You can't break the web

Experienced digital types often forget to take into account that people are nervous about using computers and the internet. It is common for people to be worried about breaking the web, or the computer, by doing something wrong. So if that’s how you feel, at least be reassured that you’re not the only one. Don’t be afraid to spend some time getting familiar with the basics of the web by asking a friend, family member or UK Online Centre trainer to help you start withMyguide or BBC Webwise.

If you’re helping somebody get started, go step by step with hands-on demonstrations and remember that most terms that seem natural quite quickly once you’ve learned them will be meaningless to someone who has never touched a mouse. Without scaring your mentee, make sure they are aware of basic safety principles like not putting personal information onto public sites, keeping passwords safe and being cautious when following links or entering passwords. The ‘back’ and ‘Home’ buttons and the method for closing a window are useful to point out so people can get out of a page if necessary. Some people want lots of hands-on help, others would prefer sme time alone to work it out for themselves once they’ve got through the basics, so give them the option. Sometimes people will need adjustments to help them use the computer.

When something goes wrong or a page crashes, this can confirm all the new user’s fears about causing breakages, so stay calm and point out that it is common for a form to reload with errors and for computers to crash or stop loading (luckily less so these days but it still happens).

While younger people are generally less afraid of breaking the web or the machine, they may still be very inexperienced in areas like search and privacy, so don’t take it for granted that they will know everything about the web just because they are young.

As many people can testify, becoming ‘good’ on computers doesn’t take long, no matter what your age or abilities are. An interesting observation from Google’s studies is that an individual learning how to search takes about one month to come close to ‘expert’ level from ‘novice’. Our experience at talkaboutlocal is that once people have found something they can do online that is exciting to them, whether it’s identifying butterflies or looking up house prices, that enthusiasm will help them learn what they need to do what they want.

If you’re the one who has become the local computer expert, this all-purpose guide is good to keep handy.