Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2005

EvCC instructor shows the tech-leery how to keep up

By Julie Muhlstein

Herald columnist

With dial-up Internet access, film in the camera and not a clue how to use an iPod, I feel as though I've fallen from the back of a pickup. There it goes, faster and faster down the road. And here I am, left in the dust. I don't want to be sitting on some dusty road scratching my head and wondering where everybody went. I want to catch up.

Wait, I hear a voice: "Time for you to get with it, girl."  Don't laugh, and don't call the doctor. The voice didn't spring from my bewildered head. That's Michael Perry talking.

For eight years, Perry has been teaching the Agewise Computer Workshop at Everett Community College. The single-session classes, offered each quarter, are part of the school's continuing education program. Originally designed for people 50 and older, the classes are open to all adults. My sense of being ever further behind "is definitely prevalent," Perry said.  "You either haven't begun yet, and you're way behind, or you're at such a level, and you know it's going on all around you," said the 50-year-old Perry, who understands my plight. "It's impossible to keep up," he said when I confessed that my problem may be part fear and part lack of will.  "It's partly a reality problem," he said. "The reality is, if you're not a full-time computer-type person, you really can't keep up."

At EvCC, his topics cover the basics - learning to use a mouse, e-mail, navigating Windows and Word, which covers graphics and formatting features. Perry also has a contract with the Boeing Co., where he teaches all levels of computer skills. Workers there are making the transition from paper blueprints to computerized three-dimensional versions. With the new 787 Dreamliner, paper blueprints are nonexistent.  For some, the transition has been "intimidating and aggravating," Perry said.

Intimidating? Now he's speaking my language.  Right now, my computer at home isn't communicating with its old friend the printer. The printer isn't broken; it's perfectly fine. I know it has an ink cartridge, I don't believe it's empty. It just doesn't work.  I suspect it's waiting for my daughter, who's not afraid to fix things, to get home from college.  Given the time, I probably can reinstall that printer, but I'm always afraid I'll wreck something - irreparably. That's a big reason I don't have any new toys - no iPod, no digital camera, no computer new enough to burn CDs or display streaming video. What if I mess them up?

The other day, the teller at my bank's drive-up window gave me a brochure on online banking. I thanked her and drove off laughing. Who wants to mess up their bank account? Then it dawned on me: Her drive-up window might not always be there. I stopped laughing. I'll give the brochure a look. 

I'm worried the day is near when we won't be able to make any transactions or reservations except by computer. Perry thinks that's a possibility once we baby boomers are the oldest generation.  He delights in opening people's eyes to e-mail, digital photography and the Internet.  "It's a cause I believe in," he said. "My oldest student was 92." 

"The way I start every class, I go around and have people express their feelings, their insecurities, where they want to go. I do that so they see everybody's in the same boat - without a clue," he said.

Asked about the coming thing, Perry cited the ThumbDrive, a device the size of a Bic lighter that stores all your digital data, from documents to music and photos. You keep it on a key chain or in your pocket and plug it into a special port on most computers. "They're becoming more affordable all the time," he said.  Wow, you learn something every day. Just the other day, after falling asleep watching "Ray," I learned how to get back to a certain scene on a DVD. My son was home, thank goodness.

Technology is like anything. There's no shame in getting help. It's the key to keeping up.

"In all my classes," Perry said, "I encourage people to find out who they know who knows computers and just suck the life right out of them."

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com

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