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Pandemics Make Power Users

When everything’s hard, help others master the tools that make life easier.

So you’re working from home now, huh? Yeah, we are too. Then you already know: Pandemics are bad for productivity. But they’re great for getting really good at using digital tools. When you’re stuck at home with only an internet connection to the outside world, you don’t really have a choice. 

For those of us who build software, helping new power users emerge from this pandemic is both satisfying and educational.

Just in the past week, our clients, co-workers, relatives, and neighbors have started using apps and networks to get things done, stay in touch, and support one another in new and interesting ways. My 80-year-old Mom started using Zoom on her iPhone, so she can see her kids and grandkids —even the ones who use Android. In lieu of in-person meetings, another family member asked me how to set up a Slack workspace for his addiction support group. My neighbors created a live-updating Google Sheet called “Save The Neighborhood,” listing all the restaurants that are open for takeout, which delivery service you can find them on, and which local shops are taking online orders. 

Friends attended virtual dinner parties, bar mitzvahs, and happy hours. Our CEO, Paul Ford, formatted and revived two old laptops for his neighbors’ kids to use for distance learning. Hair stylists, life coaches, yoga teachers, occupational therapists, and famous children’s book authors turned to Instagram and YouTube Live to broadcast and share their work, while teachers and students started using Google Classroom and video conferencing for school.

Amid all of that, everyone has questions about how apps work and how to make apps work better for us. At Postlight, we’ve swapped advice and recommendations on tools, settings, and gear both internally and with our clients, and we continue to figure out the best answers to common questions. For example: How do you get all the faces to stay on screen during a Google Meet presentation? How do you let the team know you’re taking a lunch break on Slack? How’d you get that custom background on a Zoom call? How do you use an iPad as a second screen? How do you diagnose what’s causing hiccups on an internet connection? What’s the best way to signal to the roommates you work alongside to not interrupt?

Getting and giving tech support is one of the most helpful things technologists can do during hard times. Right now everyone feels a little powerless, but great software empowers people. When times are tough, the Settings area of the best apps give people a little bit more control of their world.

With everyone confined to their home, nine months from now, there will probably be lots of babies getting born — and there will also be a lot more power users. By necessity, everyone is becoming more tech savvy than they’ve ever been, and it’s a good thing. When the world is out of control and it feels like there’s not much you can do about, it helps to figure out what things you can control.

Gina Trapani (@ginatrapani) is a Managing Partner at Postlight. Have questions of your own about making the most out of your digital tools? Get in touch: hello@postlight.com.