Seven Steps: How Do You Teach Someone the Internet?

I have a relative getting of prison after serving quite a few years.  While he’s had occasional access to computers, he has not had access to the Internet.  No email, no web, no video, no social networking.  No connection.  He has never used the Internet.  He’s heard about, talked about, and has a general concept of what the Internet is.  He is familiar with computers, just not the Internet.  He has used older versions of Office and older versions of Windows.  In fact, he qualified to be a Microsoft Certified Trainer for the Office platform (though I think it was on 2003 version).  He started teaching the courses to other inmates and employees.  He does have computer skills – just no Internet experience.  So the question that I’m posing is a simple one: How do you teach someone the Internet?

I know that I live in a bubble.  I have a great job, and I have worked with computers and worked online in one fashion or another for my entire life (starting with a 300 baud modem).  I literally have trouble comprehending a life without connectivity, though I know that most of the world is still without Internet access.  According to, nearly 3 out of 4 people on the planet do NOT have Internet access.   In the bubble I live in, everyone has Internet access.  Between my desktop, laptops, iPhone, and iPad, I am always connected.

I know quite a bit about the Internet, but this scenario got me thinking: how do you teach someone the Internet?  Where do you start?  Do you just point someone to Bing and walk away?  What is the ‘learn the Internet’ syllabus?  In typical ‘seven steps’ fashion, below is my basic list of acclimation to the insanity that is the web of 2010…

1. Get an email account.  Go to or  Click the link that says, “Create an account”.  You cannot exist online without an email address.  Sure you can lurk, but you can’t contribute.  You can’t join a site, place an order, or create an account for any site that I can think of.  I even considered just creating an email account for him but decided that it would be best to go through every miniscule step to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.

2. Send me an email.  I provided my email address.  Having an email address without an understanding of the process of sending and receiving an email is like having a Ferrari without knowing how to start a car, or maybe not even understanding what a car is.  Once he understands how to send an email and check his email and read my response, he at least has remote tech support.

3. Google.  Enough said.  Most of us take Google and Bing for granted, but it truly is a magical assistant.  Searching for content is a millennia-old task that individuals have dedicated their entire lives around.  Do you even remember having to learn the Dewey Decimal System?  Google has spoiled me.  I expect to type a single word or phrase into a text box and get back EXACTLY what I am looking for.  No Boolean operators.  No complex searches.  No.  Find what I am thinking about by looking at a single set of words.

4. Facebook.  Create a Facebook profile and reconnect with a variety of TRUSTED individuals.  Do not connect with the people that you don’t want to.  Be VERY selective of who you connect with.  Facebook has gone through a series of peaks and valleys of acceptance from most of the people that I know.  Initially, everyone was very skeptical and only accepted friend requests from people that they knew very well.  After this initial skepticism there was a period where everyone was trying to make anyone and everyone they have ever met in a grocery store checkout line a friend.  Based on the fact that everyone was everyone’s friend, most people were extremely modest in what they shared on FB.  That may be a good thing, that may be a bad thing.  Now Facebook has kind of stabilized.  I think that most people are more selective in choosing who they invite and accept as friends.  This allows a little more transparency and honesty in what is shared…  Facebook is one of the game changers on the web and has transformed how we connect.  It’s a must.

5. YouTube.  This one I was skeptical of…  Based upon the fact that 24 full hours of video are uploaded every 60 seconds, you can literally waste your entire life watching what is uploaded and NEVER catch up.  However, is there really a faster way to truly experience the full human condition of 2010 than to spend 1 hour clicking through today’s most popular vids on YouTube?

6. Amazon.  Product consumption has changed.  I don’t have to go to Kmart, Hills Department Store, Wal-mart, Sears, or even the grocery store.  I can order groceries, shoes (since they acquired Zappos), clothing, electronics, and books.  Books.  Funny that Books is the last thing I think of when I think of Amazon.  Books were the backbone of Amazon.  I’m a Kindle fanatic, yet Amazon to me means commerce and, oh yeah, books.  That said, I would recommend the Kindle Application on the laptop so that you have a reader and access to hundreds of FREE books.  Sure, purchase any books you want, but look through the free books before you start spending money on new books.

7.  Netflix.  For less than $10 a month, I can watch as many movies as I want.  YouTube is entertaining, but produced movies can be life changing and even inspiring.  Keep in mind, my relative has not seen any form of modern media for years.  Netflix doesn’t even require a laptop.  I can wait for the latest, greatest DVDs to cycle through the mail (which I do), but I can also watch hundreds of movies right now – directly on my laptop.  Even better, I can watch them on my iPad, but more about that later…

Of course, the millions of sites out there could be prioritized in any order, but other ones that I would at least highlight would be (in random order):

I’m curious to hear your thoughts and feedback.  What would you recommend?  What steps are missing?

imageHills Department Store, Morgantown, WV.
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By John Stover

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