Mr. Sam’s Shortcuts

by JL Beeken on 3-08-2011

Cousin Sam has finally put her foot down and she’s getting her own laptop.

I’ve heard it said that when people get old they revert to a child-like state. So, what once would have been two eight-year olds fighting over rungs on a jungle gym becomes two eighty-year olds fighting over the family computer.

Only in our time.

I neglected to mention previously, there’s also a Mr. Sam. Mr. Sam is equally tech-illiterate but he has the added distinction of being terrified almost to death of computers.

The fact that they even have a computer in their house, at their age, is to be commended. Theirs is a generation of simple mechanics and letter-writing that took six weeks to cross the ocean. The idea that things can look real but only consist of one’s and zero’s is un-nerving to them. Every single time a shortcut disappears off Mr. Sam’s desktop he’s confounded almost to the point of becoming ill. The lack of control makes him nearly crazy. And not in a good way.

It doesn’t matter that there are better ways to keep shortcuts where they won’t move around. He doesn’t want to hear about them. He wants his shortcuts on the desktop and he wants them to stay exactly where he puts them. If it wouldn’t put holes in the monitor, he’d take a hammer and sack of nails and nail the damn things down!

His manner of attempting to control the seemingly uncontrollable is to limit his use of the computer to financial software and spreadsheets with his collection of strategically placed shortcuts. And a printer. Everything still has to be printed to paper and kept in 3-ring binders. This is his computer-world in a nutshell. This and nothing else. It’s as close as he can get to absolute certainty that nothing happens where he’s not at the helm.

Sam is, clearly, uncomfortable and totally bewildered by computers. And from year to year things have not improved. Sam can send and receive email and she’s been pretty happy with that. Mr. Sam tolerates Sam using email because he’s learned over the years that email will not interfere with his spreadsheets. Or his shortcuts.

But, Sam has a little more gumption than Mr. Sam (who has none) and sometimes she wants a little more. Like cropping a picture or looking at maps. Or surfing around. She doesn’t know what that means exactly but she’s heard of it. She gets confused when there’s ten links on a page. “Which one am I supposed to click?” she asks me.

So I offered Sam screen-sharing help. Mostly for my own sanity because I think there’s hope we could make progress. God knows, there’s a lot of room for improvement there. And I’m ready to move on to anything that doesn’t involve Mr. Sam’s shortcuts.

Occasionally, by phone only, I’ve suggested a small tweak here or there and, invariably, I’ve received the standard email, “I’m sorry, one of Mr. Sam’s shortcuts disappeared this morning, we had to reverse that thing you told us last week.” So, periodically I’ve excused myself from being their free tech support. And, periodically I’ve been pulled back in. This has gone on for longer than I’d care to remember.

Sam thinks I don’t have enough patience; I think I should be nominated for sainthood.

Explaining computers by telephone without the benefit of visuals is unnecessarily hard so I finally put the kibosh on it. Sam and I have done screen-sharing a few times before but, unbeknown to me, Sam was sneaking this computer time behind Mr. Sam’s back and not telling me.

The other night Sam and I were having a screen-sharing meeting to tour around some photo software. Mr. Sam unexpectedly appeared in the office doorway and heard me say, through the speakerphone, the phrase ‘remote connection’. Sam suddenly shrieked into my ear, “It was all your idea, I never asked for this!”

Now I come to find out, Mr. Sam will not allow even their ISP techs to connect remotely, even when they have to be connected to get something fixed. They might make one of his shortcuts disappear. Or, god forbid, one of his spreadsheets.

Mr. Sam staggered off to the living room to hold his head in his hands. Sam hung onto the telephone explaining the intricacies of being 80-something and trying to talk me out of disowning her. I was clearly at the end of my rope.

Before Sam went to bed that night she told Mr. Sam, “I have some money saved and I am buying my own computer!”

The next morning Mr. Sam said, “I will buy you a computer, my dear.”

It was that easy?

And so all ends well. Another marriage is saved. And I am free of Mr. Sam’s … you know.

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