I have only got myself to blame. For some time I had been saying to him that he should get broadband and start surfing the web. He and his wife are virtually housebound these days so they rely on local radio, newspapers, television and my wife to keep up with what is going on in the world …and Ipswich.
Like most alert senior citizens George is very interested in current affairs, the economy, sport (the Premier League has ruined football), health, politics (don’t get him started on this), social trends and the Route 6 bus timetable. So I suggested the internet would be a wonderful place for him to be. Well, thanks to an irresistible offer from BT (12-months free Broadband with BT Sport thrown in) he is now online with a vengeance.
We bought him a nifty little Toshiba laptop from Argos (he paid, we are not that generous) and I had the honour of setting it up as well as giving him his first lesson. This is when the fun began. For starters it runs Windows 8 which is a challenge for the most experienced computer user let alone a complete novice who’s only experience of a mouse to date has been finding a dead one in his garden. Thank you Microsoft for inventing a computer interface that may seem totally intuitive to the geeks of this world, but baffles many normal people over the age of 50, including George.
Now George, bless him, has a spot of arthritis in his hands so his keyboard and mouse skills are never going to match those of my electrifyingly quick two-fingered deftness. I have had to resist the urge several times to wrestle the damn mouse off him and do the pointing, clicking and dragging myself – but then he’d never learn!
Before he retired George was an engineer. He knows motors inside out, both in a generic automobile sense and more specifically lift motors (next time you get in the world’s third-fastest elevator at the BurjKhalifa think of George). So in a way he’s a man of science but the science behind computer hardware, software and the internet itself eludes him.
Let me give you some examples.
- He lost Google … well actually somehow he’d managed to do a factory reset on the laptop and had deleted all of the extra programmes I had downloaded, including Firefox, which he called Google!
- Somehow he’d managed to split the screen, so that the website he was looking at shrunk to half its normal width. I’ve no idea which key or combination of keys he must have pressed but he thought it had happened because he’d knocked the side of the laptop with the mouse!
- I turned up one Sunday morning to be told that during the week as they were watching the football on BT Sport (having successfully connected their Sony Bravia to the laptop via an HDMI cable) a car drove past and it made the screen turn to ‘floating bubbles’. This had me flummoxed for a while until I realised that the screen saver must have activated after 5 minutes of inaction (it must have been a dull game).
- Remember I mentioned he has a particular interest in the Route 6 bus timetable? Well you can download this from the Ipswich Buses website … which he did … 98 times.
- George keeps his wireless printer in a spare bedroom upstairs … but always uses the laptop downstairs in the kitchen annex. Having said that, going up and down stairs is good for maintaining his mobility.
OK, I may be making gentle fun of George’s initial online fumblings but there is a serious point to all this. Imagine yourself in George’s shoes, imagine until very recently you had never switched on a computer; where would you go for help and what sort of help would you need?
I thought I would buy him an ‘Internet for absolute beginners’ book but it doesn’t exist; all of the books I picked up required the reader to have a fairly extensive digital vocabulary to begin with. No worries, there’s plenty of help online … except you have to know how to get online in the first place and how to use a search engine before you can find it.
It would be great if there was a standard way to do things too – like printing stuff. Remember, George is totally new to all this so he gets confused by the many different processes, drop-down menus and printer icons he is confronted with.
We all live in a digital world and for most of us doing things digitally is now second nature; but there are still thousands of ‘Georges’ out there who haven’t got a clue and are missing out.
Not that I’m offering my services as their personal help desk, I’m too busy with my existing client.