Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Computing for Parents

My parents are in their seventies.  Need I say more?

Actually it's kind of difficult for me, being their child and thinking the world of them, to see them floundering about with their computer.

One of the most difficult ninety minutes of my life involved talking my mother through finding a document and emailing it.  By the time we were done, my mother was mad at herself too.  I should have won some sort of Nobel prize for maintaining my composure and not having my cranium explode, spraying the general area with its contents.

No one is entirely sure why they have had so many computers but there are certain things that, if questioned, will make your head hurt unbearably.  My mother has fibromyalgia and back issues so it's very difficult for her to use a computer in the first place.  It tends to look a lot like back-seat computing, with my dad typing and my mom leaning over his shoulder, yelling.  This is a fairly normal position for my parents and it is not for me to question what works.

They have gone through quite a number of laptops.  Nobody knows why, although I suspect at least one of them is the Dr. Kevorkian of computers.  The latest laptop is quite a beauty: a Dell with a seventeen inch screen.  The thing weighs almost as much as their car, which confuses me as my mom can't lift it (the car or the laptop, one would presume).

This particular laptop came with a major virus known as Windows Vista.  I installed the lesser virus called Windows 7.   I had almost no Vista experience and discovered this was a wonderful thing.  What a screaming piece of garbage..... the install was brand new and kept blue-screening randomly.  With a nice processor and four gigs of RAM, the thing looks magnificent and absolutely crawls.  If Windows 7 performs like Vista, my parents are going to learn linux.

Linux won't be a problem for my folks, as it would be just another operating system they cannot operate.

The key to dealing with older and/or technology-terrified folks is repetition.  They have to keep using the computer almost daily.  If they fail to use the computer, they will definitely forget how to operate it.

And forget they did.

Every few weeks, I'd receive another emergency call because one or both of them couldn't get their email.  Initially this was caused by not being able to remember their password(s).  I'm a security guy - I can't let my parents not have a password on their laptop.  We overcame this by having them write it down in a place they'd be able to locate.

All was well until last week, when I got another one of those calls.  They couldn't read their email.  Anyone who has done any troubleshooting at all knows that the complaint usually has nothing at all to do with the actual issue.   "Can't read my email" can mean anything from "I forgot my password" to "I forgot to pay the cable bill."

Firing up the latop, I discovered that all was in order and the email came in wonderfully.  I inquired as to the problem and they restated it was email.  Asking differently, the question actually turned out to be "Which program do I use to read email?"

Support people also know the Second Law of Computing: if there is no icon on the desktop, the program isn't installed.

I changed the Outlook icon to read EMAIL.

I suspect that they are best off with three icons:  EMAIL, WEB, and PICTURES.  Anything else will just get them into trouble.

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