Time to Upgrade My Parents

Mom . . . Dad . . . we need to talk. And by "we," I mean I'm going to talk, and you're just going to agree with everything I say and follow my advice forevermore. And by "talk" I mean I'm going to write a public column on SlashGear, and hopefully you won't really read it, because you've always taken my sardonic humor as just a little too mean. Anyway, I love you both, but it's time to have a technology intervention. I'm going to keep this simple and easy. But if something doesn't change, I just don't know if I can provide the kind of technology support you need anymore.I know more than anyone else you know

I know, I didn't get a degree in Computer Science. You have no idea where I learned all of this stuff, and I could hardly explain it either. Mostly, it comes from making a lot of mistakes, and then begging smart, vicious people to help me. I know I can sound exasperated walking you through tech problems, but if I've never told you to RTFM and compared you to Hitler, trust me it could be much worse. That said, before you ask anyone else for advice about anything, ask me.

[aquote]Stop asking these people for help. They are only making it worse[/aquote]

I know more about technology than any retail employee you will encounter anywhere. I know more than the folks at the Verizon store. I know more than the folks at Best Buy. I know more than half of the people at the cable company; anybody not issued a crimper is beneath my technical knowledge. Stop asking these people for help. They are only making it worse.

I know the guy at Verizon offered to help sync all your contacts from your old SIM card, but I might have a better way. And no more signing contract agreements without getting a nice phone subsidy coming your way. I know you bought your computer at Best Buy, but this isn't a car dealership. Those folks probably know less about your gear than any other type of repair shop you'll encounter.

When your cable company tells you there is no problem with your Internet service, then suggests you stop by to pick up a newer, more expensive router with wireless built in, call me first. I may know a trick or two.

Never delete anything

My father works in an office with a ton of files. Actual paper files with little color-coded letter stickers on them, all arranged neatly in a set of large filing cabinets. Every few years, they get to throw away the deactivated files, which is a huge process, but it reclaims space. Paper systems are more efficient with a good waste disposal system. But this doesn't translate to computers.

At some point, early on, a computer geek told my father that his computer was running slowly because he was out of memory. I'm guessing his hard drive was 99% full at the time, which can actually cause problems. Today, he's using a couple gigs of half-terabyte storage system. He also has a 500GB backup drive. He throws things away like his computer is Noah's Ark and he's got to save space or lose the dinosaurs forever.

[aquote]At the end of every conversation, he deletes Skype[/aquote]

I went looking for Skype on his machine this past week, and all I found was an alias, a shortcut. This shortcut opened a Skype installer. No app, just the installer. I asked about it. Turns out, at the end of every conversation, he deletes Skype. Tosses it in the trash. Then, when he wants to chat again, he goes to Skype.com and downloads the newest app. When he can remember his login information, he can then make calls.

The psychology behind all of this is fascinating. Is this a better practice, or worse? Is the waste of time balanced by having the latest version of the app? Why am I not getting through to him on how much storage he has?

I've told him he has enough storage to hold the entire works of Shakespeare, Encyclopedia Britannica, and every book he's ever read, with room for a few hundred more copies of each. He has enough room to hold every DVD in his library, if he wanted to rip them all. His photo library is not taking up a tenth of his storage space, so there's no need to delete any photo he might find in the least bit pleasing.

But he still deletes. He doesn't just delete email, he deletes the email app. He doesn't just clean up his bookmarks, he tosses the browser. Forget about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. He throws out the baby and the bathwater, then gets a vasectomy to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.

Never install anything

What really gets to me is that even though he deletes everything needlessly, he's still chocked full of garbage. His Web browser, which is somehow completely up to date, miracle of miracles, is bogged down by multiple toolbars. He's got weather apps and widgets clogging up his status bar. Every time I move a folder, Norton double checks to tell me everything's copacetic.

