My mother-in-law called me over last week to help her figure out two things on the computer: One was how to renew library books online, and the other was to set her up with online banking. Hadn’t I already showed her how to renew library books at least twice before? And online banking? Wait. Is she really up to that?
She uses her computer for two main functions. One is the forwarding of political, old-age, sexually inappropriate, or cute baby animal emails. This daily forwarding helps us in that we don’t have to call her every day to make sure she is not lying at the bottom of her stairs. If we DON’T get an email forward from her, we call or stop by.
Her other online function is the playing of backgammon. The backgammon game she plays is through a website, so about every two weeks, we get a call that backgammon is “broken.” What this actually means is she cannot find the URL. Fortunately, she lives close, so this type of help desk call can usually be handled in a few minutes.
A frequent catalog customer, she has discovered the joys of online shopping through Amazon. I have given her several Amazon lessons, set her up with an account, and have helped her to place countless orders. But when she tries to do this by herself, the results are never good. She once inadvertently ordered 5 copies of the same cookbook. Now when she wants to order from Amazon, she calls me, because I am “so good at Internet shopping.” I will generally go to her house to show her how easy this really is, but honestly, she’d rather just give me an order form and have me place the order for her. Mmm. Sounds like catalog shopping to me.
My father has similar Internet mishaps, which he always defers to my brother “the computer expert.” My brother’s credentials are that a) he owns a computer, b) he’s retired, lives close, and almost always available.
I frequently wonder what it is that renders these two independent, intelligent adults completely hapless when it comes to their computers. For my mother-in-law, I decided it may have to do with passwords. Each site requires a user name and password. Though I know this is not the most secure solution, I suggested that maybe she use the same user name and password for multiple accounts. This seemed to work until websites began requiring more secure passwords. So again, against my better judgment, I bought her a password book which she keeps right next to the computer. Still, most of her passwords and user names never make it into the book, and are instead scribbled on envelopes, sticky notes and other scraps of paper that are strewn haphazardly around her desk.
I think the cause of my father’s problems stem from his use of and inability to escape from AOL. AOL provided a safe Internet bubble at a time when the whole thing was new and mysterious. They would (and still do) feed news and shopping opportunities to their customers without them ever having to go out into the real world to find something on their own. It is for this reason that my Dad is completely unable to Google anything. Though we have tried to explain to him that he needs to leave the safe haven of AOL to find most things, he forgets, uses their search engine, and then complains how hard it is to find things on the Internets.
Many times, our elderly parents, after frustrating attempts online, will resort to calling a company to resolve a problem, check on an order, or just get some help. Then they are met with a phone tree – For billing, press one; for new orders, press two, etc. I think the phone tree stymies them more than the Internet. I hear them tell tales of being on the phone for over an hour trying to get return instructions for an item they ordered, or to see if a payment has been credited. I honestly do not think these companies have such large queues that people remain on hold for an hour. I think what’s happening is our elderly relatives either can’t hear or, like toddlers, are unable to follow instructions with multiple steps.
We do what we can for our elderly parents, with the realization that there are some things, no matter how many times we teach them, they will never learn. It makes me feel like some sort of Googling, internet-shopping goddess when I can get my mother-in-law a particular gourmet food item delivered to her door in two days’ time. And I know my brother enjoys his lofty title of “computer expert.” I’m fairly certain they will come up with something that will confound an elderly me someday, and I’ll be making my own calls to the Help Desk.