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Help my parents help themselves.
November 14, 2012 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Two part question. Helping quasi-luddite parents figure out how to use their computer, and whether I should help them make the switch to VOIP.

So, here's my situation. I live thousands of miles away from my parents. Through the wonder of modern technology, when their computer goes haywire, I'm usually able to screen-share and fix it.

But that doesn't always work and I've just about hit my limit. They need to learn some shit stat before I lose my mind. Highly educated, non-senile people, mind you. Getting them to describe a problem accurately, navigate the screen and follow instructions is extremely difficult, and they remember basically nothing from session to session.

To give you an example, on a Mac, I have to refer to the menubar as "the white horizontal strip at the very top of your screen." I call iChat the "blue bubble at the bottom." What prompted me to ask this question is that my mom does not know how to cut and paste web addresses, so if some online content doesn't have an email link, she doesn't know how to send it to me.

Are there any online courses that are really great and simple for people like this? Computers in question are running Lion.

Secondary - and equally important - question is, do you think it is reasonable to get my parents, given their experience level, to switch to VOIP, i.e. Vonage? They currently pay about $100/mo. for a landline, and basically make a few local calls and international calls to Europe. They most likely would want to keep their current number. If this service requires a lot of handholding and/or downtime I doubt they would be pleased.

Thanks so much for you help in advance...
posted by phaedon to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If they're luddites to that extent, I question whether online courses would be the way to go in the first place. (Consider - do you want to explain to them how to FIND these courses if you're already having this much trouble?)

My parents took a "computers for seniors" course at their local library and it helped them quite a bit - they also were free. That may be worth investigating.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on November 14, 2012


Can you find out if the school district in your parent's area offers community education? Those kind of education programs frequently offer basic computer training. I'm talking REALLY basic - they would definitely cover copy and paste. Classes are normally held at the local high school or library. Sometimes they offer seniors only classes too, at least in my area. Just a thought that maybe some structured time to learn these things would help.

Another option is to scrap the desktop and get them iPads which alot of people think are more intuitive to use for web surfing, emailing, etc.

I have Vonage but I find it flaky and you have no phone in a power outage. It doesn't bother me personally but I wouldn't like it for my elderly parents (but they do have health problems). I would look into how they can lower their phone bill instead. $100 a month for a phone line seems really high to me. Maybe get rid of all of the extras?
posted by cabingirl at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2012


I agree about using the library....I got my first computer at 60 but a friend, close by, helped me do this and that. Over time, with help, online or otherwise, I have managed a blog going on now for some ten years, and am fairly at home with my Mac.
But for those not at ease, online can be off putting whereas a high school helper at a library will make one feel at ease and make things much easier.
posted by Postroad at 11:36 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could you make some "quick guides" for them? Screen Caps and instructions for things like copying and pasting? I work in an office with a large number of seemingly competent professionals (mostly women in their 50's) who routinely pull something like "not knowing how to copy and paste a web address" out of nowhere. So one of the things I've done as part of my office is make step by step guides for these things I need people to be able to do and it's cut down on a lot of the repetitive questions.
posted by dadici at 11:37 AM on November 14, 2012


Yeah I just wanted to add my parents know how to do one or two things really well. Namely, use Amazon, Youtube, Netflix and send emails. But beyond that, the great abyss. These are great suggestions, keep 'em coming! Does anyone know if Apple stores offer basic education?
posted by phaedon at 11:39 AM on November 14, 2012


Do they own a Mac? Because Apple stores offer free group workshops.
posted by jamaro at 11:41 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can also get individual classes at an Apple store. You pay by the hour and cover the exact topics you want. My mom did this a couple of years ago and went from someone who was sort of fearful of the computer to someone who can work some programs better than I can now.
posted by goggie at 11:43 AM on November 14, 2012


Secondary - and equally important - question is, do you think it is reasonable to get my parents, given their experience level, to switch to VOIP, i.e. Vonage? They currently pay about $100/mo. for a landline, and basically make a few local calls and international calls to Europe. They most likely would want to keep their current number. If this service requires a lot of handholding and/or downtime I doubt they would be pleased.

I don't know how Vonage works, but I would be pretty wary, given your description, of helping them switch to anything that you would then have to troubleshoot for them. They don't seem that interested in doing it themselves. So, if Vonage is totally seamless, and never requires interaction with their computer, then sure. If not, no.
posted by OmieWise at 11:44 AM on November 14, 2012


My mom did this a couple of years ago and went from someone who was sort of fearful of the computer to someone who can work some programs better than I can now.

Shut the hell up. Really? I smell a Christmas present!
posted by phaedon at 11:44 AM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, I'd also be uneasy about having a power-dependent phone line for elderly parents. Even my epically luddite mom used to have an old pushbutton phone to plug in in case of emergencies.
posted by elizardbits at 11:45 AM on November 14, 2012


I used to do tech support at a VoIP company and customers like your parents were the hardest to deal with. Always very nice and patient, but explaining even the most basic concepts was a nightmare. Unless you think you can explain qos and bandwidth to them, I would not do it.
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on November 14, 2012


Here is the link talking more about it. My mom couldn't stop raving about it and now works not just the laptop, but her shiny new iPad.
posted by goggie at 12:04 PM on November 14, 2012


goggle - Unfortunately, I just called Apple and they told me they only offer the One-On-One subscription on the day of purchase of a computer.
posted by phaedon at 12:10 PM on November 14, 2012


Does anyone know if Apple stores offer basic education?

Their public library or local adult education program likely teaches these. I teach these classes (for mac) in the rural community that I live in. The class I taught this week was two hours (first of a two part series) called Where Are My Files. One of the things that is really good about classes is the same sort of way they might lean on you to do things or describe them will not go over as well in a class full of people who are expected to know words like Dock and Menu Bar after they have been explained to them. Sometimes seeing other people not doing as well with something can help people who are smart-but-not-getting-it step up and decide to do better if only so that they can help other people with stuff.

Additional suggestions: teach them how to take screenshots, get them a firefox plug-in that has a "send this link" option for any website.

I'd suggest getting them a print book like The Missing Manual or Dummies Guide to Lion. I would not even consider VOIP unless they are complaining about the price of their land line. I'm not sure I understand why a land line is $100/mo?

And I'd start being a little less available, or setting up a screenshare session once a month for an hour to go over their questions and other than that give them the phone number of the Geek Squad. If they are not broke, they should get into the habit of paying people for professional services if you are on your last nerve with helping them out and you are not meeting them partway. But seriously, look into classes, they tend to work and are good "get out of the house" opportunities and are also a place where they can ask the instructor some of their niggling questions. I'd be happy to send you all the handouts for the fourteen hours of classes that I teach.
posted by jessamyn at 12:25 PM on November 14, 2012


I'm going to go with the idea that they don't need the computer. Buy them a tablet and sell the computer to pay for it. A tablet is simpler and does less, so it's less likely to have problems. iPad, Kindle Fire HD 8.9", Nexus 10. Doesn't matter. Get them something simpler.
posted by cnc at 3:31 PM on November 14, 2012


I got my 78 year old mom an iPad this year. For the most part she does pretty well on it. Seems like a pretty good way to go. Once she got over the small learning curve, which was bigger for her than I thought it would be, she has done fine. Much better than with the computer she had, that's for sure.
posted by ecorrocio at 4:01 PM on November 14, 2012


My parents went to the local Mac store and signed up for training. You might get your folks to check that out since they are using Mac.
posted by Librarygeek at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2012


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