Sunday, October 05, 2008

Helping an absolute beginner use the internet

june.jpgI've just spent three and a bit days helping my step-mother to get on to email for the first time in her life.

I thought I'd make a note of the problems she had as it might be useful for others on the same path.

She's a highly motivated user, with a great desire to live in the world of email and be able to look things up on the web, but while she's seen people using computers, she never has herself.

  • Familliar with a typewriter but not the following keys: Return, Tab, Delete, caps-lock (as it works on a computer)

  • No idea about the flashing insertion point in text fields

  • No idea about how text editing works, concepts such as inserting a new line by pressing Return have no meaning

  • When the screen dims and goes off due to power saving, it's a crisis that may well involve calling the manufacturer or store

  • Using the mouse and clicking on something is very difficult, further - clicking, dragging and double clicking (or more) seem to all be equivalent

  • After filling in a form, such as a login form, it's surprising that a button needs to be pushed to make things happen

  • Computers seem oddly picky about the spelling of usernames and passwords, surely near enough is good enough?



Anyhow, after a few days of practice every few hours, I can report that she is reading and sending email.

Some of the secrets of success for me in this case were:

  • I bought her a Mac - no problems with viruses, less mysterious user interface

  • Put her on to webmail, gMail in this case, so she can go to any computer and it will be pretty much the same. Also, if the computer is lost, no past mail or contacts are lost

  • Turned off all extra mouse buttons, no right button, no expose, as she kept triggering these things and getting confused

  • Stripped back the dock and basically focussed on launching Safari

  • During my stay, lots of constant repetition of opening the laptop, logging in, reading mail, archiving mail, sending mail

  • Left a folder with all the key information, not so much for her but for any future computer helpers trying to assist

  • Yes, it's bad, but left a post-it note with her username and password on the laptop



Having been away for a day, she did ring to report that she couldn't log in. Turned out she was using a different username for some reason. Wild clicking had also resulted in filling the screen with web pages.

Good on her for giving it a go, computers and the internet are an amazing way to interact and it's easy for me to forget how much implied knowledge we have absorbed.

1 comment:

tester said...

Hey Pete,

Yes, it is amazing what we take for granted isn't it? I've been through a similar process to the one you describe over the past couple of years with my 85 year old aunt. She's great, but things like moving the mouse cursor is still a foreign concept...

Kind regards,
Christopher