I’m an autodidact.  Are you?


A phrase that I hear often from a senior in regards to learning about new technology is “I’m too old to learn a new thing.”

That’s crazy thinking.  Most of us are autodidacts (sort of pronounced “auto-die-dact”)  What the heck is an autodidact?

A dictionary would describe an autodidact as:

“A person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.” (For more information click here Dictionary.com reference).

By the way… Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Malcom X, Benjamin Franklin, David Geffen, Jane Goodall and John D. Rockefeller are all autodidact’s.  That doesn’t mean you can drop out of school – or not go on to higher education. There are simply two (or more) ways to become educated about a particular subject – formal (school) and informal (self-taught.)

Two things that as a geezer (look that up!) I missed out on in college were – learning about (1) stocks and bonds, and (2) information technology.  The first, even though I was a business major, I simply didn’t take in college – it was offered.  The second, quite frankly, wasn’t offered because it had not been invented yet!  The two Steve’s (Jobs and Wozniak) had not invented the Apple personal computer in 1969 when I graduated from college.

It is often said that the things we have the strongest feelings about are the ones that we are curious and passionate about.  For me that is absolutely true.  As a kid I was “into” CB and Ham radios, kits that let you build electronics, photography and gadgets of almost any kind.  I was always reading books like “How Stuff Works…” My dad bought me subscriptions to Popular Science, Popular Electronics, Popular Photography and Popular Mechanics.

When the two Steve’s started Apple (1976) and invented the Apple Computer I had to have one of the first ones (the Apple ][ in 1978.)  My passion for gadgets and electronics and reading everything I could on the new subject of personal computing has led to a forty year love affair (the only one my wife lets me have) with digital devices.  As a baby boomer (1946 – the leading edge of that movement – yikes I’m almost 70 years old!) I’ve got a leg up on most folks my age when it comes to knowledge of personal computing.

My point of all this is that I’ve never taken a formal high school or college class on computing, photography or electronics.  But I AM a autodidact – a self taught person who has read thousands of magazine articles, DIY (do-it-yourself) books, and Internet on-line “webinar’s.”  In addition I’ve simply pushed myself to learn personal computing by “doing.”  Trying new things by pushing buttons, opening programs, and just plain exploring the hardware and software that I’ve owned.

I’m not sure that we are ever to old to learn new things.  If we have a curious mind, and a high degree of interest about something new I think it is possible to learn about something that previously we didn’t know too much about.

As my last official “job” (before retirement) I worked at Barnes & Noble for six years. The first three years I sold music and videos.  The last three years I sold, serviced, supported and trained mostly “oldsters” (fifty plus years old) how to use Barnes & Noble “Nooks” electronic book readers.  The oldest person I trained during those three years was a 94 year old woman who had a passion for reading and wanted the immediate gratification of being able to buy electronic books that were cheaper than paper ones, and that she could do at home.  If she could do it, so can you!

My advice?  You are not getting any younger!  If you haven’t bought your first smartphone or tablet do it now.  Don’t buy a desktop or laptop computer – for what you will be doing 95% of the time a large screen smartphone or tablet will be easier to learn and to use. My preference is Apple.  Why? – read some of my past blog articles.  After you purchase a device sign up for an adult class at your local high school or library or the Apple Store.  Next go to a Barnes & Noble, Schuler’s Books, or any good bookstore and look for books about the device you have just purchased.  Look for titles like: “iPad’s for Seniors.”  Open the first few pages and look at the published date.  If the book is over 1-1/2 years old – look for a newer one (yes, things change that fast.)  Look for books with lots of pictures and drawings and not page after page of just text.  Look at the index in the back – make sure it’s several pages long.  Now after all that you are NOT going to read it cover to cover.  You are simply going to stick it on a shelf and use it as a reference book when you are “stuck” and can’t remember how to make text larger, or make text bolder or ??? (whatever.)

Last, you are NOT going to learn how to use your new digital gadget in a day, or a week, or a month – not even a year.  I’ve been using digital devices since 1978 and I learn something new almost every day!

Happy computing older person (myself included)!  You are also an autodidact – and darn proud of it!

– Tom Gordon, the iTechGeezer

2 thoughts on “I’m an autodidact.  Are you?”

    1. About Desktop Publishing, California Wine Country, Adobe Type metrics, Muir Woods redwoods, Pantone Colors, and Sam Adams Cherry Wheat you did. Everything else I struggled to learn on my own.


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