There is such a thing as *too* user friendly...
November 16, 2011 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Does anybody know of any resources, be they online or otherwise, for teaching the basics - the very basics - of iPad use to a computerphobic person? Things like "what does the home button do?", "what is the internet?", "what is a web browser?", "what is an app?". More details below, but basically I am at the end of my tether with trying to provide technical support to someone with zero computer awareness or willingness to learn and I need to find some way of educating them to the point where they can at least recognize when something is a problem and when it isn't.

(apologies for length, but I guess the following also contains a bit of ranting)

A 71 year old relative of mine is a complete computerphobic with absolutely no awareness of how they operate. This is largely because she grew up in a situation where I don't think she actually saw a computer before she was in her 60s, however it is also because she has a tendancy to shut down at the slightest mention of anything that might be construed as technical information (e.g. "the internet is a lot of computers connected together"). Note that she is otherwise (highly) intelligent, just very strong willed.

Looking back, it would probably been better if she had never been introduced to computers in the first place however I spent several years trying to show her how to use a PC and, although she showed initial interest, it never really resulted in actual unprompted use ("I might break something"). Despite this, she showed obvious interest and amazement at what was possible with internet access so, eventually, I decided to buy her an iPad - which she loves.

I think part of the success is that she doesn't really appreciate that it is computer. I believe she views it as a black box that provides her with her favourite news sites, encyclopedias, dictionaries and sudoku. It is incredibly simple for her to use and she uses it all the time.

So, "what's the problem?" I hear you ask. Well, she loves her iPad so much, that anything that doesn't behave the way she expects is considered "broken". This includes encountering an icon that has moved; encountering a new icon; encountering an unused icon; encountering a dead web link; etc. Basically, since the iPad requires no technical knowledge to use, this means she has absolutely no knowledge with which to rationalize about a problem.

Since most of these changes happen when I sync the iPad with the computer - usually to update to a new iOS version - she invariably blames me for these problems. I have tried explaining that sometimes Apple adds new features, or sometimes websites go down, however none of this sticks.

The problem seems to be that she cannot/will not grasp concepts such as the iPad being synchronized with a PC or that a website exists on another computer somewhere else in the world.

I have put up with this for a couple of years, however recently it has started to become stressful for me to provide this support. The most recent incident, related to an attempt to move my iTunes library to an external drive and the upgrade for iOS5, which resulted in a lots of things being temporarily wiped/changed on the iPad was bordering on catastrophic. It ended up with her distraught - seriously "you shot my dog" distraught - and in tears, ranting at me at midnight as I tried to reinstall everything, while fending her off from ripping the cables out of the computer.

Trying to explain that nothing had been lost, that everything was safely backed up on the computer, was useless. The combination of the above plus the fact that the mobile version of her favourite news websites appears to have gone down, possibly permanently, means she is now convinced that the iPad is irreparably broken (she asked me this morning if I knew any shops she could take it to after I "broke" it).

So, enough is enough. I am no longer prepared to face the strife associated with maintaining this iPad until she can gain some basic awareness of what constitutes a problem and what doesn't.

So, since I cannot seem to teach her this, which I am sure is just as much a failure on my part as hers, I need to find some other resource that she can refer to independently. However, this resource needs to be iPad-specific and incredibly basic. It cannot use any form of technical language, as least certainly not to begin with. For example, I was looking at "iPad For Seniors For Dummies", however, leaving aside the issue of how insulted she would feel being presented with something that is aimed at "Dummies", this uses words like "network", "bluetooth" and refers to the settings dialog, which would switch her off immediately.

The problem seems to be that modern society seems to expect a certain basic level of technical knowledge before you can start learning about computers.

A general computer course would be of no use, since I don't think she will make the connection between using a PC and using an iPad.

Does anybody have any solutions? How do you teach the unteachable?
posted by teselecta to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of acting as a one-man tech support brigade, you need to move responsibility for the device onto your relative's shoulders. The first part of this is easy- you need to help by identifying other avenues of support- training resources, other people to talk to, etc. The second half is harder. You'll need to stop helping. Instead of "I'll fix it for you", you need to switch into "You can fix this by...". After a while, either your relative will start helping themselves, find another patsy, or start to get the underlying metaphors of the OS and only bug you with the tough stuff.

There's an ipad for dummies book and video combo out there- I'll personally never buy something that condescends to me in the title, but maybe this would be a useful place to start?
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:28 AM on November 16, 2011

I have no answer with regard to a resource to help her learn about ipads. however, if I were in this situation, I would absolutely refuse to touch her iPad again for any reason until she had taken the initiative to learn on her own. This situation is obviously causing you a lot of stress; why do you have to constantly help her with the iPad? She is responsible for her own level of technical knowledge.
posted by Lobster Garden at 5:32 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does it *need* to be synchronised/does the OS *need* to be upgraded? If you just leave the thing in her hands as it is it sounds like she'll be happier. Sounds like the most serious issues she has might thus be eradicated...?
posted by springbound at 5:39 AM on November 16, 2011 [16 favorites]

I was just about to ask what springbound asked: you mention that this problem usually occurs when you're synching the iPad to the computer, to update the OS. Do you need to do this? It sounds like she doesn't appreciate the upgrade. I don't have an iPad, so I could be missing something, but what would happen if you didn't update, upgrade, or sync anything? Would her iPad be running on something so old that she couldn't view webpages because the version had changed, or could she continue indefinitely on what she has now?
posted by UniversityNomad at 5:43 AM on November 16, 2011

My mother is 71 and has a similar disposition. Personally, I just wouldn't do updates.

