There’s nothing to be afraid of. Really!
Some time ago, after seeing one of the many questions that come into Ask Leo!, one of my assistants asked, “Why is this person asking this question rather than just trying it out?”
Very often it’s because they’re afraid.
There’s just no need for that.
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Don't be afraid to try
Trying things out on your computer is faster than waiting for someone to answer your question, and almost always either completely benign or easily undone. Even when it’s not, a regular full image backup provides protection from the worst mistakes you can think of.
Try it… or wait
Trying things is immediate, and typically gets you an instant answer — or at least progress towards one.
Asking? Asking itself takes very little time. Waiting for your answer is another matter. Regardless of where you ask your question, you’re now waiting for someone to a) decide to answer you, and b) take the time to so do, at c) some random time in the future.
In the case of Ask Leo!, the question form and the auto-response you get advises you that it can take several days before I can answer, as well as a number of conditions in which I may not answer at all.
So, why not try first?
Perhaps you’re afraid you’ll break something.
It’s extremely unlikely.
Sure, some things are more serious than others. But, for example, I assume you already know what “delete” means and know not to go about deleting things randomly, even in the name of experimentation, without taking precautions beforehand (like a backup).
More common, though, is that there are so many things that are very simple to test. “If I do ‘A’, will ‘B’ happen?” where both A and B are benign and safe. These are things you could easily try so as to get the answer you’re looking for without waiting.
Honestly, there are so many things that fall into this “Why not give it a try?” category that I’m truly perplexed and sometimes frustrated at people’s unwillingness to venture out and experiment.
So much fear
So many people are literally scared of their machine! They’re so afraid that they’re paralyzed in fear, unable to do anything they’re not already absolutely, completely familiar with.
Some are afraid they’ll damage their computer physically. Nothing you do in Windows or the programs you run will damage the computer itself. It’s all software, and in the worst case scenario, software can be reinstalled. In most cases it never comes to that; whatever you do can usually just be undone.
I find it frustrating at a personal level, but also very sad, because that fear is getting in the way of not just enjoying or even in some cases using the computer, but it’s also getting in the way of learning. Trying things out and experimenting for yourself is one of the best ways to learn how to do something.
That’s all very true when it comes to your computer and technology in general.
I know that things can go wrong. We all hear horror stories. Horror stories make for good headlines and gossip; they really do, but the fact is, most of the time things work. Most of the time, things are not damaged. Most of the time, things are not damaged in a way that can’t be easily recovered.
And yet, because we hear the worst, we fear the worst. Even though the worst rarely happens.
OK, OK. So most of the time things work, but what about the rest of the time?
You already know my answer to that.
Protection from the worst is easy
I’ve been saying it for a very long time, and it’s another reason I say it again here.
Regular full image backups of your machine, coupled with something to deal with real-time changes, like using Dropbox to back up your work in progress.
That way, if you try something and it really, really doesn’t work and somehow messes up your computer — perhaps even to the point of not even being able to boot — the solution is simple.
Restore to the most recent backup. You’ve “undone” whatever experiment you ran, and you’ve learned something in the process.
Backups, especially full image backups, are that powerful and that conceptually simple.
Freedom to experiment and learn
Backing up gives you the freedom to experiment — to try things safely.
Most of the time, everything will work just fine. Most of the time, even if something goes wrong, it’ll be easily corrected or undone.
For those other times, you’ve got that full backup allowing you to recover your machine, your entire machine, no matter what you’ve done, to the state it was in before you did whatever you did.
I encourage you to set up an environment where trying things on your computer is okay. In part, that means:
- Setting up regular backups so there’s really nothing to be afraid of, no matter how badly things go wrong.
- Realizing that most of the time, things work, and even the mistakes we make are not catastrophic.
Try it on your computer, experiment with your computer, set up your computer so you can use it, make mistakes, try things out, learn along the way, and have it not be the disaster you might be afraid of.
While you’re at it, subscribe to Confident Computing, and I’ll help you learn even more! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.
Download (right-click, Save-As) (Duration: 8:26 — 7.6MB)
31 comments on “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Computer”
NO! Not at all am I afraid of my machine(s). What your are saying is what my buddy said to me about 10 – 12 years ago. He said “try things, you can’t harm it”.
