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Feeling Dumb with a Smartphone

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

If you’re willing to feel really stupid for a bit, the technology at your fingertips can be amazing. The best example of this right now is your cellphone.

I’ve known I needed a smartphone for over two years. They do things I need to be able to do.  But I kept postponing the purchase. First, the technology I wanted wasn’t available with the service provider I prefer to use.  That was resolved almost a year ago. Then I decided I needed to wait to acquire it until I had plenty of time to learn how to use it. Who ever has that kind of time?

The truth of why I’ve delayed this transition is that I knew the effort was going to make me feel really dumb before I got anywhere close to the “smart” part.

I got the new phone six days ago.  I am now a fulltime resident of Dumbville.

Some of the mistakes weren’t even mine. The nerd setting up the phone accidentally dialed my buddy from high school. (Sorry, Bill.)  The friend even called back to see what I needed–but I didn’t realize that until four days later.

However,  this time around with new technology, things do have a slightly different tenor. I’m seeing the “stupidity” as a function of what I’m trying to learn rather than as a personal failing.

Yes, I accidentally dialed a business acquaintance–three times in quick succession. But I cut off the call before it even rang (so I’m hoping she doesn’t see it as a missed call). And yes, it’s taken me four days to learn how to “drag” so I can unlock the screen in less than a full minute. Yes, I still lose the screen I’m working with and can’t figure out why.   But sometimes I can figure out how to get it back.

It’s just all part of the process.

The big difference this time around is that I’m not stressing about getting it right instantly. And that means, I’ve become comfortable in the one thing that true nerds have to be good at. I’m learning to try something and see what happens. That’s a different strategy than “learn what you are supposed to do and then get it right the first time you try it.”

Mastering technology is easier for people who do a lot with it. And it’s easier for people who were born with a joystick in the nursery. But even for those of us who experienced rotary phones and adding machines, learning new technology is easier if you get comfortable with the idea that you’re going to feel dumb for a while. It’s part of the process–like getting wet when you take a shower.

That said, I do have to admit I did one very old-fashioned thing to help myself with the effort. In the small print of the small booklet for “getting started” I saw that you could request a printed user’s manual by calling an 800 number. So I did that. It came in the mail yesterday.  It’s a little four inch square of a book that’s an inch and a half thick.   Odd shape, but oddly reassuring.

Stumbling around is the primary way to learn to use a smartphone. All the geeks I’ve asked acknowledge that. But having that user’s manual gives me a second point of attack. No, I’m not planning to look a bunch of stuff up in it. That’s easier to do online. (Did I really say that?!)

What I need the user’s manual for is browsing. I can leaf through a section while I’m watching TV and learn about stuff I would not have known it could do otherwise.  The user’s manual helps me see what it can do that I never would have asked it to do.

It’s still going to take a while for me to really use this new piece of equipment. It has amazing capabilities plus it’s a better way of doing things it’s important to me to get done. But I need to keep in mind that it’s not just a matter of learning the new stuff.  I have to unlearn the old stuff , tool.  Not the end of the world, but a complication.

This is all doable–as long as I’m okay with feeling dumb for a while. I’m on it. I want to get really good with this smartphone so dumb it is for the time being.