Here's how this happens: a pop-up appears asking my parents to install something, and they do. Pop-ups look a lot like system notifications to them. It's all just messages from the computer, so they trust and click. That's how the browser gets updated. That's also how they are running on so much bloat. They try to open a file, but it uses a weird file extension, so the computer offers them new software to download. They do it. During the installation of one piece of software, they see confusing offers and end up saying yes to others.

Then the system slows down. Must be because the memory is full, my father thinks. And he starts deleting with relish.

It's time to upgrade . . . everything

My parents bought my toddler a kids tablet toy. It comes with some software installed, but as soon as you turn on the toy, before it offers you any software, it asks if you want to download more from the download store. That requires a PC connection. No problem, except that my parents bought their PC in 2006. Their software is out of date, and it cannot be upgraded.

When I used to sell computers, I used to tell people "Be happy with what it does right now, and it will always do those things. It just might not be able to do the new stuff down the road."

[aquote]The desktop had a good 5 year run[/aquote]

Well, we've gotten to the end of that road. The desktop had a good 5 year run, about what I expect from a desktop. It can't run the newest systems. It can't work properly with the newest mobile devices and peripherals. It can still work on the Web just fine, but it's a bit underpowered for the high definition and fast streaming content my parents might enjoy watching.

While you're at it, get a new cell phone. My father's phone is a clamshell. It's fairly new. Carriers still sell clamshells. But it's time to upgrade. About once a month I get frantic messages from him. "Philip, we've been trying to reach you, but you haven't been answering your phone. Please call us as soon as you get this message."

I have 3 email accounts, including my corporate email. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and I'm active on both. Even better, I am a huge Google Voice fan, and calling or texting that number makes at least 6 phones ring. So, why couldn't he get a hold of me?

Old number. He was using a phone number I had back in 2004. I'm not sure how it ended up the only number he had for me in his phonebook. Neither is he. Nobody knows, but I blame the guy at the cell phone store who tried to "sync" his contacts through his SIM card.

My parents would not use any of the same features on a smartphone that I use. I use my phone for social networking and work tasks. They don't use Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (thank gawd). They probably don't care about the star charts, the music stores, and the hundreds of games. But they would love some Fandango. And they would go crazy for the navigation and location-based features.

Dad: "Okay, I checked my tire pressure and it's all good. So tonight you can take your mother's car or you can take the Jag."

PB: " . . . "

Dad: "Are you sure you want the Jag? It doesn't have navigation. How will you know where you're going?"

PB: "Shut up and give me the keys."

Also, time to get a new digital camera. Nobody uses CF cards anymore, and a 2GB limit on storage is ridiculous. Plus, did you know even the cheapest cameras can now take video in high definition? And don't get me started on geotagging. Heck, it might even be time to replace that old Kindle. E-ink screens have gotten even better since the first generation.

Don't buy anything that requires my help

[aquote]I don't mind if people don't take my tech advice[/aquote]

By now, it might be obvious that I'm a prissy, pretentious schmuck. I can live with that. I don't mind if people don't take my tech advice. In fact, sometimes I even prefer it. I'd rather not take your late night phone calls complaining about your phone's address book, or commiserate the second time you dropped your precious glass phone and the screen shattered again. But I'm happy to give my advice, and I promise to always take tech advice giving seriously. I won't steer you wrong.

But when you go out and buy something tech related without asking me first, you're on your own. Having trouble setting up that router? Good luck with that. Can't figure out that cheap tablet you bought? Should have asked me first. Surprised your new device didn't come with memory cards and requires a boatload of AA batteries every week just to function properly? I could have warned you, but you didn't ask.

I'm a know-it-all, and I'm obnoxious, but I also get offended easily when people don't respect my expertise, as it were. When I show up at my parents' home and see some new gadget or piece of tech lying around, I feel like a cat who's come home to a new puppy. I sniff around it disdainfully. I turn away from it and aim my backside in its general direction. I give off a vibe that says "What is THIS doing here? And why was I not consulted?"