Monthly Archives: February 2015

Book Review: Pogue’s Basics

Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life
By David Pogue
Buy: $19.99 print, $9.99 e-book (via Amazon)
Borrow: not widely available via i-Share, but Bloomington Public Library holds a copy

Did you know that the spacebar allows you to scroll one page at a time in any web browser? I didn’t know that until I read popular technology journalist David Pogue’s new book Pogue’s Basics. As an avid keyboard shortcut user I probably should have known the spacebar trick, but my ignorance takes a step in the direction of proving Pogue’s main thesis: we all have a lot to learn about technology because the average user does not receive explicit instruction on how to use their machines, software, and devices. Learning a new technology takes time. Since the average shelf life of the latest version or model is limited, it’s just not worth it to read the manual. Pogue then argues that the rapid pace of technological change requires new features and options so that consumers will buy into  21st century techy folk wisdom like “new every two.” Keeping users clueless about their technology is the best way to profit so tech companies have no interest in teaching you how to use their products effectively.

This *tiny* icon at the top of a vertical scroll bar splits the screen.
Click and drag to split a screen.

Pogue has collected some of the most useful shortcuts, tricks, and concepts that can help the average “non-technician” function in an increasingly digital world. The book begins with a short introduction and a vocabulary list (did you know Apple made up the word iOS?), and then breaks down his Basics into four parts: “Your Gadgets,” “The Computer,” “The Internet,” and “Social Networks.” Although Pogue has written focused user manuals in the past, this book is about short explanations of tech solutions you can incorporate into your daily life right away. In fact, I just practiced splitting the screen in Word and Excel.

As my own anecdotal evidence shows, even seasoned techies could learn at least one trick from Pogue’s book. It’s easy to flip through and is clearly organized. But the book’s ease of use is its real genius—it’s a print book about digital environments. People who need help using their devices may not know how to find the same information he presents through digital search techniques (e.g. CTRL/cmd+F), but feel very comfortable finding information in analog devices like books (table of contents, index, etc.). Though it may seem counterintuitive, this presentation allows readers/users to bridge what they already know about technology into new ways of reading and interpreting information.

Despite my praise for Pogue’s Basics, I hesitate recommending the print version for purchase. Here, Pogue falls on his own pixelated sword. He admits in the introduction that software versions he discusses may already be outdated, and then offers several different tips on how to access free tech support and learning opportunities online. There’s nothing in Pogue’s Basics that couldn’t be found with a Google search, and the ever-changing nature of technology means that it will eventually languish on your bookshelf alongside a Windows 95 user’s manual. Still, I recommend checking out Pogue’s Basics for the easy confidence that comes with mastering even a tiny corner of your digital domain. You can be a hero the next time someone’s phone takes a water bath (hint: head to the kitchen).