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10 Tips for Navigating the Web

Published: December 11, 2008

Whether social networking, managing personal finances, or playing games, you’ll discover that getting on the Internet is easier than ever before —whatever your age.

Navigating the web for the first time is like visiting a new city, like Paris, for the first time. Everything is new and different, wonderful and amazing, and you’ll soon be asking yourself why you didn’t get here sooner.

I remember the first time my grandmother emailed me, back when I was in college. My father — computer engineer that he is — set her up with a laptop and email. A traditional woman who grew up in the “roaring ’20s,” she was skeptical and hesitant at first. Before long she was instant messaging my siblings, cousins, and me, trying to stay in touch with all of us scattered across the United States.

Whether this is your first time or the 1,000th on the Internet, here are some tips that will hopefully make it easier for you to navigate the web and use your computer more efficiently.

1. If unfamiliar with computers and the Internet, you can go to the library or borrow a friend’s computer. Today’s computers are so user-friendly that you’ll quickly discover how easy computers are to use and navigate. If you decide to purchase a computer, experts offer some simple advice before you buy. First, decide what you want to do on it. This can be challenging initially if you are new at it. Most computers are so advanced that you can do the basics on any model that starts at $500, says Matt Dworkin, a 32-year-old “Double Agent” for Best Buy’s Geek Squad who has installed and set up hundreds of customers in the Washington, D.C., metro area for more than four years. If unsure what you want, go to any of the various “big box” stores and test out several to figure out what you like best. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

2. Once you have a computer, Dworkin recommends setting up bookmarks. You can hire someone for an hourly rate during your initial computer set-up, ask for help from a friend or relative, or do it yourself. Bookmarks (sometimes called favorites) are tabs, just like the name indicates, that “mark” places on the Internet that you frequently enjoy using. Depending on what type of computer you purchase (P.C., or personal computer, used more frequently by the business world, or an Apple brand Mac or Macintosh, used by “creative types” like graphic designers who enjoy editing lots of photos or creating home movies), you will have different web browsers that allow you to navigate the Internet. Most people use web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Netscape. How to save a bookmark depends on your web browser, but once you know how, it will be easy to do again and again.

3. Secure your network. It’s very important to have several security features while on the Internet, including a firewall, says Jean Westcott, who coauthored with her husband, Sean, the book Digitally Daunted: The Consumer’s Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life. Buy, install, and use an antivirus program like McAfee and Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus. Just make sure that you don’t use both because the programs will cancel each other out, and you won’t be protected. Make sure you have the automatic updates turned on so your computer will automatically install the latest upgrades. Also install a Spyware program, such as Spybot, that will help prevent advertisers from tracking your movements on the web. Make sure you save all installation CDs and booklets, says Westcott, because you may need them in the future if you ever have trouble with your computer and need to re-install programs. If you need help, I strongly suggest using an A+ certified computer technician.

4. Set up an email account. An email is an electronic message sent from one computer to another that allows you to communicate extremely quickly with people around the world at any time. There are several email services. My favorite is gmail.com, which is Google’s version of email. Just be leery of anyone asking for money. Banks, the IRS, and other legitimate institutions won’t contact you over email or request your personal information or password. If you aren’t sure, don’t open the email. Again, a healthy dose of skepticism is important because, unfortunately, there are many “phishing” emails from people who are looking to get rich quick from the ignorance of others. Even if an email comes in from a friend, if the email doesn’t sound or look right, don’t believe it. Sometimes a virus can automatically send out emails from people you know.

5. Having trouble reading the Internet computer screen? Find the magnifying glass on your computer. On a PC, go to the start button, click on the control panel, and look for accessibility options. You can also enlarge text size. For more information on how to set it up on your PC or Mac, visit the website: www.aging.state.pa.us and click on “Enlarge Text.”

