Author Topic: Parents who are Computer Illiterate  (Read 12336 times)

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Pen^2

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Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« on: March 07, 2013, 10:26:54 PM »
So, my MIL is a doctor. Highly intelligent, still working, all the rest of it. However, she is very much not a computer person. Until two years ago, she had never touched a computer. I spent god knows how many hours teaching her how to use the mouse, how to click, how the keyboard works, and so on, so she had basic functionality and could email old schoolmates and Google recipes (these two things are literally the only things she uses the computer for). I have written up pages with instructions for these in case she forgets, with the steps broken down ludicrously, and pictures for everything.

Every now and again, we will get a phone call from her about a computer issue. Now, computer issues are frustrating enough normally to deal with over the phone, but this is a woman who will be convinced that her email isn't working when it turns out she is actually just forgetting to click the mouse, and is only hovering the cursor over the "login" button. These phone calls typically take an hour.

The most annoying thing is that, despite being a perfectly intelligent person, she mentally just switches off when it comes to computers. I don't know if it is learned helplessness or what. But it certainly is annoying.

Last night she rang with a computer 'emergency'. After half an hour, we figure out that her internet had automatically wiped its history (as it does periodically) and as a result she couldn't get to Hotmail. Easy to fix: just type the URL in the address bar. I had already written this out for her a year ago, actually. But MIL was very, very uncooperative.

(At this point I already knew she had her browser open on the screen)
Me: OK, so look at your screen. Are you looking at it?
MIL: (after a 30 second pause) Mmm.. (very flat and uncommitted)
Me: You can see the screen right now?
MIL: (another long pause) Mmmm...
Me: ...OK, well, right up near the top of the screen is a long white rectangle with writing in it. Can you see that? Do you know what I'm referring to?
MIL: (Pause) Mmm...
Me: Move the mouse over the writing. Have you done that?
MIL: ...Mmm...
Me: Click on the writing. Tell me when you've done that.
MIL: ....Mmm...
Me: Well, now press the backspace key and hold it down until all the writing is gone. Let me know when you've done that.
MIL: ....Mmmm...
Me: OK, now type: www dot hotmail dot com (said letter by letter, slowly, and repeated a few times while MIL doesn't respond)
MIL: ...Mmm...
Me: Now just press the enter key, and you'll go to your email. All fixed! Did it work?
MIL: (Pause) No. I don't know what to do, so I haven't done anything.

It turns out she had done none of what I had been saying. This continued throughout the rest of the phone call. She says she has a problem and wants me to tell her how to fix it, and when I do this, she shuts down, mumbles at me, and ignores what I say until the end, when she reveals that she's done none of it at all. Gaah!

Would it be rude, once she starts in her whole pausing and obviously not listening/acting upon my instructions thing, to say something like, "you know what, MIL? It doesn't sound like you're listening here. You're obviously quite tired right now, so I'll call back tomorrow and hopefully you'll be up to it. Good night!"

These phone calls are taking an hour, literally, when they should be five minutes, even to a computer illiterate person. Things like "look at the top of the screen" can take ten minutes to get her to do. Even "go into the computer room" is hard to accomplish. It's bizarre and bloody annoying, and I am sick of our lives being disrupted over this. Could I say something like this to her to cut the call off? Hopefully we can acclimatise her, as it were, to listening and actually following simple instructions instead of wasting an hour.

Nikko-chan

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2013, 10:36:05 PM »
I don't think it would be rude at all. It sounds like this is quite frustrating for both of you. And I don't know why, if she has it written down, she keeps calling you. You might even possibly be able to say that. "Oh you need help with EasyComputeryThing? That's on that paper I gave you. It tells you exactly how to do it. Talk to you later."

I am sure another ehellion has a better way of putting it.

oceanus

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2013, 10:39:37 PM »
Oh, boy, do you have my sympathies, OP.  BTDT (long ago with a stubborn, anti-computer spoiled/coddled co-worker), but I'll spare you the story.

