Computers are stupid…

My Mom is a pretty smart lady. She grew up during the great depression, served overseas in the Second World War rising to the rank of Sergeant Major. She raised six kids, several of us largely as a single mom on a small salary. Thanks to her, we all turned out pretty well.

But a stupid computer can sometimes befuddle her. Her buttons that let her access email and Pogo (which means a web browser, but to Mom its her Pogo) aren’t showing up, and a Kodak icon is open with some funny tabs. And here I sit, an hour away, trying to visualize what it is she is seeing. I’m frustrated because if I was standing next to Mom, I’d know exactly what she was referring to; she’s frustrated, because what she sees on the screen doesn’t make sense, and she can’t explain it clearly to her geeky son. “Powering off” the computer and restarting it didn’t seem to fix anything. And the stupid computer is no help at all…

I finally got my Mom back in business- the Windows Explorer seemed to have been crashed on her machine, so the Windows Taskbar was missing and the machine was largely unresponsive. “Powering off” on her machine isn’t actually shutting down- its putting the machine in standby, and turning it back on just puts it back to where it was- crashed. I walked her through the three fingered salute (CTRL-ALT-DEL) to bring up the task manager and complete a successful restart. Of course, then MSN messenger popped up saying it needed to be upgraded, and a seemingly endless series of questions and prompts also appeared (Do you want the MSN tool bar? How about all these other useless things we’d like to install?) In the end, everything was more or less fine, although I suspect she now has a full suite of Microsoft clutter on her machine.

To a large extent, I think there is a missing “language” between my Mom and the technology, something which those of us who have grown up working with computers take for granted. But really, the machine shouldn’t require the user to adapt to it quite so much. The operating system should detect when it is in trouble, and give a reasonably understandable message (“Your computer seems to be having problems- would you like to restart to correct this?”). And darn it all, automatic updates shouldn’t ask a zillion questions about things you don’t want- there should be a simple choice that says “upgrade only and don’t waste my time trying to add new stuff to my machine”.

But you know, despite the occasional challenges….the really cool thing is that my Mom started using a computer for the first time about two years ago. And she’s using it regularly- she visits this website, reads her email, and plays her Pogo. This impresses the heck out of me, and makes me feel very good in a strange, geeky-son kind of way. I guess the technology isn’t *that* obtuse….although it has a long way to go…

One thought on “Computers are stupid…”

  1. It puts me in mind of one time when I was helping my father over the phone, he was having computer problems. I kept telling him to find the “so and so” on your desktop and click it. This went on for several minutes, with both of us getting more and more mad when we couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t find the “so and so”.

    Eventually, like 40 minutes later, we realized that me saying “destkop” and meaning “screen”, to him meant his actual “desktop” that his keyboard, mouse etc, sits on….amazing that one little word can cause such a problem.

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