What finally convinced my mother that I knew what I was doing was when several other "experts" tried to fix her computer and failed. Then I came for a visit, and fixed it. I am now the computer goddess, in her mind. So maybe just let her take it to a shop and deal with them once.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:50 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I have decided that the iPad is no longer going to be synchronized or updated, however this still leaves the issue of how to deal with problems like inaccessible websites, unwanted entries in the address book and unused icons. Also, she wants photos to be transferred from her camera, which requires syncing unless I upload them to a website of course (but then she "loses" the photos whenever she hasn't got internet access).

I have started to take more of a "you can fix this by..." approach, however the problem is that she tends to go into "lockdown" whenver I start to explain anything. Since I may be the problem when it comes to explaining stuff, that is why I am searching for something she can do independently (ideally without really appreciating what she is doing!). Some form of video would be ideal.
posted by teselecta at 5:51 AM on November 16, 2011

Apple Stores offer workshops in Getting Started with iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Maybe point her towards the professionals and let them deal with it?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:05 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Frankly, if she wants pictures transferred, she can do it your way or no way. If she's refusing to even *try* to understand, don't help her. It's almost like someone who refuses to steer insisting upon getting their driver's license.
posted by notsnot at 6:08 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are a couple of books aimed at seniors, that might help. iPad 2 For Seniors and iPad for the Older and Wiser might help.

My dad, who was never much of a computer user found the first one useful (hasn't looked at the second). Imagine his surprise when he discovered that the Calendar icon wasn't just to show the current date, but could be clicked on for a full calendar.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are there any iPad for Seniors classes at your local community college or university extension department? The learning council in my nearby town offers a class like this, with incredibly patient instructors *who are being paid* to teach the basics, over and over and over again.
posted by bluebelle at 7:01 AM on November 16, 2011

Can she drive? Is she close to an apple store? Can you take her to an apple store? Make her an appointment with the Genius Bar there and let Apple take care of it. That's what they are there for.
posted by empath at 7:04 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if this takes care of the whole problem (actually not even sure if this works the way I think it does), but could she upload photos directly to the iPad (skipping the computer sync) using the camera connection kit and then set up iCloud as a backup.

And then never sync anything to a computer again?

(And take an iPad class too, but...)
posted by etc. at 7:08 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For photo transfer, get the little gizmo you stick in the iPad port and stick the camera card or cord in the other end. No computer needed. It'll be like magic to watch the photos pop onto the iPad screen one by one.
posted by matildaben at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good point about the camera connection kit. Definitely going to look into that...
posted by teselecta at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2011

It sounds like she has the same sort of problems that are somewhat recurring. They may be different icons that show up that are unwarranted, but the fix is the same.

I know if my father, who is the least computer literate person I know, who struggles with clicking on a browser icon to get to the internet would do exceedingly well if I took the time to do one thing. Don't get a book.

Write out a page or two of typed directions for the various fixes. A faq style sheet would work.

Q. What is this icon, I didn't put it there?
A. Click it and see if you want where it takes you. If not, exit out. Hold finger on icon until it starts dancing. Lift finger. Touch the "x" in the dancing icon you no longer wish on your screen.

Do this for all the common issues she creates, real or imagined and she will feel empowered and you will be relieved.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:38 AM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

To me it seems like this is partially a communication/relationship issue, although I definitely agree with looking into everything you can do to automate processes and keep yourself out of the picture technically speaking.

It seems unreasonable for your relative to expect you to be willing to not only serve as her tech support but also to deal with yelling, crying, and what sounds like actual physical conflict related to this tech support issue. I think you also need to be firm with her about what kind of behavior you expect from her.

There is nothing going on with her iPad that should necessitate calls after 10pm. If she is crying, yelling, or physically trying to wrestle you over the iPad, you will immediately stop providing support, although you would be happy to drop her off at the Apple Store to discuss this with someone at the Genius Bar or call someone to come to her house to help her fix the problem. If you are trying to explain something to her and she starts getting agitated and confrontational with you, you need some phrases to say like "I know that this type of thing is a challenge for you, but in order to work through this problem we need to be able to listen to each other respectfully. If you can't do that it won't be possible for me to help you with this problem."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is mostly a relationship issue. Her reaction is crazy. Is she willing to learn? You really can't force her no matter how simple you make it. You can, however, set your own boundaries. Only answer calls when you want to - otherwise she gets to leave a voicemail. Same with in-person support. No one needs an iPad to live even if they yell and cry about it. You are the other part of this equation.

If you're really determined to help her, I'd make your own guide. I don't have an iPad, so I don't know how difficult this would be for you, but I'd take screenshots of the most common tasks and print them out (yes, on paper). Step by agonizing step - do not skip anything. Draw a finger on them. Put them in a binder.

As for why her favorite website is down? "It's like the power lines went down in a storm and you have no lights. When they fix the power lines you will have lights again. I can't fix it and you can't fix it. All you can do is wait."
posted by desjardins at 1:23 PM on November 16, 2011

My Mom always said she wanted to have a deep understanding of the computer, but had no real interest. So I always agreed to show her how to do 1 thing. Mom: I don't understand email. How does it work? Why does it do X? Me: Why don't I show you how to open an email and save the attached picture, so you can print it? This is ideal for an iPad, which has an app for each task.

Relate to her feelings, not just the facts. You know, Gran, it *is* complicated and frustrating. It's not because of your age as such, it's just that I work with this stuff all the time, and I grew up with it. You're right, they *should* explain it better. While I wait for this annoying update, let's make a cup of tea.

As you find the things that work for her, make a cheatsheet she can refer to.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 PM on November 16, 2011

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