How Moms and Dads use Computers

Few months back we had published an article – Teach your parents a computer lesson which was all about how one could help their parents to learn the A’s and B’s of computers and Internet using this wonderful project by google.

Now, in a new attempt to bring the focus back, we are introducing a new author in our chaaps team, Mr Vaidya R from India who writes on how his mom and dad used the PC. He explains every bit in his own way,a story on how elders use computers, how young techies are impatient to catch up their parent’s pace in using the latest tech toys.
Read on..

She was never a power user. Definitely not the kind that is addicted to the computer. But my mom still loved her daily dose of the internet on our dusty old desktop. It was dusty because we removed the covers on its side to accommodate the different hard drives that we accumulated as the prices dropped. My leaving for foreign shores and my brother’s eventual move out to a place closer to his workplace meant that the computer was entirely under my mom’s maintenance.

The computer being on the first floor also meant that she used to do one trip to do all her browsing every day. There was the usual checking of mails(in two email accounts), reading up wikipedia for any new ailments she had read about in the paper, catching up on any TV serial episodes she had missed out and the religious ones from guruji.com.

My father of course, kept away from anything computer based. I once tried explaining the process of copying photos from his camera to different folders. I even created exercises after taking some pictures on it at random. It worked twice, but he never seemed inclined for it. End result – photos would remain in the camera for months together until someday my brother found the patience to copy it into some folder which my father forgot the location of.

An old desktop running a pirated version of Windows XP procured off the streets in China works for only that long. Microsoft cracking down on pirated software meant that the experience was fairly sub-optimal and my mom’s lack of discretion when clicking links from various religious sites meant that the OS never survived for more than a few months. It was left to my brother to come along and install the OS whenever he was around, but that meant weeks without a computer at home and my mom started sounding pretty frustrated without the internet, during our phone conversations.

A couple of times I tried guiding them step by step from the phone, but it was frustrating. There are some things we, as techies, are conditioned to look out for immediately to understand what’s happening. For the unused though, the whole screen is a new experience. All that theoretical jazz about red colours with cross marks being errors and serious, and yellow to signify warnings goes for a toss and an experience is exposed for its inadequacies. It shows you that we are still far away from mastering the proper UX which anyone can walk up to and understand. (All that jazz about Apple having the best UI for this, also does not stand up. Believe me, I’ve tried.)

Think about it, how would your parents, who started using the computer mainly to stay in touch with you when you moved out react to the blue screen of death? Or to an error 0x6400000E? To a thread that got interrupted? How will they understand why their computer does not come up because svchost.exe was not able to do something.

My return to India however solved the problem as I brought along a genuine copy of Windows XP, and most importantly I set up a wi-fi hub at home and left my old dell laptop in the ground floor in their room for usage whenever required. With no steps to climb to access a computer, my mom’s usage has shot up and I see her online often when at work. The copy being genuine with a proper anti-virus system installed has also meant there have been no crashes till now. Touchwood.

She does miss the old computer though, and tells me that she used to spend time looking at old photos from their trip to Seattle when bored. I promise her that I’ll set up a sharing mechanism where she can access the photos at all times.

The initial introduction to my laptop was also interesting. I started her off on IE8, but she asked for chrome first up. I’ve always thought that chrome was more suited for the tech-inclined and lacked the UX for the non-techie crowd. But the integration of the search box and the address bar has meant that she could type anything at all and get some result which she could work with. She also wondered why GMail, Yahoo and her other favourite websites were not on the new page list like before. I had to start off with a usage pattern so that she could have those on the new tab page.

Being in the tech industry looking mostly at other techies use computers it makes for an interesting experience to see the non-technical and the elderly use their computers. Power-use is mostly never there. There is the slow and measured reading of everything before taking a decision to click on something. But when it comes to the elderly the most striking thing is the absence of any tech support for them. Considering that in big cities like in Bangalore, the empty-nest scenario is becoming widely common with the younger lot moving to other countries, cities or just closer to their workplace to avoid the commute, the amount of support for the elderly when it comes to most things is very limited. Considering how we are becoming more and more dependent on technology for our daily lives it might be a good place to invest in on-demand at-your-place computer support where you call a number and a tech support guy drops in to fix your computer, or even just copy photos from your camera to the computer and share it out for you. If car drivers are now a proper industry, I can see this blooming into a decent one.

But at the same time this is also likely to go the way of most other service-driven industries in India. You call, you call, and you call again before you give someone a royal blasting on the phone before someone turns up at your door. And you’d assume capitalism to take care of such things pushing the best to the front…

Do you want to say something?, use comments section to share your views on this article. Stay connected with chaaps for more interesting articles and tech updates.

About vaidya

Mostly techie, habitual bookworm, occasional blogger, confused photographer, total music buff... I maintain a fairly regularly updated blog at: http://essentialme.wordpress.com

  • superb post..i read the whole article! it was like a story and i enjoyed at every moment. the point about how some people have to blaspheme to turn up to their home is true!!! thanx for this wonderful article! 🙂

  • well written .. got similar feelings.. well its like a story attached close to me 🙂

  • Bob

    It’s true that we have to think deeply about the ergonomy of a websites for people like moms and dads that don’t know how to use Internet easily.

  • I would rate this as one of the best articles I’ve read this month… I was finding myself so much engaged in the article…You’ve got great writing skills friend. Great job. Btw, I have the same story at home.

  • Thanks a lot folks 🙂

  • Wow!! Nice story man 🙂 Loved it 🙂 Most of the ppl experience the same thing but expressing it in words is little difficult but u have shown it to world 🙂 Nice man 🙂 Good going 🙂

  • Well, i can tell you how my mom and dad use computers! My mom is actually very active in the online world, she is always commenting political topics on various forums and blogs. My dad not so much, he has just started using email and has a tendency to read every spam mail he gets, which i find rather amusing. They are both nearly 60.

  • Great story, Vaidya. I too have gone through the experience of teaching my folks about computers. But later on, I realized the best thing to do is just let them tinker with it and understand how to use it properly by themselves. Now they sometimes surprise me with what they know about computing!

  • Thanks Vaidya, It’s fun to watch still to this day my Mother gets lost working on computers, she has a lot of trouble even with email. My father on the other hand grew up with them programing during the 70’s, still can run circles around stop errors.

  • Since i learned to use a PC around 15 years ago, i encountered some serious problems in trying to remember how i actually did it. That is, since i didn’t know how i did it, i also didn’t know how to explain it to others.
    But i took it slowly as my mom needed some recipes and i guided her in the browser on clicking links, scrolling pages, etc.
    Then we got some videos and pictures from my sister’s wedding and i also showed my mom how to watch them. Day by day she started to learn more. It was a slow process, but old people tend to learn harder and you need patience with them.
    Though my father can’t be convinced, he doesn’t seem to like the PC at all.

  • nice story , well written

  • How do I make a CD for my parents using my computer?I’m not moving out right away, but I thought a CD of songs which I’m singing would be great. The songs need to be like, karaoke, where it has the music, and I can add the words…but I don’t know how to do that. please help me!