Quote
Would it be rude, once she starts in her whole pausing and obviously not listening/acting upon my instructions thing, to say something like, "you know what, MIL? It doesn't sound like you're listening here. You're obviously quite tired right now, so I'll call back tomorrow and hopefully you'll be up to it. Good night!"

This would be okay, I think, as long as your voice doesn't reveal frustration.   The bolded..well, not sure I would say that.

Maybe others have better suggestion.  Stay strong!!  :)
« Last Edit: March 07, 2013, 10:41:48 PM by oceanus »

Bluenomi

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2013, 10:40:18 PM »
Stop helping. She clearly isn't interested in getting help, she probably expects you to go and visit her to do it and when you don't offer to race over she acts all PA about it.

Tell her she's got written instructions, if she follows those she'll be fine and change the topic or cheererly say goodbye and hang up. She's not going to stop on her own, you need to be firm.

blue2000

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2013, 10:43:10 PM »
If you have written the instructions out for her, I'd refer her to those every single time. And then hang up. She can take as much time as she wants mumbling to a piece of paper.

If she has lost them or has a problem she has no notes for, try for a few minutes, then go with the "You seem too tired to work this through today, talk to you tomorrow!". By all means, do NOT let her hold you hostage for an hour because she does not want to follow instructions!


(Side note here - my mother was very much into 'learned helplessness' and used to bother me for the most ridiculous little things - she actually admitted she did this on purpose. ::) Somehow when I couldn't help her she magically found a way to fix it or call someone else. Definitely worth it to say no.)
You are only young once. After that you have to think up some other excuse.

Sharnita

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2013, 10:48:27 PM »
Could you find a local teen she could pay to come over and "fix" her problems? SOmebody who would be willing to give her the time and attention she seems to be craving.

Pen^2

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2013, 10:53:06 PM »
Stop helping. She clearly isn't interested in getting help, she probably expects you to go and visit her to do it and when you don't offer to race over she acts all PA about it.

Tell her she's got written instructions, if she follows those she'll be fine and change the topic or cheererly say goodbye and hang up. She's not going to stop on her own, you need to be firm.

To race over to her would require two flights and a train. 14 hours is the shortest time this can be accomplished in, if all the transfers match up perfectly, so it's not this at all. And she is not a social person; she's not wanting attention. She seems to genuinely hate having to call, but then when she does, she becomes a dithering idiot, making it worse for everyone involved. She dislikes having visitors--be they us or some local computer-savvy teen. We're actually concerned about when she gets older, since a maid or cleaner would help out a lot but she would detest having someone else in her home.

There are things which I didn't write down because I just didn't think of them (e.g. if the computer automatically updates itself and subsequently clears its internet history, screwing things up for her), and every so often the issue is actually one that she actually does need help with.

OK, I might go with what oceanus suggested: "you know what, MIL? You're obviously quite tired right now, so I'll call back tomorrow and hopefully you'll be up to it. Good night!"

I really want her to get the point that if she's going to be ridiculous, we'll just shut down at our end and she'll have to wait a before trying again. But, as I said, she isn't social, and I don't want to be rude about it and damage an already faint relationship.

oceanus

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2013, 10:59:37 PM »
Could you find a local teen she could pay to come over and "fix" her problems? SOmebody who would be willing to give her the time and attention she seems to be craving.

This is a VERY good idea. 

CrazyDaffodilLady

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2013, 11:15:25 PM »
To start with, don't take "hmmm" for an answer.  Don't continue until she acknowledges with a "yes" that she's done what you told her to do. 
It takes two people to play tug of war. If you don't want to play, don't pick up the rope.

WillyNilly

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2013, 11:18:58 PM »
These phone calls are taking an hour, literally, when they should be five minutes, even to a computer illiterate person. Things like "look at the top of the screen" can take ten minutes to get her to do. Even "go into the computer room" is hard to accomplish. It's bizarre and bloody annoying, and I am sick of our lives being disrupted over this. Could I say something like this to her to cut the call off? Hopefully we can acclimatise her, as it were, to listening and actually following simple instructions instead of wasting an hour.

