Don’t suffer computer problems alone
The only thing worse than having computer, Internet or other technology problems is suffering them alone. But take heart: local organizations called “user groups” let you meet friendly people to help you cope with — and even enjoy — technology.
Though it’s easy to think that buying a computer is as simple as selecting a microwave oven, groups offer assistance for this tricky choice. People often enjoy tailoring a system to their unique needs.
User groups also hold meetings on wide-ranging topics, from general technology (e.g., online safety, privacy, getting better search results) to specific technologies (password managers, favorite Windows or Apple utilities, care and feeding of personal network routers, etc.).
Groups offer newsletters, freewheeling Q&A sessions, discounts on books, hardware and software, raffle prizes, email and web services, and “virtual technology conferences” that can be found online.
Give and receive help, support
User group membership provides a setting to make friends, socialize, and give and receive help. They often adopt the motto “users helping users.”
As a volunteer organization, a user group is like a credit union, in that the more effort people contribute, the more payback they and their community receive.
In my user group, I give advice and support in some areas, and receive it in others. So my efforts are not an expense for me, but a rewarding investment in myself and my community. Yours can be, too.
As nonprofits, user groups provide community services, too, such as judging science fairs and refurbishing used computers for deserving schools, organizations and individuals.
How to join
User groups love new members. It’s easy to join one, get to know people, and quickly feel like a longtime member. I’d hate to think about facing my computer without my fellow user group members beside me!
Groups appreciate volunteers, and getting involved is personally rewarding. It’s a way to serve the community while getting the best introduction to a group’s technology resources.
The DC-area’s leading consumer computer user groups include:
— patacs.org: Meets monthly in Fairfax, twice monthly in Arlington. Mostly focuses on Windows, with strong general component of smartphones, tablets, Internet, apps, general technology, etc. And there’s a free-ranging discussion list for sharing resources/tips and active Q&A.
— wap.org: Meets monthly, alternating between Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, plus informal “users helping users” gatherings. Mostly focuses on all-things Apple, with strong component of consumer issues, general tech how-to and trends, networking, etc. Call (301) 984-0300 (leave message) or email firstname.lastname@example.org with tech questions.
If you attend a meeting or join, mention that you read about this in the Beacon. To find a user group in other areas, visit the Association of Personal Computer User Groups at apcug.org.
Gabe Goldberg is a freelance writer and computer enthusiast.