How to Be “Good With Computers”

I met Sister Eileen in the rectory and tried to keep up as she speed-walked through a series of halls to an office. She was in her seventies and had more energy than I did. As we sat down at a computer, I placed my hand on the unopened box and warned her, "Adobe Photoshop is a relatively complex photo retouching program -are you sure you don't want to begin with simpler software?"

"No, I've heard so much about Photoshop and I really want to learn it," she insisted.

She then opened the $600 shrink wrapped package and gave me the first CD along with a big smile.

During the installation, I doubted that she would spend more than a frustrating hour or so clicking around the sophisticated menus of Photoshop before abandoning it. I'd seen it too many times -people near or at the age of grandparents who are baffled and intimidated by the use of a computer. As we grow older and more set in our ways, computers become more challenging to learn, unless we've used them all along.

I spent an hour showing Sister Eileen a few basics of Photoshop. She seemed pleased and I went on my way.

Two weeks later Sister Eileen called for more training. When I sat down with her, she amazed me with some of the artwork and photo manipulation she had created. She asked some specific questions that showed a new knowledge of Photoshop that I wouldn't have expected. In fact, I felt a tad ashamed for prejudging her and vowed not to do it again -with anyone.

I wanted to know why Sister Eileen was different from my other senior clients who throw their arms up in surrender as they equate learning computers to learning rocket science. I knew she was intelligent and energetic, but there had to be more.

I asked her to show me how she created one of her images. I believe her answer revealed the secret to why kids seem to be so good with computers. She said, "To do this, I click here, and then here, and then here..." Through practice, she had memorized the pattern of menus to accomplish exactly what she wanted to program to do -like memorizing directions to a friend's house using visual cues instead of reading street signs. She didn't need to understand every aspect of Photoshop. Instead, she learned only the parts relevant to what she needed to accomplish. She would not be intimidated and also confessed to reading the help about any task she wanted to try in the program. The built-in help that comes with software is an underused, secret trainer that never laughs at computer illiteracy.

Sister Eileen's combination of a great attitude, enthusiasm, patience, and using the program's help had paid off in proficiency for her that I never forgot. And none of these attributes have anything to do with "computer smarts." Sister Eileen demonstrated how attitude can bring about aptitude -at any age.

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