Did it ever occur to you she might not want the help you are forcing on her?  It sounds like you end up badgering her to go to the computer and follow your directions and get back online. Perhaps she is calling and saying the computer doesn't work because she wants to hear "its ok, you don't need to use it" and just chat?

I'm all for computer literacy, but lets face it there is a prejudice against people under a certain age, especially people at a certain education/career level, who aren't comfortable using one. Perhaps she feels pushed into using a computer when what she really wants is permission to not use one. Not that she needs "permission" officially, but just that its this huge society pressure, and perhaps she just really isn't in to it and wants to know she's still a valid and valued whole person even if she doesn't email.

Miss Tickle

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2013, 11:22:43 PM »
1) After you give her a step and she says Mmmm, ask, "Did you (do whatever?)" If she says Mmmm stop and count to ten. If she hasn't said anything in the count ask the question again. Repeat until she responds in the positive, or hangs up in frustration. Don't continue with any steps until she stops playing her game. Cut her off after 30 minutes, and each call thereafter a minute sooner.

2) Change the subject, and beandip her computer questions in favour of a good chat.

3) Hand the phone to her son.

Pen^2

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2013, 11:37:32 PM »
Did it ever occur to you she might not want the help you are forcing on her?  It sounds like you end up badgering her to go to the computer and follow your directions and get back online. Perhaps she is calling and saying the computer doesn't work because she wants to hear "its ok, you don't need to use it" and just chat?

I'm all for computer literacy, but lets face it there is a prejudice against people under a certain age, especially people at a certain education/career level, who aren't comfortable using one. Perhaps she feels pushed into using a computer when what she really wants is permission to not use one. Not that she needs "permission" officially, but just that its this huge society pressure, and perhaps she just really isn't in to it and wants to know she's still a valid and valued whole person even if she doesn't email.

I don't think she doesn't want the help... A conversation might be:
(phone rings)
Me: Hello, Pen speaking?
MIL: The computer/internet/email doesn't work! Tell me what to do!
Me: OK, well, are you in the computer room now?
MIL: (long pause) Mmm...
ad nauseum. If she is explicitly asking for help and actually wanting something else, then I have no way of knowing, although in every other aspect of life she is blunt and incapable of subtleties like that. And I should reiterate: she does not want attention. I won't go into the dynamics of her peculiar relationship with DH (if you can call it a relationship), but she literally cannot socialise, hates socialising, hates spending time with any other people, and will generally ignore any letters or phone calls from us to avoid having to talk to other people when it isn't necessary. She is extremely set in her solitude, which is fine, but she absolutely hates spending any time with any other people unless she absolutely has to (e.g. work). I cannot emphasise this enough: this is not an attention ploy. The concept of 'just chat' is foreign to her, since she literally cannot chat or make small talk. Think eccentric mathematician: brilliant at her job, but is a recluse who can't socialise her way out of a wet paper bag. This also unfortunately means she is immune to bean dipping, since she ignores anything that is said that she doesn't see as relevant to the subject at hand. This also means she doesn't hang up on a phone call until she has got what she wants.

That said, I think you're right about her insecurities: she could probably feel put off by the whole thing, and as a result, she shuts down so completely. She badgered me and her son into helping her get a computer and setting it all up so she could find recipes and so on. If she doesn't call us with an emergency, neither us nor her ever mention computer things. Although, if she actually doesn't want to use the computer at all, she wouldn't. I won't go into the hell my husband had as a child because she simply refuses to do things she doesn't want to outside of work. Stubborn and direct to a fault and then some. 'Permission' is not a word she has ever applied to herself.

I have tried not taking 'mmm' for an answer. I spent 15 minutes once just trying to get another response--anything--out of her. She just switches off and becomes a mesmerised zombie or something.

Anyway, I know what I'll say next time this occurs, and hopefully we can start working to a better situation.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2013, 11:40:30 PM »
These phone calls are taking an hour, literally, when they should be five minutes, even to a computer illiterate person. Things like "look at the top of the screen" can take ten minutes to get her to do. Even "go into the computer room" is hard to accomplish. It's bizarre and bloody annoying, and I am sick of our lives being disrupted over this. Could I say something like this to her to cut the call off? Hopefully we can acclimatise her, as it were, to listening and actually following simple instructions instead of wasting an hour.

