When my mother-in-law wanted a computer a few years ago, I cringed. Not because of the expense. With the array of modestly-priced laptops available, my husband and I could afford to get her one. The problem is, a laptop is never just a laptop. There's a few other odds and ends one needs to be "up and running", such as an account with an Internet service provider, a printer, a wireless router, software (if not already loaded), antivirus and malware protection.
My mother-in-law wanted the laptop - ostensibly - to download and print coupons. I am no math genius, but given her age and cash flow situation, the likelihood that she could ever recoup the cost of the computer and peripherals and service costs in her lifetime is more remote than the odds of winning PowerBall. We should have spent the money on lottery tickets. They're low tech. You don't need to call someone to ask how to trouble-shoot lottery tickets.
While my husband originally set up her Internet access and and router and computer and peripherals, I briefed my mother-in-law on cyber-security issues. As I explained it, you need to safeguard three things:
Your identity: treat your computer as you would your home. You wouldn't let strangers wander in and pilfer through your wallet, take your credit cards, and go on a shopping spree or open up new accounts using your personal information.
Your computer: stay away from dubious web sites. Don't click on links in e-mails that appear to be coming from your friends unless you know where you're headed. (Needless to say, we had set her up with anti-virus and malware protection programs that would automatically update to fend off evolving threats.)
Your sanity: the Internet is full of misinformation that can drive you crazy. From do-it-yourself medical diagnosis to conspiracy theories to advertising scams to political rhetoric, the already paranoid can easily propel themselves into a full-blown meltdown. Take everything with a grain of salt.
Like a little kid with a new bike being admonished by a parent telling them to wear their helmet at all times, stay on the sidewalk, take care when crossing the street, and remember to lock up their bike when leaving it at the park, my mother-in-law listened impatiently, eager to embark into the world of flashing emoticons and other cyber-dangers.
Follow along below the virus for more...
A laptop is the gift that keeps on giving, especially if you're an alpha geek like my beloved husband, who is expected to be able to solve any problem from afar, right away. Teamviewer software (free) works well for this sort of remote access problem solving. If both parties have the patience to carry out this sort of transaction, it can be pretty simple. That's a very big "if" when dealing with family members.
When my husband's out of town, I'm the de facto helpdesk. I got a frantic call one morning that my mother-in-law's computer was making a loud sound, so loud that I could hear it over the phone all the way from Florida. It reminded me of the deafening sound from submarine movies like "The Hunt for Red October".
The usual fixes (shutting down the laptop with the on/off button) wouldn't work. All I could think of was removing the battery. I can do that on my laptop, but try explaining how to do it on another brand of laptop. I told my mother-in-law I'd check on line for some advice and call her back.
Thankfully, I'd kept the laptop receipt, and with the miracle of Google, I learned that this was a "motherboard pinging" issue. (Or maybe a "mother-in-law" board pinging issue...). Removing the battery, leaving it out for a bit, and reinstalling it was the logical first step to try. I called my mother-in-law, walking her through the process. Voila. Problem solved. Yeah, I'm a freekin' genius.
My "thanks" for this assistance was that I could now continue to receive the venomous Right-wing e-mails that my mother-in-law received from her Tea Party-addled-Fox-news-addicted friends and neighbors. Actuallly, most of these e-mails had been forwarded by to those people by other people, the sort of people who respond immediately and viscerally when told:
"Forward this to everyone you know right away!!! We need to take back our country!!!"My mother-in-law absolutely, positively knows I'm a lifelong Liberal. When her husband, my beloved "Pop" was still alive, he followed politics with a passion. He and I hit it off immediately when we met: two Progressive soulmates. He and I and my husband (also a Progressive soulmate) would yell back at the television in unison, debate the issues of the day, and lament the encroachment of the GOP warmongers and dream crushers.
I'd always assumed that my mother-in-law shared our beliefs. Why wouldn't she? She's retired on a fixed income without the means to survive without Social Security and Medicare.
She didn't like our vociferous political rants, but her reasoning was that we were all going to have a heart attack or stroke right then and there if we didn't calm down. My point was that if anyone could see what was going on in the country and not be filled with outrage, they ought to have their vital signs checked.
Sadly, Pop is no longer with us, although as I explained in this diary back in February, it might be just as well. He'd be turning in his grave at the thought of his wife turning to racist Tea Party propaganda for inspiration.
So... back to the e-mails. I suppose I could have tried refuting them with my brilliant rhetorical skills, replying with the proviso that she then forward my awesome take-down of the Right wing propaganda to all her friends and neighbors, appealing to their tendency to e-mail it to right now before they do anything else to everyone they knew, but I learned a long time ago:
You Cannot Enlighten The Unconscious.Meanwhile, my long-suffering husband continued getting calls from his mother that something was "really wrong" with her computer. It was really, really slow. Logging on to her system, he discovered all manner of web site and IP addresses from foreign countries and other detritus that one wouldn't pick up through normal browsing. It was as though her computer was being used to re-route spam or something. He cleared it all out, ran scans for anything else, tightened up security settings, and updated protective software.
Listening to my husband's continued grumbling as he worked his magic, I suddenly had an idea. The next time my mother-in-law sent along one of these disgusting Right-wing e-mails about "our so-called president", I was ready to pounce. I called her up and said:
"Remember all those problems you were having with your computer? Well, a lot of these political e-mails you've been getting and forwarding are designed to spread viruses and malware that can damage your computer. There's a reason they want you to send them to everyone. Each time you click on them and interact with them, you're opening up your computer to serious security risks."Was this true? Maybe. That didn't concern me a whole lot, as the people who were circulating these e-mails clearly didn't inhabit a truth-based world to begin with. I do know this: I haven't gotten any more political e-mails from my mother-in-law... and my husband hasn't gotten any more "helpdesk calls."
She can still use her laptop for downloading coupons. That will definitely come in handy when she has to download those vouchers that the GOP promises for her and for her fixed-income friends and neighbors who buy into the Right-wing "patriotic" vision.