Technology Tips for Grandparents

Aug 8, 2012

-Dave Edstrom

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article for the IMTS Insider called “Technology Tips For College Age Students”; today I am going to discuss the other end of the age spectrum. I am likely in the Guinness Book of World Records for mistakes I have made with technology purchases/recommendations for my parents. Perhaps there are some lessons learned here so you can avoid my many mistakes.

In 1975 I drove to George’s in Springfield, VA, looking for a stereo. George’s sold everything from audio equipment to air conditioners and everything in between. I went there looking for a simple stereo with turntable, 8-track, tuner and speakers. I walk in and see a sign, “Quadraphonic 8-Track”. The salesman, who was in his mid 60s, walked over and asked if I need any help. I said, “Do you think quadraphonic 8-tracks will catch on?” He answered, “Yes, I do son.” “When?” I asked. The salesman said, “When humans have four ears.” I thought about it for a second and said, “I’ll take it!” That quadraphonic 8-track is still working and is my parent’s game room 37 years later. They can listen to any of the three quadraphonic 8-tracks that are still there.

In the late 1990s I got a call from my parents asking, “should we switch from a Mac to a PC? We found one on sale.” I responded with a quick, “sure, go ahead”. That was a mistake of biblical proportions. My life went from no “support calls” to “I might as well have started my own call center for PC support.” Let me be clear, this is not a ding on the PC versus the Mac. It was more about introducing change. The Mac just worked and was intuitive back then, the PC was not at the same level of ease of use. My parents now have three PCs at their house.

The smartest thing I did was get a remote login program so I could simply login from a browser, see exactly what they are talking about and fix the problem. This saves me two hours in just travel time alone going to and from their house. I also setup an automatic backup program for them. I tried on numerous occasions to offer to pay for them to go to classes only to hear, “that’s why we have you.” The No. 1 thing you can do is get a remote login program so you see exactly what they are attempting to describe over the phone and then fix the problem.

Fast forward to 2012. I get a call from my father that my mother just purchased a 55” 3D LED TV with built-in wi-fi at the Base Exchange (BX) and they want to put it in their family room to replace the eight-year-old 36” standard definition TV. I would have rather received a call where he told me that I was adopted 53 years ago and both of my real parents are still in prison for crimes against humanity. What’s the big deal, right? I ask a series of questions:

  • Question: Do you have an HD cable box? Answer: What? Do we need that?
  • Question: Yes, you need an HD cable box. Can you go get one? Answer: I guess so, if we really need it.
  • Question: Why did you purchase the 3D option? Answer: It sounded good and it was on sale.
  • Question: Do you plan on buying or renting 3D movies? Answer: Probably not.
  • Question: Did you buy 3D glasses? That TV requires powered 3D glasses you know. Answer: Do we need those?
  • Question: Is it important that your TV is connected to the Internet? You got it with the wi-fi option. Answer: No, we don’t care about the Internet on our TV.
  • Question: Most of what you watch are those old VHS tapes from the 1970s and 1980s, do you want to watch those on your new 55” LED TV? Answer: Of course David, that’s why we got the TV — to watch our old shows in HD.
  • Question: You do know that watching a black & white version of the Andy Griffith Show that is on an old VHS tape will not automatically make it HD, right? Answer: What? That’s why we bought the TV.
  • Question: Who told you that you could watch Andy in high def? Answer: The salesman at the BX.
  • Question: Did it occur to you that maybe you could spend less money and not get all of those features you will never use? Answer: David, this was on sale at the BX and we saved $100!
  • Question: Please tell me I am adopted? Answer: Oh David, when are you coming over here tonight to get this all working in HD for us?

Five hours later, they were watching Andy Griffith in 3D over Wi-Fi with no special glasses. OK, they watching Andy Griffith, but I was able to convince them that it was 3D and was coming over Wi-Fi and they were very pleased. I just hope they don’t demo it to anyone under the age of 78.

What are the lessons learned for technology with grandparents?

  1. Ease of use is more important than any feature that will ever be invented.
  2. Remote support by a family member should be by logging into their system to make the best use of everyone’s time.
  3. Insist on training and refuse to talk to them until they get trained. It did not work for me, but you have to be much smarter than I am in sticking to your guns.
  4. Write down everything they will need to do to switch from the VCR, the DVD player and any other device that you have connected up for them. Make a copy of that sheet, leave two with them and take one home with you.
  5. Never ask why they made a purchase without consulting you. You will go insane asking them and yourself that question.
  6. Try to find another family member, brother, sister, son, daughter or anyone else who will support them.
  7. Pay for support.
  8. Pay for installation
  9. Only buy proven technology that is known for great support.
  10. If you ever asked about a future technology purchase, always answer with, “that new technology is not nearly as good as what you have. Don’t get rid of what you currently have, it works just fine.”

Hope this helps. I just wish I was smart enough to follow most of my own advice.