“I have never been lost,” legendary frontiersman and trailblazer Daniel Boone once said, “but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”
Boone explored the heartland of America in a time before every inch of the natural world had been mapped, photographed, cataloged, analyzed, and cross-referenced. Today, the online world gives would-be explorers an ever-expanding frontier to roam, with something new to discover around every corner.
For some — especially those of us who came to computer use later in life — the world on the other side of the computer monitor can seem like harsh and unforgiving terrain. Here are a few helpful tips and some important online destinations for tenderfoot explorers and practiced trailblazers alike.
First thing’s first; let’s talk about your web browser. If you have a Windows computer, it almost certainly has a copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer installed on it. For most people, this program is the only way to access the Internet. But in fact, there are a number of different programs that work better, faster, and (sometimes) safer than Internet Explorer.
While Microsoft’s program can be crowded with options bars, menus, and extra buttons, Google’s Chrome browser offers a much simpler web experience, with less hunting through a lot of bells and whistles to find what you want. If you’re new to the web, go to www.Google.com/Chrome. Installing the program takes one click, and you’re off!
Once you have a browser you’re happy with, it’s off into “the cloud.” But wait—what exactly IS “the cloud”? As you’ve probably heard on the news, cloud computing is the next big thing online. In a nutshell, the cloud lets you store your files online and use applications through your web browser instead of installing them on your home computer.
For an easy first experience with the cloud, visit Google Drive (Drive.Google.com). It offers a complete set of work tools similar to Microsoft Office (a word processor, a spreadsheet program, and much more) and it lets you save your files on Google’s network OR on your home computer. One good part of this deal is you can work on your files from any computer, anywhere. An even better part of this deal is, it’s absolutely free!
With all this online exploration you’re off doing, it’s important to keep an eye on your computer’s immune system. Do you have an antivirus program installed? If so, make sure it’s up to date. (Most programs have an “update” button built in in an easy to find place.) If not, visit Free.AVG.com. The AVG antivirus program is remarkably tough for a free program (although the paid version offers even stronger protection).
While you’re at it, visit Malwarebytes.org. Another free program, Malware Bytes keeps your computer free of “malware,” “spyware,” and other malicious little programs that can impair your machine or even compromise your security.
But, if you want the simplest online experience possible, you might want to think about picking up a tablet computer like Apple’s iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. At just over a pound, they’re remarkably easy on the wrists. Touch screens and simplified menus make them a snap to use, and a universe of “apps” or downloadable programs make them very, very versatile — if you can do it on a desktop computer, there’s a good chance you can do it on a tablet.
Most tablets also have cameras built right in, making it super easy to upload photos right to your email program, and some even have video phone technology, letting you talk to people across the country face-to-face!
As any good online sherpa will tell you, there’s no guide that can tell you everything you can do online. Half the fun is in the exploration. Get to know message boards (like Reddit), social networks (like Facebook and Twitter), blogs (like Huffington Post or The Daily Beast), and news aggregators (like MyYahoo).
And if you can, find a traveling companion. It’s no fun finding new adventures alone!