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On Confidence and Technology

This week, you’ll notice that The Ask Leo! Newsletter has been renamed to Confident Computing: Technology in terms you understand (by Ask Leo!).

I want to take this opportunity to talk about why I’ve elected to be a little more explicit about my focus on using technology with confidence.

It starts with what is now almost 15 years of questions.

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Video commentary

The opposite of confidence

Not long ago, I spent a little time trying to distill common themes and threads from the nearly fifteen years of questions I’ve fielded for Ask Leo!.

What I realized is that, for well over half of the questions I get, there is a simple underlying thread.

I can’t call it a theme, because it’s often not the explicit topic of the questions being asked; yet it’s more common than problems with Windows Update, more common than ever-changing user interfaces, more common than compromised accounts and lost passwords, and more common that data loss.

It’s fear.

Fear shows itself in many aspects: fear of malware, fear of data loss, fear of account hacks, fear of updates that destabilize systems, even fear of accidentally doing the wrong thing.

Note that it’s not that the actual thing has, in fact, happened — very often it has not — it’s simply the fear that it will.

Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can keep you from enjoying what technology can bring. Fear can prevent you from trying new things, or even believing you can. Fear can even cause you to make mistakes — sometimes the very mistakes you’re afraid of!

The opposite of fear, of course, is confidence.


One of the major obstacles to confidence is finding and understanding the information you need. How can you be expected to use technology effectively if you can’t find resources to help you do so, or if you can’t understand them when you do?

Technobabble gets in the way.

I’ve often joked that my job is a glorified translator: translating questions into terms that will lead to an answer, and then translating that answer into English understandable by the average non-technical person.

Confidence comes from understanding.

Confident Computing

On confident computing

I do more than answer questions about technology. As I’ve mentioned before, my “deep, dark, secret” is that I try to sneak some education into the answers. It’s my hope that a little bit of knowledge will increase your understanding, and that, in turn, will give you more confidence.

Confidence to protect yourself online.

Confidence to handle errors.

Confidence to avoid ever losing data.

Confidence to tell truth from fiction, solutions from scams, and legitimate threats from overblown click-bait.

Confidence to know what to do next, in a variety of situations.

Confidence to do more, be more, connect more, and explore more of the world that today’s technology makes available to us all.

Putting it in the newsletter title is a not-so-subtle reminder to me of what I’m trying to do, and a sign of what you can expect.

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13 comments on “On Confidence and Technology”

  1. Hey Leo,
    Quite awhile back, before I started backing up on a regular basis, it was crazy scary to do anything was that not specifically laid out step by step. I was making sure to color inside the lines. Things really changed when I had a crash and completed my 1st restoration from the back up.
    I was free. The fear was gone and it was shortly after that that I started building my own computers and some for others. It’s nice knowing that you can try new things and if they don’t work out you break out the back up and move on.
    Thank you for staying on point until I finely listened. The Confidence you get from knowing you have a way out of the worst situation is the best

      • Leo,

        I’m a librarian in a large public library and teach patrons how to use computers, smartphones, and the internet. You’re right about fear. It’s a big barrier to getting the most from technology. You’re right that understanding — which comes from instruction and information — counteracts fear. But I’ve found that understanding and confidence — or fearlessness — are the products also of practice. Being told or shown what to do will get a student through the challenge of the moment, but it doesn’t change their attitude toward technology. That comes with practice. Those of us who work and live in the midst of other people routinely using computers don’t even think about “practicing” because we’re never not using technology. Our days are filled with “practice.”

        Not so for people without training or internet access at home. Students in every grade are in two classes — those whose home life routinely includes technology and those who have to make an extra effort just to get access to technology, let alone have parents or siblings who can help them with a problem. Many poor and working-class adults aren’t exposed to technology in their work environment. Many adults with a computer and internet access at home remain fearful because they’ve used technology only when there’s a trusted guide nearby to help them. (For more on this, see the research of John B. Horrigan.)

        For technology to deliver on its promise, a person needs three things: physical access to technology; instruction and information, and time to practice until computer use is routine. When any one of those factors is absent, the individual is on the wrong side of the digital divide and, increasingly, will be at a disadvantage in learning, working, and actively participating in society.

        Leo, keep the faith and keep up the great work you do. You’re an agent for progress in the lives of many people.

  2. I’m 81, obviously raised in an analog age. Computing is a foreign language to me, as exotic as Japanese. Plus which I have a long learning curve; I’m a quick study in a lot of areas, but not technology.

    What forces me to use my computer is a passion to reach and educate people about severe trauma and to do so in easy-to-understand English. I have always used a Mac but much of what you write reaches beyond Windows. I have read “Ask Leo” for years now and have been extremely grateful for the clarity and patience you show in educating people like me.

    I thank you and hope you reach tons more people. I’ll do my bit to spread the word in the coming weeks.

  3. Dear Leo.

    I am grateful to you.
    You are performing an outstanding -and to me -unprecedented public service, which is most informative and helpful.

    Wish you every joy, success and good health!


  4. With a background in electronics and then working deskside support, I never realized that fear is indeed a big part of modern technology. But can see it now, especially after reading the post by Michael Starks.

    The name change to Confident Computing is right on target.

    Keep up the great work, Leo, and thanks for your years of sharing knowledge. You do it exceptionally well.

  5. I really like your sense of mission. As a semi-retired IT pro I was really keen to spread the word about cyber security, etc. and I have a blog where I’ve done some of that. But you have such great ability to write about tech, along with the experience and the audience, that for the most part I’ll be happy to promote Ask Leo! and point people to your stuff to help improve their knowledge and confidence.

  6. Hi, I have had you as my ‘go to’ when I need an answer. But lately your answers are more education than answer. I get lost in the answer. So not as helpful. Also, the coming trend I believe is ‘no more computer/PC but phonablets.
    I am still with W7, HP pc.

    • Well, I’ve not been shy about wanting to sneak in some education. If I answer a question I help you once. With a little education you can become more confident and help yourself without needing others more often in the future.

      There will always be a role for desktop and laptop PCs, though indeed the role of mobile devices is increasing. 40% of the Ask Leo! visitors last week were on mobile (phone or tablet). While I don’t do iPad or iPhone (my friend Gary does), everything else is on the table. Ask away! I may not answer every question (I don’t try to fake it when I don’t know), but I do try….

  7. To me, the newsletter’s name change is like”spring cleaning.” Plus, Leo has done a good job of showing the purpose for the name change.


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