It is a truth universally acknowledged, that those who ‘work with computers’ will spend some of their holidays playing IT helpdesk. Over Christmas I had two occasions to help with festive home PC issues. I actually enjoy this as when at work I’m surrounded by the digitally literate and forget that for many the computer is still a thing of unfathomable mystery used chiefly for leisure pursuits. In an organisation’s #DigitalWorkPlace you’d expect (you’d hope) a greater level of training. Whether a home or work user though, everybody has their own manner of engaging and I learn a lot from watching people connect with technology outside of a work situation. I treat it as a #UserExperience workshop.

My father in-law is a good example of this. He is in his early seventies and is partially sighted. I have seen him open a web page by typing a whole URL into Google then browse to it from there. It took a few more clicks than necessary but hey he got there in the end. When I saw him at Christmas he was trying to print a document from his wireless printer but it was not working, the reason we found was that his wifi was down. So we both learned something there and it was resolved the traditional way by turning his PC off and on again.

‘What the fuck is a browser anyway?’

Just before New Year I had a call from an old friend who, though a teacher and extremely clever, is not that digitally minded and was suffering the existential torment of an unexpected upgrade to Windows 10. I couldn’t do much about that over the phone as it had royally stuffed his PC but was able to help him with other novel and intriguing issues.

I find there are two PC symptoms common to the ordinary user:

  1. The ask.com toolbar
  2. Marketing malware

Astonishingly he didn’t have the ask.com toolbar but did have one real pain in the arse PUP (potentially unwanted program) called One Systemcare which popped up every few minutes to lie to him. Having dealt with that we got onto browsers about which he was perplexed. “What the fuck is a browser anyway?” he howled at one point while I explained that his Internet Explorer had been replaced by something called Edge, which was like a browser but worse.

After removing Bing as default Search (obvs), I then led him to the latest version of Chrome but not before uninstalling Chromium, the original source version of Chrome. Who knows how that found its way onto his desktop, it may have come bundled with his client version of Google Drive. I’ve been using Google Drive pretty much daily for the past 4 years and that this even existed was both new and surprising to me. Once that was removed I directed him to the cloud version which soothed him a bit. Unsurprisingly he prefers using his iPad for general stuff ‘because it just works’ and doesn’t cause rending of garments or a hex upon the Gates Foundation.

Our phone call lasted a good two hours, which was exacting but I find these encounters bring me to down to the ground and help me realise that digital literacy is not as universal as we like to think.

So all in I learned quite a lot this holiday season. As well as my status rising as friend and son-in-law, I felt good about helping their experience and discovered more about user behaviours and tech itself. I also found out first-hand just how shabbily Microsoft have behaved towards their customers.