimes your system may have unique settings and configurations that others may not be aware of.

It's important to carefully supervise children and youths during their computer sessions. Kids are most curious and have no fear when it comes to pressing DELETE or excavating through the bowels of your system files. I've seen a friendly game of Myst turn into a reformatted hard disk and five years of business payroll files subsequently vaporized. ("What backup?")

Most important of all, take personal responsibility for your personal computer. Learning as much as possible about your PC components will empower you with the knowledge necessary to participate in decisions regarding system changes and who to entrust with making such changes.

All of us, on our own, can do a superb job at screwing up a well functioning personal computer. Take care before you entrust these unfortunate moments to just anyone.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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