Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do "Help Lines" bog you down?

Here is a 2 1/2 minute video piece, made with my friend Marlene Franks. A video pioneer, she is now working hard at gaining skills to begin to use her computer and digital camera as production tools. We get together periodically in front of her computer for me to give her support in using her Movie Maker software.

The video is her description of one of those "tripping over the tools" incidents. Yesterday she confessed that she hadn't done much since our last meeting, because she had gotten sidetracked, stuck and frustrated in trying to do what she thought would be a quick and simple bit of computer housekeeping: doing her annual update to her virus protection subscription. She describes how she worked persistently with call centre employees at a live Help Line. Even though she finally got the job done, she emerged feeling like a failure. I noticed that, weeks later, she was still showing a drop in energy, confidence and enthusiasm for working at her computer.

The online article "Customer Call Centres: Who Gets Your Worst Service Vote?" (published on the CityNews site, June 14, 2007) indicates that Marlene is not alone, and that computer support is rated the worst. People who came of age before computers often tell me that they emerge from the maze of a computer support phone call feeling stupid and inadequate. What is the answer? It would certainly have been shortsighted for Marlene to bail out on her effort to get updated virus protection. If it was hard getting support about downloading, that is nothing compared to the kind of help she would have needed had she experienced time-consuming devastation of a computer meltdown.

People who are just getting their feet wet with new technology need to hear that most people using computers feel -- at least on occasion -- like they are in over their heads. And they, too, often feel like they aren't getting what they need when they wave at the lifeguard. One reason that computer courses for seniors are so useful is that they provide a safe space where stories become funny once they are swapped. As I've watched my much younger peers in my media classes, I've noticed that they ask each other questions, and have a high tolerance for what I call "thrashing around". Asking a friend or family member to sit down with you at your own computer is one solution (as long as they promise not to grab the keyboard). But also, from personal experience, I have found that Call Centre employees will define a term or describe the spot where that key should be, once I admit that I'm lost. When all else fails, get out of the pool and, like Marlene, go out for a walk. Being in deep water is not the same as drowning.