Holiday Tech Support

December 20, 2023
Holiday Tech Support

It’s that time of the year again. People head home for the holidays. Gifts are given and received. A lot of those gifts will be new tech. As one of the dedicated “tech” members of my family, I used to dread what was waiting for me.

After stumbling across this rather ancient guide, I thought of how it could be updated for today. Assisting family, especially non-technical seniors, with mobile phones and tablets can be a challenge, but it’s essential as so much of our world has migrated online. Here’s a guide based on what I’ve learned about aiding people in navigating their mobile devices:

  1. Remember, nobody is born knowing the ins and outs of phones and tablets
  2. Over the years, I’ve learned that some of the problems I faced were of my own making. It’s really, really hard to forget what it’s like to be an expert; beginners see things differently.
  3. If a feature isn’t absolutely obvious to them, it’s not intuitive.
  4. The device serves a purpose; they care more about achieving their goals than the technology itself.
  5. Users’ understanding often stems from their direct interactions (‘When I tap here, this happens’). It grows gradually through practical experience and repetition, not abstract theory or written instructions
  6. Beginners struggle with a vocabulary barrier; they can’t always articulate questions due to unfamiliar terms.
  7. Your guidance holds weight; your words can either empower or discourage.
  8. Mobile devices often display text prompts that confused new users tend to overlook.
  9. Users seeking help may have attempted various solutions, leading to unusual device states–this is normal.
  10. Users might fear being blamed for the issue they’re facing.
  11. Learning occurs best through hands-on experience alongside someone with different skills.
  12. Your goal isn’t just to fix their problem but to equip them to troubleshoot independently, encouraging exploration.
  13. Many apps aren’t user-friendly, often causing user errors that aren’t the users’ fault.
  14. Knowledge thrives in communities; being part of one aids in understanding mobile technology.

Following these principles, some key rules stand out:

  • Resist taking control of the device; let them tap and explore, guiding them patiently.
  • Understand their objectives; help them explore alternative ways to accomplish their goals.
  • If they’re unable to describe the issue, ask them to demonstrate the problem.
  • Pay attention to the dynamics of interaction; lean over their shoulder and focus on what they’re looking at.
  • Instead of criticizing mistakes, guide them calmly with explanations.
  • Avoid yes-or-no questions to encourage detailed explanations.
  • Be transparent about your knowledge and when you’re uncertain. Explain your process of discovery, when you need to figure things out.
  • Simplify language to terms they find familiar and adjust gradually based on their comprehension.
  • Encourage reading pop-ups and alerts before just dismissing them.
  • Redirect blame from the user to the device or the app, highlighting design flaws.
  • Focus on empowering your family member for long-term self-sufficiency. It’ll save on those post-holiday tech calls.
  • Don’t take the device away to clear error conditions or to do tasks they can manage themselves; foster independence by talking them through the process of fixing issues for themselves.
  • Hook them up with a local library or seniors group who can continue to help them become more proficient.
  • Don’t tell them to RTFM (You knew that already)