Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. Show a man an easier way to fish and they’ll stop bothering you about fishing every time you just try to call and check in.
At least that’s how it works with parents and technology. If you are home for the holidays, and you have a spare day between getting drunk with your friends from high school and watching your uncle get drunk and talk about how he played football in high school (better that than why he voted for Trump), do yourself a favor. Help your parents with their tech problems while you are there, face-to-face, instead of waiting until that inconvenient phone call about how their phone is being inconvenient. Here are some easy tech solutions that you get into over the holidays and save yourself a ton of future headaches.
Cutting the Cord
Nobody wants to be the last person on their block paying $120 a month for cable, even your parents. They see you posting about Westworld and Atlanta on Facebook. They’ve heard reviews of Veep on NPR, and they want in on the sweet prestige TV action. The only problem is that they don’t have a clue about how any of it works.
First, do a little research on whether Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or even Roku is right for them. That also helps you with your last-minute Christmas shopping. What do you get the man who has everything? The doohickey he’s never heard of. Once they unbox the key to their digital future, take a minute to subscribe to AND set up the relevant services, be they HBO Now, Amazon Prime, or NFL Sunday Ticket. It shouldn’t take more than an hour, and you can feel free to jot down their passwords so your cheap ass can watch Game of Thrones in full HD whenever you please.
Their Damn Phone
Parents are bad with their phones. It’s just a fact. They grew up when phones lived on a desk and didn’t have a computer built into them. They are going to ask you for help. Get ahead of it. Everybody uses their phone differently, but there are fundamentals that everyone starts with. First, ask them if and how they back up their phone. Next, make sure they are doing it correctly.
Once they have that down, you can get a little more advanced. Add their email to the phone. Turn on “Find My iPhone.” Figure out if they will use iCloud and/or Photo Stream, and explain to them what that means. Set them up with a preferred maps app, ridesharing app, banking app, and Facebook. Every parent loves Facebook, even if you don’t love that they love Facebook.
Tell them if there is anything they want to do with their phone that they don’t know how to do they should ask you. Check in every day or so during your visit. You’ll be surprised how many things come up if you remind them. You’ll also be surprised how easy it is to show them when you’re in the same house.
Finally, tell them that everyone breaks a screen, and sometimes you just have to trust the dude down the block who fixes them, even though he isn’t Apple-certified.
This is one of the easiest things to set up for your parents, and it is one of the things your parents will ask about the most. Many of us don’t consider it until we’re trying to troubleshoot a decade-old Hotmail account from 2,000 miles away. First things first: Get your parents on Gmail. You can import all of their old accounts to one place. You know that Gmail will work on their phone. You know how to use Gmail. You will be able to help them in a way you couldn’t if you let them be stubborn and stay on AOL.
For many parents, online shopping is still intimidating. While it is clear Amazon is part of the evil empire, the evil empire has really good shipping policies. Set them up on Amazon Prime—which, yes, you too can benefit from, you cheapskate—and show them how to create Amazon Wishlists and Save for Later. That way, next Christmas you’ll endure 80 percent fewer calls asking what you want for Christmas.
You can also help them shake free from the shackles of online commerce. Many parents don’t know how to unsubscribe from the massive number of mailing lists they find themselves on, further hindering their already limited use of email. While you’re unsubscribing, you can see if there are any shady merchants lurking in the Inbox that don’t look as safe as your parents think they are. Deleting an email today is easier than dealing with identity theft tomorrow.
Online calendars are difficult to manage for anyone. Even if your parents are using iCal or Google Calendar, they may not know that you can set up different calendars and share them with different groups of people. How much better would it make your parents feel to know that everyone in the family knows the reunion is on Aug. 23? Bonus: If you set the calendar up for the whole family, you won’t be the dumbass who forgets that the family reunion is on Aug. 23.
Current Events and Media
The days of juggling a half dozen magazine subscriptions are over. This leaves many parents at a loss for how to stay informed. One of the best ways for parents to keep up with all their news is setting them up on Twitter. While you may use Twitter as a way to share your dank memes with the world, it is also a great way to get information. If you set your mom up with a Twitter account that follows NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and your local paper, imagine how much time she’ll save. Yes, this might mean she’ll follow you, but you could stand to ease up on the trolling anyway.
If Twitter isn’t the move for your parents, you should still encourage them to join the digital revolution. Inquire what subscriptions they have and make sure that for every New York Times they receive on their doorstep, they are able to access it on their computer. As more and more publications go fully digital, you’ll thank yourself for easing their transition. They’ll wake up one day and their favorite magazine will be gone. Make sure they still get it in their inbox.