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20 Years of ‘Help Me!’ Tech Questions

J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions for The New York Times — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998

This week marks the 20th anniversary of what is now known as “Tech Tip,” the technology-based help column I write for The Times. The current column appears five days a week in the Personal Technology section online and in print on Thursdays, but it all grew out of a weekly item called “Q & A” that first appeared on Feb. 26, 1998, in a new Times section called “Circuits.”

“Circuits” focused on the then-emerging world of the web and “anything with a chip in it.” And “Q & A” was dedicated to answering questions about the technology, devices and apps in our lives. (For a taste, the very first piece I wrote was about why the computer input device is called a mouse.)

“Circuits” shorted out as a separate weekly section in 2005 but readers needing tech advice did not, so as the world of consumer technology expanded into everyday life, and culture and society at large, “Q & A” lived on, and was rebooted as Tech Tip in 2015.

Today I still get Windows and Mac questions, but many more are about Android and iOS. And as the technology available to people in their daily lives has proliferated, so has the range of interest, including readers asking about hardware, software, cameras, gadgets, social media and getting around online.

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