Well that’s not all true. I have had problems restoring machines, but in the long run I got them back up and running. Either by restoring them or a lot of goggling. I do what one of your assistants asked you, I try it out, do it, get it done, or I fine a way to do it. To me I’s fun, and it’s what I would like to someday do for a living ( Lord willing ). To give you an example of me not being afraid of my machine, let me tell you about the one I’m on now. I got a older Dell Inspiron 560 from a buddy of mine. When to boot it up and it would freeze at the starting windows part of the boot. Not knowing what was wrong, I restored it from the restore partition. Same thing happened. Replaced the hdd with a ssd. Reinstalled windows 7 using the key code on the case, problem solved. From there I replaced the cpu from a pentium to a two core dual, went from 4 Gig of ddr3 ( yes ddr3 ) ram to 6, and just for the fun of it moved the hole system out of the dell case and moved it into a fractal design case. And last but to least, last night I was one of those people that was chomping at the bit and installed windows 10. This is my test machine and I’m going to wait a few months to upgrade my other machines with clean installs.
So, I think its safe to say “NO”, I’m not afraid of my machines! Oh ya, I did make a system image restore dvd and repair cd incase I want to revert back to windows 7.
I’ll admit it, my computer is smarter than I. If I can unfreeze, escape, reboot without consequences, I consider it a good day. At your recommendation, I’m waiting a few weeks (months) to download Windows 10, but it really wouldn’t matter if I did it now. I only use about 25% of the goodies that Windows 8.1 is offering, and I know Windows 10 will have the same results. Unfortunately, this old dog finds it hard to learn new tricks.
I am some what afraid, however your video made me realize I can do it with making sure I have backed up. Thanks!
There are some things have ever that I have not been able to fix and it drives me nuts.
I use Open Office, almost everyday. On my new laptop, I get a crash every time I open a text doc. and need to
do a recovery. I have googled for answers (which I usually do when I have a problem and that usually works)
however this has left me up short, I have searched my laptop and can on find a Untitled doc. I don’t know where else
to look. I am 75 yrs old and had never even sat in front of a computer until I was 60. I bought my first iMac , took it home
set it up and away I went. I love the computer. Taught myself everything I know, but watching and listening to every thing
uninstall and reinstall Open Office.
Or switch to Kingsoft Office. Just be very careful to download it from kingsoftstore.com
Other sites add junk.
To add to what others are saying, my chief frustration is not being able to undo something in Windows I might or might not have meant to do. Example: I research & create a lot of files with cross-refs. Somehow managed to lose the “Send Shortcut to Desktop” choice from the dropdown menu. Google it online and as usual, either the tips are out of date or give conflicting advice or require a convoluted process to repair a simple process. Not a geek, I need a tool not a plaything. So after losing half the morning I cut my losses and settle for “Create Shortcut” which I now have to drag & drop to desktop & other links while it’s on the to-do list for update by my local geeks. Small nuisance but one more unnecessary glitch. Bottom line: Microsoft makes it far too easy to mess up and too often far too hard to correct.
Okay Leo, you finally convinced me!
How many times have I heard you say “backup” – scores, hundreds? and did I? of course not! But this time what you said about trying things and even if it turned into a disaster it could still be resolved with a full image backup – just made so much sense!
So there you go, I’ve been a subscriber for years and yet because you hit just exactly the right note this time you have a convert! Look forward to many more of your talks :)
In your article “Don’t be afraid of your computer” you advise folks to “backup” their work. In simple terms, please teach me the easiest way to do this. I am not what you might call computer savvy, so please make the instructions easy to follow. Thank you.
Leo has written dozens, if not hundreds, of articles on the subject. Search askleo.com for “backup”.
I’ll start you with this article: How do I back up my computer?.
I am definitely a do-it-yourself kind of guy, with pretty much everything I do. I have made a few mistakes that cost me more to get fixed than it would have to let someone just do it right the first time, but overall I come out way ahead. It’s especially true of my computers. Ever since my first computer (which had two 5 1/4″ floppy drives and no hard drive) I’ve been poking at them and trying things out, and generally keeping them in good shape, to the extent that friends will come to me for help with theirs.
If there’s one thing that scares me into not doing more than I do, it’s that I’m self taught, doing my research as I go, and there is often incomplete, inaccurate and/or conflicting information available to choose from. (I’ve come to depend on a couple of trusted websites, Ask Leo! being top of the list.)
One other thing I’ll mention: While backing up is unquestionably the #1 rule, the #2 rule should be: learn how to use your backup now, before you need it. Nothing is more frustrating than a non-responsive computer that you don’t know how to resuscitate, even though you know you have the tools. Believe me.
Knowing how to restore from a backup is a very good idea. But just having the tools puts you miles ahead. A worst case scenario would be that you’d have to take it into a shop and have them restore it for you. but I believe with the instructions Leo gives, it would be pretty easy to follow his instructions. You can get his book for the backup program you are using. You can print out these articles he has on restoring your computer. That way you can have it for when you can’t get into your computer to read it and don’t have another device to read it on.
