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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

By Request: Holiday helpers

Subscriber Joe writes, “Hindsight is 20/20. How about a list of all the polite ways to say to family, ‘I don’t know how Windows or Android works.’”

Oh, the holidays are a Very Special time for those of us who are technologically savvy, aren’t they? Because we are usually the designated Person Who Knows About That Stuff for our families. (When friends and neighbors ask me about their tech problems and needs, they’re often apologetic. I tell them: No, no, don’t worry about it. This is what I do. It’s my role.)

If you can, help. This is the golden rule. If you can help your friends or family along, you should give it a try. If they’re having a Mac or iOS problem, you can probably help. And so you should give it a try. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving them intense lessons about every aspect of the device—but it might mean fixing a small problem or pointing them at an online resource they can use to learn more.

If you can’t help, disclose and apologize. This goes to Joe’s original question. I’m not Miss Manners, but I don’t think admitting that you don’t understand a certain platform is impolite at all. That said, there are some basic things that you can do to troubleshoot even a Windows PC or an Android phone or tablet, and you might want to give those a shot under the flag of surrender. You’d be surprised how many things you may be able to fix even though you know nothing about the device in question!

By the way, making your policy clear—I don’t provide tech support for platforms I don’t understand—can be a helpful tool in a few different ways. If you would like to help them if only they used products you understand, you can use this policy as an encouragement to get them to, say, switch from Android to iPhone. If you would like to not help them, well, just beg off helping them and hope they don’t work out that if they bought a new iPhone you’d actually be able to answer their questions.

Try the basics. Even on Android and Windows, I know the basics: Turn it on and off. Toggle the Wi-Fi. Unplug the router and plug it back in. You probably know this already, but the tech world is vastly improved by the act of power-cycling devices. Doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen the operating system running on that Smart Refrigerator—reboot it and see what happens. (It’s probably harder to unplug the fridge, but I bet there’s a settings menu with a restart option.)

Fix their TV. No, seriously, Find that TV remote, hit the menu button, and find out how to turn off motion smoothing and all those zoom modes that prevent you from seeing the entire picture. If they’ve got a cable box with both HD and non-HD channels, see if you can remove the non-HD channels so they don’t show up in the program guide. I’d tell you they’ll thank you later, but they probably won’t—but they might notice that their TV looks better all of a sudden.

Get them a password manager. If you’re feeling especially generous, get all your family members set up with 1Password or LastPass so that they’re not using the same password on every service they use. They won’t thank you right then, probably, but they might thank you a whole lot one day down the line. (Oh, who are we kidding? They’ll never thank you, but you’ll know that you did the right thing anyway.)

Acceptance. Look, you’re the Computer Person in their lives. This is the path we’ve all chosen. We don’t have to love it, but we need to accept it. Be helpful when you can, and firm when you don’t know the answer. Because while your friends and family may be desperate for your help, they’re also people who are confused and frustrated with technology. If you profess your own confusion and frustration with an issue, they won’t get their problem solved, but they’ll at least appreciate your commiseration.

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