How To Control Your Life

Part 48

Maryon Jeane
Oct 15, 2015 · 8 min read
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What does your computer mean to you?

Your ‘computer’ could be anything these days- your smartphone, your tablet, your phablet, your smartwatch, your desktop. (Interestingly, when MakeUseOf, an online blog-cum-magazine focusing on ways to use technology, asked the question “Which device could you least live without?” the majority answered “My desktop”). But what does it mean to you, in terms of your life and how you run it?

There’s a feeling around that ‘everyone’s got a computer’ (or at least ‘everyone’s got access to a computer these days’) - something put to me very forcibly by the proprietress of a B&B I stayed in: “I’m fed up with all this ‘Go to double-u, double-u, double-u whatever for more information’ - we haven’t all got computers!”. She’s right, of course, and it’s absolutely not acceptable to cut people off from the information they need and want just because they don’t have, and/or choose not to have, a computer. Computers should be an addition, not an ‘instead of’.

When you buy something new, for example, which needs instructions or a user manual it often doesn’t come with them in physical form. You might get a basic ‘How to’, but for anything more you might well be directed to a website (not a lot of use if the only computer you have is the one you are trying to set up, and for which purpose you need the said instructions of course). Magazines, print newspapers and the like regularly point the reader, at the end of an article, to a website for the rest, or more, of the story. Frustrating if you want to live in the physical and not the virtual world.

But we who use computers before even dressing in the mornings shouldn’t become too smug and élitist about the whole thing. What about that initial question? What does your computer mean to you? And why have you got that particular computer, a smartphone rather than a phablet or a laptop rather than a notebook?

Nearly everyone who uses a computer regularly uses it for e-mail and/or contacting friends, nearest and dearest, colleagues and acquaintances through messaging or social media, both or the like. But then what? Ah: games. Lots and lots of online games, both off and on the social media sites.

Then there is a wealth(?) of other entertainment: films, TV, music, photographs, shopping, videos of all types (and of course pornography, if that classifies as entertainment), as well as endless possibilities to chat with anyone about anything.

It’s easily possible to spend all day (and night) on your computer, whatever physical form that computer takes. And then find that you’ve actually been amusing yourself to death (with apologies to Mr Postman) without achieving very much at all. Ask any boss whose employees have unfettered Internet access.

But - work apart - could you have achieved anything, or is the computer there simply as a form of communication and entertainment? And the odd letter. And buying things.

If you want to control your life, then in your computer(s) you have a servant who could be working for you whenever you need (and that doesn’t mean that updated and streamlined version of the Paperclip, Cortana). Computers do certain things faster, better and more easily than humans do. Humans get bored doing repetitive tasks, computers don’t; humans make mistakes when performing repetitive, boring tasks but computers don’t; humans inadvertently skip over figures, or a line of text, or steps in a process where computers don’t/usually can’t.

So why do we keep on doing these things, which we don’t enjoy and which often drive us demented, which take huge chunks out of our lifetime, when there’s an expensive piece of technology which could do it so much better (without pay and without complaint) right there in front of us?

If you use a computer, do you type everything out? Yes, you probably do. The most you might do is use txt spk or some form of it, or adopt the picklist suggestions of the program you’re using of a set form of words or a particular spelling. Maybe, if you use a wordprocessing program, you have a couple of phrases and a sign-off in AutoText or AutoCorrect or suchlike. Doesn’t typing the same thing over and over again (on Facebook, in chat sessions, instant messaging, etc.) slow you down and frustrate you? How many times do you type out your e-mail address in a week, or your credit card details (even if you have the main number in a ‘vault’ or similar)?

There are ways to automate all this, and much more, and many of these ways are free (even the ones which aren’t are usually one-time and modest purchases). There are ‘system-wide’ programs like AutoText or AutoCorrect. Put in a word or phrase once, give it a short name, and you need never type it again (just type the name and the text will type itself - and faster, and perhaps more accurately, than you can every time). You can also get the typing to pause and wait for you to type in variable text:

Hi [pause],

Thanks so much for your e-mail — it was really good to hear from you again.

[pause].

Kind regards,

Jane

that kind of thing.

Of course you can also be extra clever and develop a shorthand system for yourself and never type anything in longhand again [104 characters]:

Oc yu cabe xt clv and dev a shd sys fr ysf and nvtype anyt i lhd ag [50 characters]

If you have ‘Favorites’ in your browser, how long does it take you to plough through them all to find that site where they had that excellent toothpaste? Or that download site for music? These same ‘text expander’ programs have launchers which will get you straight to the website - actually to the right page on that website for your toothpaste - even if your browser wasn’t open when you started. Just type in your chosen ‘open sesame’ phrase (for example ‘tpastew’), and your browser will be fired up, the right address put into the address bar, and the right webpage found - just like that. If you change toothpaste, just change where your launcher points - no need to change what you type and remember a new open sesame key/typing sequence.

For e-mail addresses, you can just type something like ‘saraheml’ or ‘jimeml’ and off you go. Again, if they change their e-mail address then you just change what the open sesame sequence types, not the open sesame itself. No bounced-back e-mails and all the attendant frustration and waste of time - and, far more importantly, none of the embarrassment of sending the wrong e-mail to the wrong person…

If you are e-mailing someone and you suddenly remember you haven’t written to your bank (or your accountant, or your solicitor, or your mother), just type the open sesame word right there in the e-mail; the word will be deleted and your wordprocessing program will be opened up in front of you (you could even decide to have your letter template open and ready in the wordprocessing program; you do have a customised letter template, don’t you?)

There are also programs which can record the keystrokes that you type and the points and clicks you perform. (Of course I don’t here mean the malicious pieces of kit used by people to spy on what you’re doing, the malware keyloggers.) So if you are typing a sequence of keys, or performing a sequence of mouse gestures and clicks, over and over, you can automate them and never have to do it again. These macro programs are worth their weight in gold - or rather more than their weight in the precious moments of your life they can save.

Then there’s the searching capabilities which computers, by their nature, have which are so superior to ours. It takes a human eye and mind a long time to search through a large list of words looking for one particular one; it takes a computer a tiny fraction of that time. So if you’ve lost a file, don’t you look for it - get the computer to look for it. The operating system comes with its own search facility, but you can also find your own program to do the search instead (there are faster programs out there, many of them free, which are better than the system’s own version).

And here we’re back to the database. A database is a collection of data, and that data can be anything. A list of your music collection; or what’s in your airing cupboard, shed or garage; or the names of everyone to whom you sent Christmas cards last year (or who sent them to you); or - absolutely anything. Are you going to go up into the loft this year to get down last year’s Christmas cards before you make your list for this year? Why, when the computer can search through all the files you’ve ever saved on it, find the list and have it open in front of you in a couple of minutes, at most?

You didn’t make a list? Because you couldn’t be bothered to sit down after Christmas last year and type one with your two-fingered version of the skill?

You don’t have to do it the hard way, if you’re using the technology. Try a scanner. Personal scanners are no longer the big-as-an-office-printer things which needed half a desk to themselves and were more trouble than they were worth. They’re tiny things which can fit more than comfortably between your keyboard and your screen, and they sit there all ready to go at the flip of a little lid, the touch of a button, or without either if you prefer. So your Christmas card list can actually be pictures of all your cards, inside and out, complete with all those little notes of news that you’d forgotten about (What was Emily’s new cat called? Did John say they were moving?) and now need.

There are programs, and apps (applications), and tips and tricks and all sorts of exciting things out there which can save you your life time. You have the technology (probably) - why not use it?

Twitter: @MaryonJeane

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