Ten Tech Tricks

I was sitting at a Mission Institute Program Team meeting letting all the words about how we will update our website roll over me. Katie is in charge of making the website interesting and up-to-date; I occasionally pop up with questions like “but how do you find that page”. The team patiently shows me, once again, how to scroll down to the correct choice and click on the link.

So I assure you I wasn’t expecting “Liz will answer people’s technology questions” to be floating past me in the meeting. “Who” I asked? “What!” I exclaimed. “Um no” I mumbled. I was now wide awake. “How would I do that?”

“You are perfect” Katie explained calmly, “you know next to nothing and yet you use technology every day. Write something that people like you will understand. I smiled weakly, and wonder if I’ve just been dissed. “Sure.”

So I got out a pad of paper. Um, no, actually, I got out Word. Really, I love word processors—they make it so easy to fix mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes. And then I remembered that at the Mission Institute we are trying to use Google Docs instead of Word. It makes it easy to share when I’m ready to share it. Specifically, it means that Katie can look at the advice I give you and make sure it is true.

Trick #1

Google. On most computers, if you type a question in the search field, you’ll get a google search. Did you know that Google is also a collection of applications that help you collaborate with others? In addition to google search there is google docs (as in documents, not doctors), google calendar, google maps, google email (also called gmail), google forms, and more. It’s all stored in a filing cabinet called google drive (yeah, annoying computerese...they mean drive like hard drive, not like drive a car).

To find these useful tools you use...yup!...google search. Hopefully that is the default search thingy (ok, officially its called a search ENGINE, which still sounds like a car to me) on your computer.

Trick #2

Don’t know if it’s the default on your computer? Ask a young person. Say “I want all my searches to go to google search, can you make that happen?” And then get out of your chair! That’s the trick—you want them to do it for you! Really, spend your time learning the things you’ll do again and again, get other people to do the one time things!)

So, you’ve already used google search, that’s how you look for things that other people have put on the web. You know this already--it’s where you write “what are the symptoms for toe cancer” when you don’t want to have a doctor look at that growth, and “how do I get out of a parking ticket” when you can’t find the page to pay for the ticket.

Trick #3

You also can use google search to learn how to do things on your computer (and other technology tools). 

You’ll get the best results by being specific:

“how do I turn off the alerts on my iphone 5s” is more effective than “stop beeping at me”.  

There isn’t someone reading your search, so you don’t need politeness, or even the question part, so “make repeating events google calendar” will get the same results as, or better results than, “Would you please explain to me how to make my google calendar events repeat?” 

If you try two different searches and it doesn’t get what you wanted, revert quickly to trick number two--get someone who knows this stuff to do it for you. Remember that if you want to do it AGAIN you’ll need to practice while they are watching. You also can ask techies what they suggest searching for. You say (to the person, not to google): “If I want to learn how to make my emails about cousin ed go automagically away so I can look at them later” and they reply “you can make folders and forward the emails there” and smile knowingly (as you think really? why?) and type “forward gmail to folder” and get directions on how to do that.

Besides searching, google can help you get together with other people, and especially, to collaborate on projects together. First, you can use google maps to find their home or their place of worship. Or, more importantly, how to find your way home. But you can use google hangouts to stay home and meet with them, and google forms to register people for events. Google docs are a way to work together on a document, a spreadsheet, or a form. You write a draft, share it with someone else, and they can edit it for you. You can both be editing at the same time. And when Joe gets a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, he doesn’t have to wake you up to tell you, he can just write it in the document. 

Trick #4

Back in the olden days--ancient times like 10 years after I graduated college with a manual typewriter--when you lost a piece of paper, or a newspaper article you were saving, or someone’s phone number or address, you tore apart your house, cleaned up the floor of your car, and threw away all the old bills on your desk trying to find it. The theory is that computers made this easier.

The theory is not true. However, I have learned some tricks for finding lost things on my computer. 

EMAIL: You are mad at your boss and you furiously write page after page of response to her totally insane proposal that you arrive at work at 9am every day and suddenly whoosh, the email is gone! Where did it go? First look in your Drafts folder. Then in your sent email (and if it is in sent, look to see who you sent it to...hopefully to a friend, not really to the boss.) Then look in trash. If that doesn’t work, you can search for it by remembering a phrase in the email, or the subject, or who it was to. The itsy bitsy magnifying glass is the symbol for “search” almost universally on our computers, probably because computer scientists don’t know how to spell “search”.

