Computer literacy becoming more vital

Computer literacy becoming more vital

Columbia Daily Tribune
Columbia, Missouri

One of the greatest gifts you can give your favorite computer user this holiday is knowledge. It’s something everybody can use a little more of and one gift that truly keeps on giving.

Computer literacy is something many of us take for granted. Just because someone has been using a PC for several years doesn’t mean they are computer-savvy. In fact, you would be surprised how many people can run specific applications such as wizards, then turn around and stumble on the most basic computer task. This week, we’ll look at fundamental skills everyone must master to call themselves computer-literate, which in today’s job market can make all the difference.

Many computer users pick up the basics on their own, while others benefit from more structured learning. There are many opportunities available, from local classroom or private instruction to online courses and printed guidebooks. Here are a few areas to brush up on:

Basic connectivity — How things fit together. Laptop users have it easier, but if you’ve got a desktop PC, there can be a lot to connect: power, video, audio, keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, USB hubs, external drives and more. If you use the equipment on a daily basis, it makes sense that you should know, at the very least, how to connect each device to the proper port. Don’t just memorize where each cable connects — although that’s a great place to start — learn the function of each device and characteristics of different cables and plugs.

File and folder management — You’d be surprised how many people using computers don’t know basic skills like the difference between copying and moving files, how to rename files or create a new folder, and how to restore deleted files. These are all functions many of us take for granted, they have become so instinctual. For others, it’s a concept they wrestle with but never quite grasp. One thing is certain: Unless you want to raise some eyebrows — followed by a sigh — during a job interview or aptitude test, you need to demonstrate basic skills for navigating drives, folders and files.

Web browsing and search engines — Sure, everyone knows how to surf the Web, but that doesn’t denote skill or ability. Use of search engines is an important skill, demonstrating how to quickly and effectively arrive at the information you need. You would be surprised how many people don’t know the difference between a search engine query and their browser’s URL address bar. Don’t be one of them. A great place to start is my favorite online resource for advanced Web searching,, a site full of extremely useful information for newcomers and experts alike.

Employers like to know you’re comfortable navigating the Web but are not someone easily distracted by bells and whistles. To demonstrate basic online computer literacy, you need to know how to turn off pop-ups, adjust cookie levels, set your home page, manage history and search like a pro.

Word processing — Sad to say, the closest some people get to word processing is texting on their cellphones. In the business world, however, knowing your way around word processing software — most commonly, Microsoft Word — is essential. You don’t have to be an expert, but know the basics in page layout, text formatting, tables, graphs and printing. Notice that I’m not pushing spelling, grammar or punctuation, all seemingly lost skills and a topic worthy of its own discussion.

Manage email — Don’t believe it when they say email is dead. To stay afloat in a professional environment, academic or business, you need to know how to manage an email account. That means going a little beyond sending and receiving emails — synching accounts, directing incoming mail, sorting mail in folders, and setting up aliases, contact lists and group mailings.

Scott A. May is a computer consultant and Deskside Support technician at IBM. Reach him at