Posted by: peterhact | August 3, 2012

In life, everybody helps someone else sometimes. So why is it so frustrating?

In life, we help other people all the time. Sometimes, it is a simple direction to a location, other times it is explaining how to use the VCR. The helper feels good helping the helpee (I know it isn’t a word) the first time. This is fine. Problem solved. Next.

If the helpee is asking for help from a helper and it is IT related, all bets are off. No matter how many times you explain to a non computer user how to use the computer, there will be more questions, more problems and eventually, the helper is the one who needs to seek professional help. They become the helpee, and the new helper is the psychiatrist, who is very happy to help, after all, they get paid large sums of money to help.

Why is this so?

For a start, helpees that need a helper are usually family members. They have a special control at their disposal, the Guilt Mechanism. This control prevents the attempts to charge large sums of money for your help, which probably pays the shrink for their help. The Guilt Mechanism also prevents helpers from ignoring pleas for help. you are trapped. It is help or be damned. (off the christmas list, no presents, invitations to family get togethers cancelled)

So now you are stuck. Helping someone to understand the computer, the mouse, the internet, email, printing.

Here are the individual hells related to each:

The computer: There have been books written to help non computer users become proficient computer users. Really. In plain english. The reason that family members never get them is simple: you don’t cost money. (you probably do, but the guilt mechanism took care of that when the VCR wasn’t working properly) The books may be fantastic, but they aren’t free. Unfortunately, explaining how a computer works is like teaching a cat to sit and roll over. You know what you have in your head, but some things were never meant to be explained in a language that you have lots of trouble using: the dreaded calm, pleasant and above all devoid of human emotion voice that your mother uses with her friends. around a coffee table, comparing notes about who did what and whatever happened to your nice young lady, you know, she was a bit strange, but you don’t seem to keep them, do you dear?

If you can master that voice, you are already on the way to deal with family computing 101. Then life throws you a road block.

The Mouse: The first time I mentioned that there was a mouse in the box, the family member I was helping took to the hills, screaming. So I unpacked the computer, set it up, set up the operating system, and waited for them to come back. (there is a method to this madness, if you set up the computer with the helpee present, there are over 200 questions that will be asked.) Right. so the mouse is a little plastic thing with a tail that is actually a cord. It is not furry, it does not squeak (it does if it has a ball and hasn’t been cleaned in a while (shhh)). Pretend it is a way of moving the little arrow around on the screen. See? now you try. These three words seem harmless. the mouse is pretty easy to get after a while (month) to do what you want and if you click the buttons, things happen. Unfortunately, buoyed by the successful knowledge gain of the mouse controls, there is a whole lot of clicking going on. windows are closing, things that you had carefully set up are disappearing and the family member is having a wonderful time. shame you aren’t. Then they want to see the internet.

The internet: DO NOT let family members listen to Nice People in Computer Stores. They are there to a) sell things, b) shift slow stock and c) make money. They are not there to help, they are the antithesis of help. One family member was happily using Dial-UP after they were told that ADSL wasn’t available to them. It was, I called the ISP myself. The Nice Man in the Store disagreed. He managed to stitch up the family member for a new computer (what the? the other one was a month old) dial up connection and the complete office package. The sum they paid was staggering.

Step the family member through setting up the internet, if they haven’t got a disk from the ISP. Make sure they click only as needed and nobody gets hurt. If they are in another city, invest in VoIP. the three hour phone calls will not be charged lightly. Now they are on the internet. good. Also remind the family member that clicking on ignore when the internet security software asks to update is never a Good Idea. It is there to protect them, however an inherent fear of the world of ICT works just as well.

Email: No email. email is broken. I could write a book on email alone. not going there.

Printing: Printing is always fun. The printer needs to be on, with plenty of paper and ink (or toner) in it. If none of these things have already occurred, leave it in the box. I will set it up when  I visit next.

oops. Got to go. I will be late for therapy. No, I can’t help you write me an email.


  1. happy i found your blog, there are so many useful things in here. i’ve bookmarked you so i can always have access to your posts.

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