Basic Computer Skills for Senior Citizens and the Computer Illiterate: A Technophobe-Friendly Guide
Recently, I received a call from my mom who lives in Portland, Oregon. She was having trouble with her printer after having previously also had issues with viruses and malware. As I attempted to assist her with her issues, I ran into a very frustrating situation that has continuously been a stumbling block in my ability to help get her up and running again. That thing that prevents our progress is her lack of basic computer skills, and she is not alone as millions of people today still have no computer education except frustrated hands-on attempts.
First, you must understand that I have no way of viewing my mom’s computer or connecting to it to fix things (In XP, I used to be able to remote in, but now she has Vista and that option is not available), so every time she calls me for help, I have to walk her through each part of the fix or troubleshooting process, step-by-step. I am known as a very patient person who is able to explain technical concepts well to most folks with little to no previous computer knowledge. Unfortunately, my mom seems to need a lot of repetition for her to finally be able to perform a simple instruction. I don’t mean to cast aspersions; this is just simply the way things are at present. She is not dumb either: to the contrary, she is very smart about some things. However, when it comes to computer, tech, science, etc … she falls short. And that’s OK. Some people have an aptitude to pick up new technical skills for their entire life, but are less apt at picking up new social skills. For Mom, it is simply “vice-versa” – She can pick up new skills, such as the concept of Social Networks like Facebook and MySpace easily. But when it comes to basic computer maintenance and ownership topics, like how to install a printer, defrag a computer, or find files in Windows, she is at a loss. These things don’t come easy to her and others like her.
The many frustrating hours I have spent trying to help my dear mother on “legit” level 2 technical support issues such as diagnosing printer failures and configuring antivirus/anti-malware programs, have usually been impeded by my having to re-explain the fundamentals of computer ownership, use, and maintenance (sub-Level 1 tech support) ad infinitum. For her it is a frustrating experience because it’s just not her domain of expertise. In my own life, I’ve had similar frustrations and it was always very hard, until I found a way to understand the concept through analogies that made sense to me, etc. One example from my past was my inability to understand the concept of “decimal places” … Had I never figured that out, I would definitely not have become a programmer or been good with math.
I too feel like my patience and time is being tried and wasted, respectively, because in my mind (and in reality) I am thinking “I already told you this!!! Why haven’t you learned this by now??? For over 10 years I have been telling you this!!!” Also, “No Mom – RIGHT-Click!!!” has been something I have had to say a lot. Imagine if every time you asked somebody to drive to the store to pick up some things, that you had to re-explain how to put the key in the ignition and how to operate the accelerator (aka: gas pedal) and brakes; now you have some idea of what I have to go through on a regular basis. That would soon grow tiresome to even the most kindhearted and helpful person.
This mutual pattern of frustration was the direct impetus for my writing this article. It culminated today when after another exasperating session of attempted technical support on a computer issue; I finally told my Mom that I can no longer help her with her issues because it is simply disrespectful to waste my time by not remembering or improving her knowledge of computers on her own.
Let me give you a brief analogy: If you were in a musical band, and the band was learning a new song, and there was one part that you found particularly difficult to play, it would be your responsibility to learn that part on your own, would it not? Further, to come to the next band practice having NOT practiced on your own would simply be disrespectful of the other members’ time, because instead of spending time learning more new songs, they now have to take the band’s time to try and teach you what you should have worked on, on your own.
To ask someone repeatedly something they have already answered for you ad nauseam, is BLATANT DISRESPECT FOR THEIR TIME, and breeds resentment from the person who is attempting to give assistance.
So, here you see, I am trying to alleviate some of that frustration and resentment by providing a list of resources, including several online training videos, which cost nothing to make use of, except a few minutes of your time.
Though it was my mom’s lack of computer knowledge that prompted me to write this, my wish is that anyone else who is suffering from this problem may gain hope and a better understanding through their own self-study and efforts of the below materials. Now, everything is in one source, and at your fingertips!
For some, even searching the internet can be an ordeal. Truly, even for the experienced, it is sometimes difficult to find a topic online because of the way Google search works. Do not fear my friends, for I have invested several hours of my time researching and compiling the links and resources that for you, may have taken several weeks or months to accomplish.
I put a lot of my personal time into gathering these materials. The only thanks I ask is that you comment and let me know if you found this article helpful!!! Also, I would be happy to hear of any additions to the content you might suggest!
Eric “Kristobaldude” Hepperle
December 20, 2010
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