Look! I am Making All Things New

For the last couple of years I’ve been helping my parents to learn to use computers. Mostly very common and well-known things: GMail, Picasa, seraching Google, reading news websites, talking on Skype, the Russian social network Odnoklassniki, and not much more than that.

One of the most curious things that I found in my experiences with them is that emails and popups about new features are completely unhelpful to them. They always call me when they get them and ask me what to do now. It is awkward, because basically the emails tell them what to do, but instead of reading them and learning, they are reading them aloud to me:

— “It says: ‘Now you can find your friends more easily by typing their names in the search box’—so what do I do now?”

— “I don’t know… When you want to find somebody, type their names in the search box maybe?”

I am not saying that my parents are stupid; they aren’t. I am saying that these emails are not helpful. They appear to arrive from the helpful people in Google or Odnoklassniki, but the fact is that every time it happens, my parents are confused.

This makes me wonder: Is the effectiveness of these emails and popups and callouts researched? What are they good for? I don’t find them useful, because I actually like to find out things by myself; that’s my idea of user-friendliness: if it’s not self-explanatory, it is not user-friendly. My parents don’t find them useful, because they ask me what do the have to do. So is it useful for anybody?


PS 1: I know that Odnoklassniki is awful. They insisted.

PS 2: I know that Skype is not Free Software and that it doesn’t respect people’s privacy. Give me something properly Free that actually works. For what it’s worth, I did teach both of my parents to use Firefox and they hate other browsers, and on my mother’s laptop I installed Fedora, so except Skype, her online experience is almost completely Free.

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2 Responses to “Look! I am Making All Things New”


  1. 1 wizardist 2013-08-01 at 14:47

    You described the exactly experience my mother had a few days ago when I made a Google account for her. She’s just lost every time a GMail tip pops out, or when Odnoklassniki send her tons of spam (by the way, notifications on this dirty site are disabled and they still arrive; had to make a filter to waste them).

    But that is not the experience that my father has. He’s been using GMail for several years already – successfully. He has an Android phone and synchronises mail, and reads it then. He just ignores the tips and explores everything himself.

    P.S. my father uses Firefox for 6 years since I moved to Linux 6 years ago on a previous PC. Although I use Linux for development, Windows is the primary OS and Chrome is the primary browser, but my father insisted me installing Fx. He also yells once a few months when will I move to Linux completely :)

  2. 2 Ian Thomas (@ianmthomasuk) 2013-08-09 at 14:48

    It’s a strange phenomenon, but seems to be very common. I’ve had people ask me for help, and literally all I’ve done is say “What does the first paragraph say? OK, do that. What does the second paragraph say? OK, do that. etc” and it’s solved their problem for them.

    I don’t know if it is:
    – being overwhelmed, so they need the instructions split into chunks
    – a lack of confidence in their own abilities, so they want the reassurance of an “expert” making sure they don’t click the wrong thing
    – laziness that they think it’s easier to ask what to do rather than work it out for themselves
    – something else

    This phenomenon is basically the entire point of lmgtfy.com


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