Thanks Mark. I’ve seen his material on backing up with Macrium Reflect, but I don’t use it. (I’m using AOMEI Backupper.) I hadn’t seen the other article you linked to. I’ll check it out.
I tried out Aomei backup for a while and found it very intuitive and easy to use. I found it simpler than Macrium, although Macrium has more powerful scheduling options. If I didn’t have a paid version of Macrium, I’d be using Aomei Backupper or EaseUS Todo Backup.
I’ve been working with computers since before the days of the PC. I miss the days of working with command line DOS commands and creating little programs to automate things in Batch files. So, no, I’m not afraid of my computer. I’m more afraid of what the new program I am installing will do to my computer. But I venture on fearlessly.
Can’t say the same for my wife. Every time a dialog pops up that she hasn’t seen before or wasn’t expecting, she immediately calls for me. She is afraid if she answers the question wrong, all hell will break loose. And, if I haven’t seen the dialog either and don’t tell her what to do immediately, she gets frustrated and closes the top of her laptop then storms off. No patients. But that’s because she usually is doing something when she is tired or under the gun to complete.
Leo, love your videos. Keep up the great work. Got to go. Time to start the backup.
The things that scare me are recurring problems that seemingly defy logic.
For months I suffered BSOD crashes which I initially attributed to a video uploaded to my PC from a friends tablet (since that was the first time it happened).
Researching the blue screen data was exasperating and useless. Even replacing the hard drive didn’t fix it, which pointed me toward other hardware.
Did the only other hardware thing I was capable of doing: Removed a DIMM I had installed months before the problem started.
THAT WORKED! But it was dumb luck.
The reason I’ve helped so many friends and relatives with their computers is just that, they’re afraid of messing something up. Now there are those times when they’ve gotten themselves in a jam they can’t recover from but the first reason is the main one. I find that the older a person is (usually 50+ yrs old) the more afraid of technology (or operating a computer/phone etc.) is for them. Whereas their kids or grandkids are naturally curious and attempt to fly to the moon with their computers or devices.
I tell folks of a story of my mother receiving a new microwave oven years ago and you’d thought by pressing any button on the thing was going to launch the space shuttle or an intercontinental ballistic missile. I had to use it in secret until she discovered I knew far more than what she thought I did.
So yes, I’ve tried to get folks to not be afraid of their computers or electronics devices and for it holds for a few things and for others it’s like being afraid of the dark. It’s the fear of the unknown and an unwillingness to leave their known comfort zone. But you never learn much that way or discover anything new especially on your own. Research it and try it!
All right another great topic written by Leo. Is highly encouraging to heard “Don’t be Afraid of your Computer” Is Not easy to overcome this fear, but we get to a point that we’ve to try our own fixes. I bought a used PC in 2007. After 3-months inadvertently I undo the screen saver and taskbar settings and other minor issues, that I could fixed by myself, with a bit of google searching, but I didn’t ’cause I was afraid of..
I called right away the technician, who soldMe the PC. He fixed the malfunctions in 1/2hr. But I paid $50 for 1hr.service it happens bunch of times, until I started to do my own repairs. The last experience it took place a month ago. With a brand new (HP-W8.1-PC). Purchased in BestBuy.
Suddenly start to freeze up and the Start menu icon didn’t open, also the AVirus wasn’t recognised by Wins security. Tried different fixes but no luck, read in an Online forum that could be a HDisk failure & trying the Cmd [“chkdsk /r /f: Scan”] could fix the issue. I opened the Cmd prompt(Amin) typed the code “chkdsk /r /f: Scan” the PC start scanning it reached 10% in 2mins.and get stuck for 12hrs.@10%..Didn’t have a [Back up disk to insert and proceed with..]
So I tried single+double left/right clicks & nothing happens, then I turn the power off, several times, when I turned on the SCAN continuous.., then it came to mind the “Ctrl+Alt+Del” no luck, next I tried scape “ESC” it displayed a SetUp Utility Options. Among them Sys.Recovery & Factory Reset,.etc. I select & manage to make the factory Reset.
It deleted all programs and have to configured all the settings again. But finally the PC-get to work like brand New and fixed certain bugs-That was unable to do with simple restores.. Lesson learned if I’ll take the computer to a Technician it will chargeMe a fortune for the fix. So we learnig by doing things-No by theory. Sorry for the script length Gent’s.