Did it ever occur to you she might not want the help you are forcing on her?  It sounds like you end up badgering her to go to the computer and follow your directions and get back online. Perhaps she is calling and saying the computer doesn't work because she wants to hear "its ok, you don't need to use it" and just chat?

I'm all for computer literacy, but lets face it there is a prejudice against people under a certain age, especially people at a certain education/career level, who aren't comfortable using one. Perhaps she feels pushed into using a computer when what she really wants is permission to not use one. Not that she needs "permission" officially, but just that its this huge society pressure, and perhaps she just really isn't in to it and wants to know she's still a valid and valued whole person even if she doesn't email.

If all she wants to do is chat, then she shouldn't be calling and saying she has computer issues.  I don't feel like it's the OP's job to read her MIL's mind to discover the real reason behind a phone call. 

If someone calls me and says they need help with X, then the conversation will be about X.  I shouldn't have to figure out that even though they called about X, they really wanted to talk about D, E, or F

OP I agree with others, stop helping her.  She's not listening to you and you are getting frustrated.  Keep referring her back to the written instructions.  I wouldn't pawn her off on a local teen...that would just be mean :D

Free Range Hippy Chick

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2013, 12:17:07 AM »
Could you try eliminating Yes/No questions and replacing them with questions that actually require real input? Not always the easiest to do on the fly, but it might force her either to engage with you or to admit that she doesn't want to.

So rather than 'can you see the white box? Click on the writing' you use 'can you see the white box? Tell me what the writing says'. 

Then at least you know she's identified the address line.

Follow it with 'click on the writing and then hit backspace. What happens?'

If she doesn't say 'the box is empty' then she hasn't done it.

'Click in the empty box. What is the cursor doing? Is it a flashing line or an arrow or a picture of a hand or what?' Get an answer.

'Type www dot hotmail dot com.' Don't repeat it more than once. 'Now read that back to me.'

And if she says 'I haven't done any of it', ask her why not and keep pushing for an answer. 'MIL, you said you wanted me to help, and I'm telling you what to do, so why did you not do what I told you?'

And then if she says it's too difficult, I think you could go the route of 'you're obviously tired and frustrated - I do know how irritating it is when the computer won't do what you want. I suggest you leave it until you're feeling better. I'll call you tomorrow and we can try again. or you know, I think that if you look at the written instructions I left you, you'll find in the morning that you can sort this yourself.'

I agree that it's bizarre, but sometimes people do just get it in their heads that something is beyond them, and then, of course, because they've convinced themselves of it, it is. My sister, an intelligent, sensible, rational human being, gets like this over anything to do with finance. Mathematically she's perfectly capable: she can scale a recipe up and down, she can work out how much wallpaper she needs to match a pattern, she can convert miles per gallon in her car into kilometres per litre in the company van. Tell her that her bank account carries compound interest, and it's like her ears cease to connect to her brain which is going 'lalalalanotlistening' inside. She doesn't go 'mmmm' vaguely - she loses her temper. In the long run it was easier and less frustrating for both of us if I just worked out the mortgage interest for her, and her tax accountant must have the patience of a saint not to have hit her on the head with a hard bound copy of the Finance Act long since. (Other legal documents are also available; the value of your investment may go down as well as up.)

Failing all else, there's the software that would allow you to take over her computer from a distance.

GreenBird

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Re: Parents who are Computer Illiterate
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2013, 12:54:48 AM »
I think my head would explode at someone who wanted me to fix her computer without anyone actually touching it. 

When she calls with a computer problem, I think I'd be saying, "Gosh, I just don't know what to try.  Sorry I can't be of more help."  Repeat as necessary, then change the subject and/or get off the phone.  For whatever reason, she makes it impossible for you to fix the problem, so I think I'd just short-circuit the whole thing by no longer looking like any kind of computer expert to her.