Get up from the computer and go interact with humans
Today’s Pointers suggestion is one I’ve been meaning to make for a long time, and the time is finally right: it’s fall and turning quickly into winter, exactly the time when many of us tend to stay inside more often and go out less. So naturally, my suggestion is to get out of the house and join your a local Apple-oriented group. I can say that I have benefitted enormously from my long involvement in several such groups, and I am sure you will as well.User Groups of the sort we had back in the 1990s have fallen out of fashion, of course, since the rise of the Internet: the former primary function of the groups was to answer very basic questions, provide operating system update (on floppy!), and generally keep people informed about the strange new world of computers generally and Macs or Apple specifically. All that and more has largely been replaced with Internet sources, and for some things that more than does the job — but there is something of a missing social element that even a Facebook Mac Fans page can’t really replace.
As any sci-fan fan knows, occasional interaction with people who share a common passion with you about something (particularly if it is something the general public isn’t that big on, like funny cars, cult movies, obscure bands, or unusual hobbies) can result in strong bonds that turn into lasting friendships. I’m presently involved as a volunteer presenter and officer in the Mac User Group for my adopted hometown of Victoria, BC — it’s one of the largest such groups in Canada, with over 200 members who meet up regularly, and also one of the oldest — it got started in 1984 and has met regularly ever since. I haven’t been there that long, of course, but I am pleased to be part of the tradition.
These days, user groups of the traditional sort — dedicated to general Mac and Apple knowledge — are mostly populated with people old enough to remember the days before the modern Internet arrived, or even before personal computers were a thing. Despite being very wise on a huge number of topics as befits something with an inquisitive mind and a wealth of life experience, not growing up with computers means that some people of those generations struggle more with both the technology itself and the fact that it is ever-changing on us more than someone who has always had it as part of their lives would.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and I take great pleasure in finding ways to make new technologies such as the iPad more relevant to the lives of those who, six months ago, could not envision any use for such a thing in their lives. While I’m generally the one imparting what I know to them, I learn a huge amount from them about — well, practically everything else in the world, both present and past, and I also marvel at their keen levels of interest in still learning something new and useful. I’ve seen lives absolutely changed, or just more pleasurably enhanced, thanks to Apple devices.
Mac and iOS users really do come from all walks of life, and an in-person meetup group is a great way to meet some of them. I certainly get more out of the club than I put into it, and I put a lot into it. In additional to the traditional Apple/Mac clubs (which themselves have had to evolve to embrace iOS devices and now other things Apple is into, like wearables and services), I’ve also been involved in less-formal clubs and groups that had more specific focuses, for example an Adobe (pro applications) user group, or a Meetup group of Mac-based business users, and a Friday “lunch bunch” that use their common Apple bond to branch off to other discussions that have no direct relation to the company.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
When you’re having an issue with a computer, sometimes talking about it on a forum isn’t that helpful because you lack the means to clearly communicate what you’re seeing as the issue. Worse still, of course, is that the anonymous kind souls on the web who want to help can’t see what you’ve done or are doing, or what’s going on.
Groups like the Mac User Groups (which can generally still be found in most US, UK, and Canadian cities) generally attract a wide variety of people with differing skill areas and knowledge levels, and this makes for a useful “database” you can demonstrate to or check with to get an eyes-on assessment of whether an issue is Apple’s fault, your fault, or your cat’s fault. You’d be surprised how often cats turn out to be culprits behind common issues, you really would.
User Groups and meetups are often the home of Apple Consultants, people who are certified by Apple to be like the Geniuses in the Apple Store, but can come over to your house or meet you in a cafe so you can show them the issue or tackle learning a specific thing you need to know to accomplish what you want to do. Some of you reading this tend to be ones dispensing advice to others, not seeking it as much, but we all have times when we need to know something that’s out of our core area. User Groups and the people you meet there can be more than just colleagues or friends — they can be a networking circle, a continuing education resource, a customer base for your business, and much more.
Fame, wealth, prizes, praise!
In addition to simply attending meetings, there are also often opportunities to connect with people on other levels, from dating to professional engagements. If you’re one of the knowledgeable ones in your local group, offer to sit on the committee or board that leads the group, or if you have a flair for teaching, volunteer to do demonstrations at Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings (subsets of the more general main meeting where a smaller group focuses on one area — I lead groups for “novice” users, business/professional users, and formerly helped lead a photography group (boy did I learn a lot in that one — mainly how little I actually knew about traditional and digital photography).
Our group has experts in lots of fields — one guy loves to let us know about the latest cool tech gear, while another has recently put together a book of his artwork, thanks to the level of technology needed getting simpler for people to use. The two middle-aged ladies who are hard-core on World of Warcraft. The old-school photographer slowly giving in to the digital world. The gadget buffs and the road warriors. The insatiably curious. It’s a great bunch and I’m proud to know them all, and sometimes pass on a useful tip or two.
Like this one: join a Mac or Apple-related user group, meetup, or discussion group. Or, if there isn’t one, start one. They’re fun, they have prizes (and sometimes cake!) and you’ll get an experience you can’t — at least not yet — really replicate on the Internet. So give it a night off once in a while, and argue with people about trivial topics in person for once. You might just love it.
— Charles Martin