Three Tech Tips for the Technophobe in You

LudditesLast month we asked you, our readers, for your ideas about what ProfHacker should cover in the coming academic year. Among the many helpful suggestions, there was a theme that stood out to me. Here it is in your own words.

I would love to see some technology-related posts written by people who are not technologically inclined. (kaitlinwalsh)

I’d also like to see some articles that take the concerns of techno-curmudgeons and Luddites a little more seriously. (matt_l)

I’d second the comment that some of the reviewers are a little too in love with technology–and perhaps are of a younger generation–than most of the readers, so that there’s a lot of tacit knowledge here that needs to be made explicit. (bethelcollege)

These are entirely reasonable suggestions. After all, there is—and should be—a bit of a technophobe in each of us, asking the question, Will trying this new approach/technology/tool really help me, or will it just waste my time?

So technophobes, “techno-curmudgeons, and Luddites,” here are three simple suggestions. None of them requires you to learn a new technology or tool. None of them requires you to install software. You can accomplish each of these in less than an hour. And each of these simple tips can be your gateway, if you choose, to a more advanced concept that we’ve already covered at ProfHacker.

1. Backup Your Most Important Project Right Now

What’s the most important or urgent project you are working on right now? What would happen to your article, grant, or book chapter if your computer crashed right now? You need to back it up immediately. It would be best if your whole computer were backed up, but we’re going to keep this simple. So do one of the following:

  • E-mail a copy of the document to yourself so that it is stored on your university’s mail servers or in GMail.
  • Burn a CD with your project files.
  • Copy your files to a thumb drive.
  • Copy your files to the networked drive your university provides.

None of those solutions is ideal. But you probably know how to do at least one of them without learning anything new. If not, Google instructions for your operating system: “burn CD Windows 7.” You’ll be better off having an emergency backup.

Next step: Now that you’ve done a one-time backup of your most important project, it’s time to do regular, automated backups of everything. Read these ProfHacker posts by Jason and Natalie, and you’ll learn how.

2. Write for an Hour in a Plain Text Editor

If you’re like most people, your word processor sometimes makes you want to pull your hair out or drop your computer from the roof of the highest academic building. Whether it’s Microsoft Word, Open Office, or some alternative, the tool gets in the way of the most important thing you need to do.

So, for the next hour of writing, close your word processor and write in a text editor instead. If you’re on Windows, that means opening Notepad (which is in your Start menu). If you’re on a Mac, then you should open TextEdit (which is in your Applications folder). There’s nothing to learn about these text editors. Unlike a word processor they’ll stay out of your way. Just write for the next hour in the big blank box. At the end of the hour, you’ll have plain text. And you can do anything you want with it: most likely copy and paste it into the word processor you’ve been using.

Next step: Now that you’ve gotten a taste for how much easier it can be to write in plain text, you can learn more about what you can do with plain text from my post about Markdown, Alex’s post about JDarkRoom, or Bryn Lutes’s post about LaTeX.

3. Organize Your Files for One Project

If you’re working on a project, chances are your digital files are in a mess. Your Word files are named  ”final draft.docx,” “final final draft.docx,” and “revised final final draft.docx”; you have a bunch of JSTOR files whose filenames are an incomprehensible string of digits; and so on. Take fifteen minutes and logically organize the files for your most important project. Fifteen minutes now will save you time and frustration, both now and when you revisit the project months later.

Next step: Read Jason’s posts about file naming conventions and organizing class files (and the comments), Ryan’s post about organizing PDFs, or Amy’s posts about getting started with Zotero (part 1, part 2).

What simple technical tips do you have to offer our readers?


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