About a week ago, I received a frantic email from my mother. She needed a new password for a website, and she was having a hard time making one the website would accept. She sent me their requirements and asked me to clarify what they wanted. She added that maybe I could just do it for her because she was having such a hard time with it. I looked at the requirements, and they were pretty standard. The password must be at least eight characters with (at least) one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one special character. I sent her back an explanation and an example and told her to try it one more time; if she still couldn’t do it, I would help her. She emailed me back asking if the number counted as a character, and I said yes. Everything you input, I told her, counts as a character.
A few days later, she called me. She had tried and tried, but couldn’t get it to work. She asked me to help her, and I reluctantly agreed. I hasten to add that I was reluctant because I thought she could do it on her own, and I didn’t want to baby her, not because I didn’t want to help her. My mom is, in her own words, a bit of a technophobe, and she she becomes irrationally freaked out and anxious any time she has to do something on the computer that is outside her comfort zone. In addition, English is her third language, and she doesn’t speak it on the regular these days, so having to do all this shit in her third language probably doesn’t help, either.
Let me tell you a little story about when we both worked at the county (different departments). She called me up one day and said, “I can’t get this website to work.” I walked her through it. I said, “Put the address in the address bar.” That took more explanation. Then, “Did you press Enter?” Mom: “I have to do that?” I’m telling you this to show you my mom’s mentality when it comes to computers. It’s so strange to me because she’s an extremely intelligent and competent woman. She was the first psychologist to practice sandplay therapy in Taiwan–in fact, she brought it to the country all by her damn self. She has a two-year waiting list of people wanting to learn it from her (at least she did when she first started. It might have eased up now that there are more certified sandplay therapists in Taiwan, all trained by her). It’s hard for me to understand how something as simple as a resetting a password can reduce her to such despair.
Yes, I know it’s partly an age thing and a not having grown up with computers thing, but I didn’t, either. I didn’t touch my first computer until I was in college, and everything I know is self-taught or gleaned from the brain of my techie brother. I don’t know nearly as much as he does, but I know more than average about computers I would guess. Again, this isn’t to slag on my mother, but to point out that there’s no reason for her to get so upset about computer basics. It also makes me sad that it’s so anxiety-inducing for her. I can bet that when she was told she had to reset her password, she started freaking out, which makes it all that much harder. Then, she probably started obsessing over it in the back of her mind. She built it up so much, when she sat down to tackle it, she was already in a state of panic. Then, with each successive failure, it only reinforced her helpless and hopeless feeling.