6. Struggle with typing? Both Macs and PCs with Microsoft Windows Vista programs have a text-to-speech program. This tool can work as a secretary and type what you say, read to you information from websites or simple word documents. You usually can change the automated voice to fit your comfort level. A speech recognition program will allow you to say things such as “open Internet Explorer,” or write down what you are speaking. This program helped a retired Navy man that Dworkin was assisting. “He stormed the beaches of Normandy and wanted to write a memoir but couldn’t because of his arthritis,” Dworkin says. “So he’d sit there and dictate to the computer. He had a friend edit it afterwards to make sure the word ‘meet’ wasn’t written as ‘meat’ or ‘mate.’ The program’s not flawless, but it can really help to minimize the amount of typing.”

7. Consider using Skype. Make calls from your computer to another computer for free, anywhere in the world. Even Oprah uses this now to interview some of her guests. You buy a special headset that typically costs $20 to $50 at any electronics store. You dial the phone number by pressing buttons on your computer and the other person picks up, so it’s just like a normal phone call. You can also call, unlimitedly, a landline or cell phone anywhere in the United States for $3 a month if you sign up for the service.

8. What is instant messaging (IM)? Imagine writing notes back and forth to someone — that’s what IM is like. It’s like writing one or two sentences or phrases on a Post-It type note that is instantly sent to someone else. There are a variety of free programs that do this, including: Google, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo

9. What’s a blog? Blog is short for web log. Most are free. People use them for various reasons — from keeping a public diary to writing about niche topics, such as politics, celebrities, sports, traveling, or dieting. Many people prefer WordPress.com or typepad.com.

10. Social networking. This buzzword became big in the past five to seven years. There are dozens of sites that fit various needs. Think of it as water cooler talk for the Internet. Linked-In.com is a business website where you can post your resume, credentials, and give or receive recommendations. It’s a great networking tool. Facebook.com can also be used for business networking or personal use. Many people use both, keeping one personal and one professional. MySpace.com is also used by many and was originally started as a way to promote bands on the Internet.

A Buyer’s Guide – Consider buying a laptop.

If you have problems, you can take a portable computer to someone else to have it fixed or call for home service. Plus, you can also go to places such as the library, many restaurants, and coffee shops that offer free Internet hookup. Most computers now come with Wi-Fi access that allows for a wireless connection to the Internet — I recommend it. Also, consider a built-in webcam that will allow you to see and talk to your children or grandchildren in real time. When buying a computer, ask yourself: do you enjoy music; want to edit photos; build a social network; create photo albums or home movies?

Noteworthy websites

Bookmark the following sites to make your Web use easier.

  • saturdayeveningpost.com – Find fun features, health stories, favorite Rockwell art, blogs, humor, recipes, news that you can use, and much more.
  • familysearch.org – Doing genealogy research? Start here.
  • flickr.com – View some of the most interesting photographs from around the world.
  • youtube.com – Watch Gene Kelly perform “Singing in the Rain” or Bono and Pavarotti perform Ave Maria on this video website.
  • cnn.com – Just one of many great news sites. Google your favorite magazine or newspaper (New York Times is nytimes.com or try washingtonpost.com) and get even more information.
  • bloomberg.com – Get financial news here.
  • weather.com – Want the essentials? This site has been around for 12 years and frequently updates.
  • mapquest.com – Type in an address and print out a map. Get driving directions, too.
  • sidestep.com – This travel website, along with orbitz.com, travelocity.com and kayak.com will help you comparison-shop for flights and hotels.
  • yelp.com – Find information on a restaurant, shop or business.
  • overstock.com , eBay.com and amazon.com – Great places to shop.
  • stubhub.com – Find tickets for concerts and sporting events.
  • earth.google.com – View satellite images of anywhere in the world, even your home.
  • craigslist.com – It’s the online version of the classified ad, only it’s free. Find everything from jobs to dating personals. Use it to sell or buy anything.
  • freecycle.org – Trying to get rid of something or want something for free? Sign up for your neighborhood and add your request.
  • espn.com – By far the most comprehensive sports website.
  • charitynavigator.org – An independent charity evaluator.

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  • Doris J. Niemann

    Please advise what editor and email address to submit a manuscript to The Saturday Evening Post magazine.

    Thank you.

    Doris J. Niemann