My parents are reasonably technologically competent. They’re not big geeks, but my dad has an iPhone and my mom has both a Blackberry and an iPad, so they generally are self-sufficient when it comes to computers. However, what should have been a simple installation of Google Earth on their aging Dell set off a chain of unexpected consequences, all because they’ve been conditioned to trust Google and not question instructions.
Apparently, when you install Google Earth on a Windows PC, Google asks to install Chrome as well. No biggie, except that in her “just click-through because Google said it was okay” zeal, my mom set Chrome as the default browser. I know I just said my parents are reasonably competent, but they harbor a deep fear of breaking free of Internet Explorer. Deep, deep fear. Big fights over the years, but they won’t let it go.
So with that background, you can best understand the “emergency family tech support” phone call on Friday morning. My dad had received a call from my mom FREAKING OUT because she went to check her email, and their homepage was suddenly Google; all her bookmarks were gone, and when she finally found her way to her email, Google Chrome asked if she wanted to save her password. I immediately pointed out that Chrome had been set as the default browser, and all it would take was resetting the default to Internet Explorer and everything would be OKAY. This led to a very long and circular conversation where Chrome was accused of “replacing” Internet Explorer, that no one had opened Chrome, it had just appeared AFTER Internet Explorer was opened … I explained that wasn’t possible, and we went back and forth like this until FINALLY, it became clear what happened. On the oldest Dell known to mankind, my mother wasn’t opening Internet Explorer directly; she was following a link on their desktop to “Internet”, so when the default browser changed over to Chrome, so did the shortcut. Like I said, a chain of unexpected consequences.
But think about it this way. If they had been trying to install a program from anywhere other than Google, they would never have blindly OK’d the install and let their defaults go all wonky. At the first dialog box offering to install a secondary program, I would have gotten a panicked phone call. Instead, they just clickety-clicked on through, because, hey, it’s Google! A big company. Nothing to worry about. And it wasn’t, not in the typical security sense. But it certainly led to a great deal of confusion, and some serious panic from my mother when she thought she’d lost all her bookmarks.
So what Google needs is a “computer quasi-literate” setting. For the people who are reasonably savvy, know how to check email, use a smartphone, etc., but for whom change is not easy. Something that spells everything out in plain English, and gives them an extra warning before new programs get installed. Maybe they could add a “baby boomer parents” button to “I’m Feeling Lucky”?
As for my parents, they reset their defaults and all is well again — for now. But this incident has pushed them one step closer to replacing that dang Dell (seriously, they bought it when I was a sophomore in college-in 2000!), and towards an iMac…which should hopefully reduce the tech support calls!