DOCUMENTS: If you created it in a word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, or similar software and can’t find it, you can look for RECENT under File. That will show the last few items you’ve worked on in that program. If you see it, here’s a tip: select it, and then pick SAVE AS. Don’t actually save it again...just use that function to show you where you saved it. (If you SAVE it just puts it back where it was, and you don’t know where it was!)

You also can go to OPEN and to the folder you thought it was in, and sort the files by DATE so as to see what you worked on most recently.
IF you don’t have folders, just everything in a big pile, revert to trick #2. Ask a young person to set up a filing system for your stuff.

WEB PAGES: Did you know there is a history of everything you’ve searched for on the internet? I probably should have told you that sooner, hunh? If you had up a great web page and want it again you can remember what you entered in google search, or you can go to a blank web browser page and then click on HISTORY. Its in different places on different browsers and sometimes looks like a book. Read through the list until you get to the one you lost, and click on it. (You also can “CLEAR HISTORY” if you’d rather that record didn’t exist. It does mean you won’t have help finding an old page.)

GOOGLE DOCS: If you’ve collaborated with someone on a google doc or spreadsheet then the file isn’t on your computer at all--it’s in the cloud (why did we change metaphors from cars?) To be honest I have no idea what that means, except that the file is not on your computer, it’s like in the internet. Or on the internet. Or something.  Google drive is what they call “completely searchable” by which they mean, that if you can remember what you said in the document you can search for it. So if you remember what is in the document, just choose that little magnifying glass.

Of course you need to search for something that is particular to that document—all of my documents say something about Episcopal or Church or community or facilitation. I have to think of a word like technology that is something I’d only say in that one document, or maybe in three.

There is a big SHARE button (apparently even computer folk can spell that) in google documents, click on that and put the email address of the other people you want to see (and of course help work on)  your document.

Trick #5

Include your kids, or someone at the office that is really technological, or the IT guy down the street who you give a holiday fruit cake to, in your sharing. Then, when you can’t find it you can email one of them to ask if THEY can find it. They will copy a link to it in the email, you click the link, and voila, you are technology super star!!

Trick #6

Technology super stars talk to people online. You can keep saying how important it is to see people in person, and nod when other people say it, but you have to agree to talk to people online too. Especially when they are in, say, Nigeria. Or Connecticut. Or on the Cape. Or when you really need to meet, but you have to be home when the kids get out of school.

Let the other people tell you which online meeting tool to use. They may say skype or fuze or moodle or adobe or hangouts, there are probably a dozen more. I always say “Sure! will you show me how?” They will call you on the phone, give you step by step directions to get onto the particular program (they are all free to the users, if not to the institution that uses them) and voila, you will be a technology super star.

Trick #7 

You should be totally dressed for this occasion, even if it is early in the morning and you are sitting in bed. Don’t ask how I learned this. You can, however, bring coffee to the meeting.

Trick #8

Coffee suggests chatting with friends, and we do that today with Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and even more. (By “we” I probably mean everyone except you, me, and my mother. It’s totally crazy, and you have to do it.)  

Here is the trick, just pick one! (Thanks to FORMA for that advice and more. If you are trying to reach a particular group of people ask them which one they use. If you want to speak, Twitter is for the concise, facebook is for conversation. If you like images, Instagram is pictures and Pinterest is visual web links.

To get started, first create a personal account and try it out. (Use trick two, of course, have someone else set you up.) Go to it every day and see what other people posted, and then post some things yourself. I know you’ve heard all the dire warnings about privacy, but the issues are actually easy to manage—just pretend everything you post is on the radio. I ask myself whether it is something I want my father, my niece, my congregation, and my atheist friends to see. If the commentary goes awry, don’t bother with explanations, just delete the whole entry. You have control!

Once you are comfortable, create a public account for the organization you represent. Plan what you are going to post for the next month or so, so that you will get an identity before you run out of energy. You will need to go to the account nearly every day, and should post once a day, except for twitter where you might want to post two or three times a day.

Trick #9

Set a timer for yourself! These are indeed addictive rabbit holes. The goal isn’t to spend the rest of your life on the internet.

Trick #10

With that in mind I should say what perhaps I should have said first—the reason to use these tools is to help your ministry. Try meetings and shared documents and social media, and stick with it long enough to know it. But then evaluate each thing for the ways that it creates community, the ways it encourages collaboration, the ways it empowers others.  Love the people you are connecting, and the way technology helps you connect, rather than loving the technology. It’s a tool.

Questions? The Mission Institute would love to post your questions and our tips and tricks for handling your particular challenges. Send them to missioninstitute.ma@gmail.com with “Tech questions” in the subject line.

photo credit: cc flickr