Can’t understand why people do not back up, so easy to do now. I can still remember my first computer Commodore 64, far cry from todays machines, programs if you could buy any came on tape and downloaded via tape deck. wrote small programs in dos. I download a lot of data and store it on hard drives, I have salvaged from old computers, I have bought a case with its own power cable to fit them in. Am going to download windows 10 on one of them, will keep 7 for the time being till I see how 10 pans out. Enjoy all your posts I file them all.
Don’t be hard on old-timers who are afraid of making mistakes, we learnt to write with ink pens (remember ‘blotting your copy book’?) and typewriters, where a mistake took half a second to make and several minutes to fix. We learnt to avoid mistakes, at any cost.
Today’s learners have a ‘mistake-friendly’ environment, with spell check, the backspace key and – if all else fails – an off switch. And backups!
I think that’s the problem elders have with computers – we’ve had a lifetime of “mistakes are for ever” and are now in an environment of “just do it”. Learning to accept mistakes as just part of the learning process (and yes, they always were) takes time – but makes for a much saner and calmer learning environment.
Thank heavens for computers – backed up, of course !
Like one or two of your posters I came to PC use late in life. I get by because I am a typist from the old days – at school we had ink-wells and pens with nibs! At work we had manual typewriters – the electric typewriter was state of the art when that came in.
I am scared of the actions the computer software suggests – not as much as I was but there are certain actions suggested on prompt windows that I am loath to do because I don’t know how to get back to where I was. This seems a common thread amongst we ‘silver foxes’ – it makes us over-cautious.
I still don’t have any idea of how to back up my work. I have some disks I bought for the purpose, but am scared to start.
How does one get the back-up back? I’ve had my fair share of PC engineers visit home but at the hourly rate only the simplest problems can be paid for. That in itself is a learning curve as I now realise that some guys were really hopeless.
I’d like to change my password after reading Leo’s article on that but apart from responding to “forgotten your password” at Sign In, I don’t know how do do it safely. It’s all very well getting the instructions in a reading pane, but one can’t print everything and I can’t remember even a few instructions. It takes me ages to read/really understand and I just want to get on with some actual “work” of e mails and researching websites.
I am soldiering on with an elderly HP Pavilion with Windows XP and a TFTTV 17″ monitor – I am terrified of changing that set-up as I know where I am now – and the lap-top choices are so bewildering. And no Start button, and tiles ????And no proper typing keyboard! Yes, my stuff is slower than I’d like on some things.. but…
I have an AGV paid for security system and am relying on that. I don’t do banking on line.
This article should get you started on backups. You said you got discs, but you’d need an external hard drive for an effective backup:
As for changing your password. If you mean your email password, I’ll point you here:
Try using the Search at the top of all Ask Leo! articles. You’ll find the answer to a lot of your questions.
I forgot to say that I love the internet. I’s marvellous what is at one’s fingertips. How I wish it had been invented earlier so that I grew up using it. On some websites people have designed and uploaded wonderful webpages. How do they do that I wonder?
Of course, anyone at any time in history wishes for similar about all wonders of their age. I wish I understood more, too.
As a long time subscriber to your newsletter, I first want to thank you for all of your invaluable information and guidance over the years! I also greatly appreciate you sharing your own personal frustration (so it’s not just me!) with people who maintain that fear is the reason for failing to learn even the basics. (They rarely use “too old” because I am 70, so that doesn’t fly.) I too was fearful, but made a decision to learn about computers. I found courses that were free or relatively inexpensive at local computer stores, libraries, and an Introduction to Linux at a community college. When people (usually family members) asked me a question, I would research it for them if I didn’t know – and learned more in the process. I now refer them to you first (and explain that you are a knowledgeable AND reliable source). If (when?) that fails, I use “Let Me Google That For You” (LMGTFY.com. It provides a sarcastic reminder of what I would have to do to answer their question (Hey, I’m not Leo) and that they could do the same thing for themselves. Old or young, the question is: Do you WANT to learn?
One family member recently asked for my opinion on purchasing a firearm. My response? Unless you are willing to spend more time learning how to handle that safely than you spent on learning how to use your computer, Don’t Buy It!!
There are days when I really, really, REALLY want to use LMGTFY.com. So far I have restrained myself. :-)
I always tell people “Don’t be afraid, be cautious”
I find that little change in advice guides people away from blatant mistakes (deleting something) and lets them learn by poking around and trying stuff (i.e. being cautious).
Data is king – people are afraid to lose personal data and sometimes don’t have the time or care to delve into learning about backups (even though EVERYONE should – we know this) and fear one wrong mistake will cost them changes and or data plus the time to recover it.
In the Helpdesk industry this is known as job security :)
Step one: start backing up. NOW. Seriously, if there’s data you don’t want to lose, you will lose it unless you start backing up. Enlist the help of a knowledgeable friend for this all-important first step.
