Ask most “computer experts” (that is, the people that you turn to when you have a problem) what their secret is and I’ll bet that all of them say one thing.
The moment that I don’t have an answer for someone asking me a computer/smartphone/technology question, I just google the problem and see what comes up. It’s not that I have some magic talents (or modesty apparently) but rather that I have experience – modest though it may be – and a fearless curiousity to learn more. The other piece is that I know that there is always someone else who has the same issue previously and have talked about it somewhere online.
It’s hard, if you don’t already have a strong search habit formed, to really comprehend how powerful Google really is. I feel like the average computer user is afraid being too specific when searching, almost like the “old days” at the library doing research for a school assignment. Then, you needed to use general subject keywords to start your search and then hope that one of the books you came across had some of the information you were looking for.
Now, you can type full sentence length queries into Google (or other search engine, but let’s be honest here) and get very detailed, specific links in return. In fact, Google’s suggestive query engine is so amazing that it can even help you craft and refine your queury. It can take you from a general search term, to a detailed query in a few keystrokes.
It’s not that I think the people who ask me questions are afraid of computers, but they don’t feel like they always understsand what is happening and won’t stray too far from the worn path for fear of running into a problem. That’s one of the fantastic things about the rise of things like iOS: so many of the potential pitfalls have been removed. The walled garden of iOS prevents viruses and malware. The lack of file-system access means that it’s impossible to accidentally delete an important system file. Things like Siri make “googling” even easier, because the user can just ask a question out loud. Actually, Google voice (not to be confused with Google Voice) search is even better than Siri when it comes to retreving exactly what you’re looking for.
Go deeper than Google (or search engines in general) and you’ll find things like Stack Exchange and Quora – among many others. Stack Exchange really a network of sites mostly focused on technology problems, and Quora covers an incredibly broad range of topics. These are true problem solving sites with the magic word of the Internet mixed in: “social”. People post questions and others post answers. There are social incentives (rankings etc.) to encourage the best answers to questions. Long discussions around extremely specific, minute problems ensue and in many cases, the problem solver may walk away with an entirely new perspective that might even bypass their original problem completely. Sites like these demonstrate the true power of open information.
Search may no longer be sexy, but it’s still the most important part of using the web. It’s continued to be critical even as social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have "taken over". Search literacy can make all the difference when it comes to being proficient in using computers, technology and the Internet.