It never fails to happen. I show up to any family event, holidays or not, and I’m asked to take a look at the computer. A recent trip to Seattle resulted in just that kind of request from my mother. She is famous for being a clean freak, panicking at the thought of not enough space on her hard drive. This is an honest worry left over from the days when hard drives were small and the files she created tend to be large and numerous. Still, she is brilliant at the computer but one of those people who learns very fast but skips a few steps along the way. She gets A, B, and C, then jumps to P, Q, and R very fast. What gets her in trouble is the D, E, F, G, and so on that is necessary for the project.
This visit’s problem that plagued her was her icons. She kept going on about having deleted and moved them around and she wanted to know if she broke the programs, having learned her lesson after finding a bunch of exe and inf files, deciding she didn’t need those any more. Still, she thought her messing around to conserve space had broken the programs.
“Do the programs still work?”
“Oh, yes, but I’m sure I did something wrong.”
“Do you know what programs had the files you deleted?”
“Oh, security tools, documents, graphics, and things like that.”
“Things like what? What did you delete?”
“The icons. I told you that.”
“So you deleted the icons from the desktop or from the hard drive? What did you delete?”
“I didn’t so much as delete them as move them around and change them.”
“Changed and moved what? Files or icons? Programs?”
“Whatever you call them. They are on the screen.”
“The icons for shortcuts to the programs? Or the programs themselves?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure I screwed it up. I moved things all around.”
“But did you delete anything?”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. I do know what I’m doing.”
“Yes, mother, you know what you are doing, but you know you have to be watched all the time. You do dangerous things.”
“Don’t talk down to me.”
“I’m not talking down to you, I’m trying to understand what you did.”
“I’m sure you think I’m stupid.”
“Mother, I don’t think you are stupid. Just tell me what you did.”
“I moved the icons, you know, the icons, the pictures, around, and I probably messed things up. Don’t be angry with me. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I’m not angry with you. I’m trying to understand what you did. What did you do?”
You know the rest of the story.
What happened is that she moved all the shortcut icons around on her desktop. She grouped them into folders, then changed the icon for each folder to some graphic that represented the topic. For instance, all her security programs like virus checking and spyware scanning she put into a folder called “Security” with an icon of a key lock. Into a folder with an icon of a notebook, she put all her document programs like Word, WordPerfect, and Excel. Into a folder with all her graphics programs for her scanner, printer, and digital camera, she called it “Graphics” with a icon graphic of a paint canvas. Ingenious.
Then she arranged them on her desktop wall paper, the adobe blue house front with a window with flowers in it and flowers at the base of the wall. She put some of the folder icons and other icons into the window box and then others scattered like flowers along the garden. Very clever.
This is a lot of highly technical work to figure out how to move things around, put them in folders and replace the folder icon with a custom graphic. Not many people have the time nor inclination to do all this work that can easily be lost with not much effort. I used to do this, too, but after 7 computer crashes just this year alone, why bother.
The reality is that connecting desktop icons, program icons, the start/program menus, and program files all together is difficult for someone who didn’t grow up with a concept of the virtual computer world. For people of her generation, they still think in physical conceptions. A book is tangible and is easy to understand. A piece of paper represents a solid sheet of information. How do you measure what isn’t very measureable?
So she did all the right things and didn’t hurt anything, until I found out that she had actually gone in and deleted a bunch of her own document files thinking again that she didn’t have enough space.
“Mother, you have 70 gigabytes free. There is plenty of room. Load it up. Don’t delete anything unless you really never want to see it again.”
“But I have all that email and the junk people send me. All those stupid jokes. They must take up a lot of room.”
“Then delete them from your email program and leave the files alone on your computer.”
“So how much space is a gig?”
This is where I’m stuck. Yes, it’s a space literally bigger than the Empire State Building. But that’s relative. If you are putting a postage stamp in the Empire State Building, you have a lot of room left over. Put 10 Mac trucks in the Empire State Building and you still have some space left over. Put the Queen Mary in the Empire State Building and there won’t be a lot of space left over at all. It isn’t about how much you have as what you put in it and what’s left over after you put everything you need to have inside.
For her, who creates business letters and the occassion graphic collage of photographs of grandchildren and friends, she has lots of space. For me, who creates massive graphic images from digital photographs, who enjoys downloading television shows to catch up on what was missed while traveling, and for my husband who loves to try out all kinds of new music downloaded from the Internet before he buys, and then buys MP3 music off the Internet and downloads it, we are parking huge shipping trucks and Queen Marys on our hard drive so it doesn’t take much to fill it up.
I’m sure that all of you have been through this with your family, which brings me to why I even brought this topic up. To help you with solving your family’s computer woes, Life Hacker offers tips on how to Fix Mom and Dad’s computer to help you get through the stress of holiday computer woes. I do most of these things automatically, but it’s a great review and reminder of what to do to help Mom and Dad, Brother and Sister, Aunts and Uncles, and even Grandparents out with their computer problems.
What I found new about this holiday’s family gatherings is that they are now asking me what blogging is. That’s exciting. Unfortunately, while I want to explain trackbacks, comments, comment spam, pings, and the wonderful interaction that blogging really is all about, it is simply summed up as online journaling.
I’ve tried to make it more exciting by explaining how people leave comments and how I leave comments on other people’s blogs, and how we carry on conversations, and about how Digg, Del.icio.us, and Technorati, and other tagging and blog spotlighting services make this such a fun and exciting time to be involved with Internet writing and communications – but their eyes glaze over after understanding that blogging is just glorified diary writing.
Just learn to live with the fiixing of their computers, and tips for websites, and their avoidance of anything more about blogging than the bare essentials. Just leave their browser open to Digg when you finish fixing their computer, and they might catch the bug.