I’m definitely a “try it out” person! I have in place…
1. A backup on my thumb drive of all my important files
2. The newest version of my screen reader (I am totally blind), to give me feedback on my experiments.
Sometimes, I have tried out excessively, such as deleting my user account and deleting a registry key that deleted the sound on my old computer.
My latest experiments are
1. making a batch file that says
that, when you click on it, makes an empty folder with numbers in it.
2. Using CTRL/Z to undo file renames/Recycle Bin deletions.
I’m sorry but I completely disagree with this article. I work in tech support & I’ve seen too many problems that could have been corrected by waiting for a correct answer instead of just blindly trying something. Yes a full backup will get you back to normal, but if I had a choice of waiting a few minutes for the correct solution to a problem or waiting (normally) quite a while for a restore to complete, I’d choose the former every time.
You’re assuming answers are available in “a few minutes”. For many, many users that’s simply not the case.
Which brings me to the dissonance that for someone who’s afraid of computers and can’t find a solution easily, a full image backup and restore transcends the person’s level of understanding or capability. Just think of how many things can go wrong when making or restoring an image backup, including a completely bricked computer. Not saying people shouldn’t try to do image backups, but let’s not sugar coat it.
That’s why I harp on them. Yes, backing up is more difficult than it should be, but it’s a still a skill and tool anyone can learn.
I’m with you Leo! Nothing you can do on a computer will break it. People who are afraid of their computers usually cause themselves more problems by not learning than they ever will by trying to learn.
My first computer was a Commodore Vic 20. It didn’t even have a floppy drive, so when anyone in the house wanted to “play a game” (remember that movie?), we had to enter the code by hand. That was problematic, but it was fun too. We got so that we learned how to modify the games to do things differently, and in a few cases, get them to things they originally could not do.
That following Christmas, my brother gave us a Commodore 64, and it had a floppy drive so we could just insert a disk and play. That was nice, but it lacked the sense of adventure we got from entering the code for a game and having it work, even though there were times when we’d enter a typo, so it didn’t.
I think our experience with that old Commodore Vic 20 taught us not to fear our computer, in fact, I think I have learned more about my computers by trying to fix them when things go wrong than from any other means.
When my wife took a Business Machines course at a local trade school, we got our first IBM-compatible PC, A Gateway machine powered by an Intel 8088 CPU, 640MB RAM, and 100 MB MFM hard drive, with MS-DOS 3.1 so she could practice her lessons, and do homework. The school gave her a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 so she could write up reports, etc. I helped her install it, and when I saw the full screen WYSIWUG editor display, I was enthralled! I just had to know how they did that.
Years later, that 100 MB hard drive suffered a head crash and when I could not find a compatible replacement drive because MFM drives were no longer in production, and the technology of newer drives was incompatible with the soldered-in adapter, I decided to learn how to build my own PC.
I started by buying a book “Upgrading and Repairing PCs” so I could learn about the hardware. I won’t go into details here, but that decision started my on a path on which that Gateway PC was the only desktop machine I ever purchased readymade, from a store. Back then we called machines we built ourselves “Home Brews”. The machine I’m writing this post on is my latest Home-Brew.
I am in my seventies now, and I have spent my entire computing life learning as much as I can about these wonderful devices. To me, the computer is a universe unto itself because its possibilities are endless. In addition to working to learn the care and maintenance of PCs and how to assemble them, I have studied a variety of programming languages, Assembly, Basic (several varieties ranging from GW-Basic to Visual Basic, etc.), C, C++, C#, a little F#, Jave, Python, and now Kotlin, which facilitates writing concise, easy to read and understand source code. It may become my language of choice. Of all the languages I have studied, I think Assembly has taught me the most about how my computer works because its commands are a one-to-one representation of the machine code the CPU processes. If you ask me, Universities should include Assembly Language in their Computer Science curriculums for that very reason.
Well, I have rambled on long enough now, but I have one important thought to add. If you are afraid of your PC, or you fear corrupting or losing your data, and you use Windows 10 or 11, enable syncing your files to OneDrive on your main production PC, and use it for all your important work. That way, it is less likely that you will run out of free storage on OneDrive. That is what I do here (as well as backing up with Macrium Reflect) to safeguard my data. When something goes wrong, I can reset my PC, knowing that my files will still be there, even if I have to do a clean install of Windows. For me, the Macrium Backup is for the possible eventuality that my system drive may become corrupted (this has not happened since my Gateway PC, but you never know). With OneDrive Syncing enabled, you can afford to take a few chances, and perhaps learn new things along the way, like I did. :)