Isn’t a Charm Bar a Bracelet?

For many of us, technology moves very, very quickly. I feel that way and I’m a late-stage millennial(ish), so imagine how quickly it must fly for our parents and grandparents. While it’s pretty easy for me to move seamlessly among Apple iOS, Android, and Windows – it isn’t always as easy for equally intelligent (if not more so) people like my father.

Last Christmas, my mother bought my father a new laptop computer that had Windows 8 – at the time a fairly new operating system – pre-loaded onto it. As soon as she bought it and happened to read an article about how vastly different Windows 8 was from previous Windows operating systems (Where the hell is the Start button?), she emailed me and asked me if I could ramp up on it and show my father how to use it.

Working at a company that is heavily invested in delivering solutions for those deploying Microsoft technologies, I asked our IT department to upgrade my work laptop to Windows 8 so I could play around with it and be able to show my father the basics before I went home for Christmas. You know, opening Microsoft Word, using Internet Explorer, finding his email, and downloading games like Bejeweled. It wasn’t too bad for me, though at the time I generally just treated the opening screen as pretty window dressing and immediately went into the desktop so I could use what was most familiar to me so I could get my work done without using new technology as a barrier to that.

Now, before I get into our Christmas fun in giving my father a crash course on Windows 8, let me make clear my father’s an intelligent man. He’s a high school history teacher and has been able to evolve as technology in the classroom has evolved – from chalkboards and pencils, to overhead projectors and sharpies, and now to Microsoft PowerPoint and Word. He has a cell phone and has become a prolific texter, though he and my mother both adamantly refuse to purchase smartphones. I wish I had taken a picture of the look on his face when he first opened the package and saw that it was a brand-new Acer laptop.

“Wait, Windows 8?” he asked, taking another sip of coffee as he took some of Microsoft’s new instructions and glossary of terms out of the packaging. “Charm bar? What the hell is a charm bar? Isn’t that a bracelet??”

I couldn’t hear him calling for me because I was laughing too hard, but I can assure you that for the next couple of hours I was walking my father through the ins and outs of performing basic tasks using Windows 8. He was truly lost without his Start button at the beginning, and to be honest, that’s probably one of the better things Microsoft did with Windows 8.1 – if for no other reason than to give people a sense of normalcy.

As we get closer to the holiday season, one in which many of us will likely be buying some sort of technology – whether it’s a webcam, new phone, computer, or otherwise – for our parents and grandparents. All of that is great – one of the cool things about technology today is that it breaks down barriers to communicate with one another. Maybe we can’t fly home for Sunday dinner, but we can Skype or Facetime to at least see what Mom made for dinner (lots of pasta). However, my fear with all of the technology today is that because the learning curve can be as steep as purchasing Google Glass, it will deter people from taking advantage of all the great innovative technology hitting the market today. They won’t be able to see the forest from the trees of configuring their iPad Air.

Now I understand that Microsoft felt it needed to take a big leap in software with increasing pressure from Apple and Google (among others). But charm bar? Really? It’s one thing to be forward-thinking and cool, it’s another one to take it too far and be so outside the box that people don’t even remember there was one to begin with. Everyone knows when you try too hard – it’s why everyone makes fun of hipsters in Brooklyn.

It’s fun to get new gadgets for people – turning them on, playing with all the buttons and features, and figuring out cool things they could never do before is fun to watch. It truly is. But this holiday season, if you’re manufacturing technology to sell, make it simple to understand. And for those buying gifts, be ready to have a dose of patience to show them how to turn the machine on and perform the functions you meant them to use in the first place. It’ll help for people of all ages – but especially parents who equate charm bars to bracelets that they had as children and don’t want to buy from Pandora this Black Friday.

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