3 User Accelerators

In this article I’m going to look at three common types of Mac users and offer a suggestion for each that should make them faster.

Back and Forth

Before getting to that, I want to give some context. In Speed Reconsidered, I suggested that perceived speed is what matters more than hardware speed. With the right software customized to how you work, even an old Mac can be responsive and fun to use. Then I suggested that users are actually the slowest part of Mac computing in Bottlenecks: What Is Your Mac’s Slowest Component?

It’s easy to become enamored of technology and the progress of computers. Ten years ago I would have been jazzed to own a Mac that has as much power as my Palm Pilot now has – and I would have easily paid more than ten times as much for that Mac. But prices decrease and speeds increase. We have become accustomed to paying half as much for twice as much.

I admit it: I love technology. The past few decades has seen an explosion of scientific knowledge. Over 90% of science PhDs who have ever lived are living now. Undoubtedly there is more knowledge being generated now than ever before in the history of humanity. We know things now that seemed inconceivable just a generation ago.

But are we wiser now than a thousand years ago?

I doubt it. Sayings that capture conventional wisdom do not seen to become obsolete the way our knowledge does. People still talk about the boy who cried wolf, even though almost no one shepherds. On the other hand, when no one uses modems, you will not hear people continue to refer to modem initialization strings.

Are we more intelligent now than a thousand years ago? There is some evidence that we might be a bit more intelligent, because we have better nutrition and education, but we are not exponentially more intelligent. I wish my memory could double every year, because it would make medical school much easier. Or I’d like to be able to make a backup of my current knowledge in case I accidentally forget something. But that is not how my mind works.

If you want the best Mac experience, you should turn your focus on yourself. Trust me, technology is not the answer. (That PowerPC 750cx is pretty neat, though, and I hope Apple uses it in a laptop.) Instead, know yourself. That’s ancient Greek wisdom.

What things are you not so good at? That’s appreciating the limits of your mind.

Three User Accelerators

My goal here is twofold: 1) to give you a suggestion, and 2) to remind you of some appropriate suggestions you can give when you tutor a different type of user. So don’t skip ahead if you think that it doesn’t apply to you.

New Users

The first type of Mac user is usually new to the Mac or uses it rarely. You can spot one of these users from a distance. He may have the whole desktop covered with documents. When you look at his Apple Menu, it looks exactly like it did when he got the Mac.

My suggestion to new users is to learn to use the mouse. Many people do not put their documents in folders, because it takes so long to drag each document. One mouse trick is that you can select multiple items by holding down the Shift key while clicking with the mouse button. Then you can drag a group of files to a folder.

Almost everyone knows that double-clicking opens a file. The first click selects it, and the second click tells the Mac to open it. When you use a Save or Open box, you can also use a double-click. The first click selects an item from the list and the second one tells the Mac to use the default button (the one that is circled). That’s much faster than selecting the item and then moving the mouse to the default button and then clicking it.

My favorite use of double-clicking is for selecting words. If you see an extra word in a sentence, how do you delete it? Many people carefully select one end of the word and drag to the other end. You can be much faster if you simply double-click the word – and if you want to select two or more words, double-click and drag. Now you can select by word!

Experienced Users

The next type of Mac user feels comfortable using the Mac and rarely has questions, since she knows how to do what she wants. My suggestion for this person is to learn more keyboard commands. One of the beauties of the Macintosh experience is that many keyboard shortcuts are standardized. Cmd-Q almost always quits an application. Command (or Cmd), by the way, is the name of that key near your space bar that has an Apple on it or the Splat/Propeller/Flower.

black command keyNearly everyone can learn standard keyboard commands for making a new document (Cmd-N), opening a document (Cmd-O), closing a window (Cmd-W), saving (Cmd-S), undoing (Cmd-Z), copying (Cmd-C), pasting (Cmd-V), and printing (Cmd-P). Since nearly every program on the Mac works the same way, learning a keyboard command can make you faster with all your applications. If you want to learn a new keyboard command, look to the right of the command in the menu bar to see if it has a shortcut.

What nonstandard commands do you use the most often? Just recently I realized that I could surf the Web much quicker if I used a keyboard shortcut for going back and used the mouse for selecting new links. It was slowing me down using the mouse to press the back button. Perhaps you can use a two-handed approach as well.

Power Users

The final type of user is the power user. (Actually there are several more types of users, but let’s keep this simple.) If you are a power user, you already know it. When a power user sits down at a Mac to show someone something, she goes so fast that the other person can’t keep up. She seems able to predict the answer to a dialog box before she has time to read the error message. My suggestion for a power user is to learn AppleScript.

Most versions of the Mac OS have AppleScript built in. Looking at the example scripts will give you an idea of some of the things you can do. If you create a few personal scripts, your Mac experience will be better. For example, every day I like to check my email and surf the Web. I wrote a script that connects my computer to the Internet, gets my email, and opens a few of my favorite websites. Or, if I’m already on the Internet, the same script then disconnects me and quits the applications. You can combine AppleScript with a few free software options so that when you wake up in the morning, your Mac has just turned itself on, downloaded your email, and opened up your planner to show you today’s schedule.

There are other ways to automate your Mac besides AppleScript. I use a macro program called OneClick that is much more flexible than AppleScript, and I find it easier to program. But I suggest AppleScript for two reasons. First, it’s free, which means that if you come up with a really cool script, you’ll be able to share it with nearly any Mac user. Second, AppleScript is supported from System 7.1 to Mac OS 9, and it will be supported in Mac OS X.

Invest Your Time

Each of these suggestions requires that you invest some of your time to become a more capable Mac user. Time spent learning your Mac is time that you could be enjoying a good book or laughing with a friend. I’m not suggesting that you learn to be faster just because you can. Knowledge can become obsolete. But if you discern that you might save time in the long run by spending more time learning now, why not do some invest the time?

Perhaps a parable clarifies my point: A man was walking in the jungle when he saw another man stumbling along with a blindfold over his eyes. He asked, “Why don’t you take the blindfold off so you can see where you are going.” And the other man said, “I don’t have the time! I am being chased by a tiger!”

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