Guest Expressed: “Why You Should Never Buy a Computer for Your Mother”

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you a guest from fellow blogger Ella Medler. She’s hosted an article of mine on her blog last week. This week she visits my blog to talk about a problem known to us all – parents dealing with technology. Enter Ella:

Like the majority of people mildly concerned about the precarious independence of their aging parents, I succumbed to the hottest trend and equipped my dear mother with a (close to) state of the art laptop, complete with webcam, internet and spare peripherals.

I spent three weeks a couple of summers ago demonstrating this perfectly formed machine’s every function and, after a little persuasion, my mother even conceded to take notes.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I clocked in her growing enthusiasm because I knew I wouldn’t be able to simply jump in a car and drive over at the first sign of trouble and she looked like she was very much in control.

Everything went smoothly, much better than I’d originally expected and I drove home blissfully happy, lulled into a false sense of security by the obvious validity of slogans I would usually treat with a healthy dose of reservation: ‘easy as one-two-three’ and ‘empowering people’ and ‘computers help people help people’ – you know the type.

What a load of twaddle.

What a big fat LIE!

If I’d known then what I know now I would NEVER have allowed something as downright harrowing as technology into her life. I would have fiercely discouraged the mere thought. I would have smashed to tiny pieces any box left on her doorstep containing computer-related free giveaways, and that includes top of the range laptops that might have had good flogging potential on eBay under any other circumstances.

At present, all she can use her laptop for is as means of communicating with me.

She can’t get her head around emails and Google searches bring her out in a rash. She won’t be told how to open up a word document because she will do things her way and only when she feels ready.

She suddenly felt ready for video calls about six months ago. After weekly failed attempts followed by bouts of frustrated teary phone conversations and threats of violence against innocent computers, it finally became evident that video calling via Live Messenger was going to be one of those life skills that my mother would never master.

At what seemed like the twelfth hour (from the computer’s point of view) I managed to convince her to try Skype. She cornered one of her friends’ son and he took the time, bless him, to create her account for her.

Not that the excitement had any lasting effects. Nowadays, our video calls sound a little like this:

Me: Hello?

Mum: Oooh, what do I click on?

Me: Mum?

Mum: Just a sec, dear. I’ll get it started.

Me: Mum, you have. You’ve clicked on ‘answer’.

Mum: (mumbles incoherently, sounding annoyed. I think I detect a swear word in there)

Me: Mum. Stop for a minute so I can tell you what to do.

Mum: Can you see me, Ella?

Me: (quietly) I will if you hold still for long enough. (louder) Mum, you’ve got to click on the video camera.

Mum: What video camera?

Me: The one at the bottom of the screen.

Mum: There’s nothing at the bottom of the screen.

Me: Yes, there is. Just hover the mouse over it.

Mum: (clicking feverishly) Oh, I don’t know what this means. (speaking woodenly) Adjust microphone settings…

Me: No, mum. Don’t touch that.

Mum: Speaker… webcam… connection…

Me: Mum, close that window.

Mum: What window?

Me: Don’t do anything and close that window.

Mum: Don’t know how… Mobile…

Me: It’s the cross, mum. Top, right hand corner.

Mum: Oh, I remember now.

The call disconnects. I count to ten, waiting. Finally, she rings.

Me: Hi, mum.

Mum: Hey, I can see you. Can you see me?

Me: Yes, mum. I clicked on ‘answer with video’. (she looks confused) You should click on ‘answer with video’ when I call you, mum. That’s the second button along.

Mum: The second button? What button?

Me: You have a string of buttons appear on the screen when I ring, don’t you, mum?

Mum: (shrugs) Don’t know what buttons you’re talking about.

Me: When I ring, mum. What button do you click on? Do you click on ‘answer’?

Mum: Of course I answer. You ring, I answer.

Me: Yes, but you need to click on the button that says ‘answer with video’. (she looks confused and I’ve had enough) Never mind, mum. I’ll explain it next time.

Last night’s conversation was not much different. It started the same way, then we talked about irrelevant news items, we progressed to the weather, and then she served it to me straight up.

“You know those fancy DSLR cameras, the ones you can use to take photos that you then change and airbrush and things? Can you teach me how to use one of those?”

I nearly fainted.

Ella welcomes guest articles on her blog or you could just drop her a line via her website