Friday, June 17, 2011

Does not compute

About two years ago, I wrote an article for the paper about seniors taking computer classes. I attended several of these classes, one of which (I think it was the intermediate course) required those in it to be able to "use a mouse with confidence." I laughed about it a little, and then went to the class, where, despite the requirement, some were far from sure in their abilities.

Somewhere along the way, my parents have become those people. Ok, I exaggerate. But while my mom emails regularly and my dad knows how to google things, that's about it, really. 

And sometime within the past few years, I have become my parents' go-to person for solving computer problems (my brother Daniel would be a far more ideal consultant, but he lives in Oregon, and I'm only two hours away. That, and my dad and Daniel aren't speaking, but that's another (long) story...). Their problems are usually me: their router needs resetting or Skype has stopped working or mom needs to copy lesson-plan data from a jump drive onto the desktop. She will usually wait until evening to call with a problem, but my dad has taken to calling me in the middle of the workday when he needs assistance. As he relates his problem, he will describe every box and menu and option on the screen, most of which are entirely unrelated to the issue he's experiencing, unsure of what is relevant to the task at hand.

Earlier this week, he rang me up because he was trying to send an email with information my aunt had sent him, but didn't want to include her email address and contact information. Since my parents have used the same two passwords for years, I can easily log in to their email so I can point to exactly what he's looking at and he won't get completely lost. My coworkers giggled good-naturedly as I talked my dad -- he is the first one to admit he's a dinosaur when it comes to computers. He doesn't trust them, he says, and frequently longs for those halcyon days when typewriters were the height of technology -- through copying and deleting my aunt's email address, and then explained how to forward the email after he said he wanted to send it to two people at once. To simplify things, at one point, I said, "Here, dad, just tell me the addresses and, since I have your email open, I'll do it for you." My boss, from across the office, called out laughingly, "Stop being an enabler!" She had a point, though, and it gave me pause. I wasn't trying to be helpful, per se. What I was really trying to do was hurry the process up so I could get on with my day, rather than teach my dad the very simple steps for something that is second nature to most of us.

The problem, partially, is that I'm not there, and there is only so much that can be done over the phone. A few months ago, my mom was going through an online job application. She was beyond frustrated and feeling completely defeated by the computer. First off, she'd been using her Mac, but the fact she couldn't enable popups (required for some reason by the application) was stymieing her. So she switched to my dad's PC. Then she couldn't figure out how to transfer her resume from her Mac to the laptop. Since my parents didn't have a jump drive at the time, I told her to just email it to herself. Once that was done, I had help her find where she'd saved it on the easy task when she's unfamiliar with where documents can be saved on the computer and wasn't sure where she'd saved her resume in the first place.

While I was walking her through this, I was putting away groceries. One of the shelves in my fridge door gave way, scattering bottles of condiments all over my kitchen floor. Thankfully nothing shattered, but I had to fix it. At that point, she was using the unfamiliar laptop, making frustrated noises and mumbling as she tried to navigate without the mouse.

"I hate this thing," she said of the touch pad. At one point, she paused to ask me, "have you eaten dinner?" I hadn't and said so. "Oh, well I can call you back and we can do this later."

"No, mom, I'm on the phone now, let's just do it now," I said, knowing the irritation I was feeling was seeping into my tone of voice.

My annoyance stemmed partially from how easy this is for me, and partially because it was interrupting my evening. And while I thought my directions were perfectly simple, they were beyond her -- and she is, as I've mentioned, by far the more computer savvy of my parents. As I sat there, walking her through this process (which she eventually conquered) and trying to eat my dinner, I was mentally reminding myself to be patient when 1 Corinthians 13:4 popped into my head. While it's typically read at weddings, love and kindness and honoring others aren't exclusive to a spousal relationship. It made me realize that at some point, I will be older, and there will be concepts or technology I don't understand or am slow to grasp, and that someone will, hopefully, walk me through them patiently and without anger.

It also got me thinking about role reversals. I'm teaching my first teachers. When did that switch happen?