My dad-in-law Geoff got a digital camera for his birthday last week. He didn’t ask for it. He probably didn’t want it. He does now.
Having resisted all suggestions to ‘go digital’ for years, I’m pretty sure Geoff would happily have gone on with his 36 frames, 35 millimetres and 24-hour wait for a lucky dip of good shots, bad shots and yet more shots of the car “to finish the film”.
But there he was, unwrapping a Coolpix given to him by his loving son (not me: I gave socks) with a paternal duty to give it a go. As official Family Geek it was down to me to help him learn not just how to use the camera but how to love it.
This all felt rather familiar. Colleagues and I have to do the same thing all the time when selling-in social media to policy officials, training people on CMSs or explaining how to use any other web technology.
This is what worked with Geoff, and it’s a fairly good model for what I often have to do at work:
- Give it to them. Accept that they don’t want it. Or at least that they might not know they want it, yet. You could wait a long time for people voluntarily to take up new technology or you can make a gift of it, however unwanted, and move in fast before it gathers dust.
- Give them a reason. The cool shiny newness alone is not enough to entice some (weird!) people. So tell them why it’s good. “Look! You can take photos of your grandson and see them instantly/delete the ones where your eyes are closed/email them to your brother in Canada/print only the ones you want”. List the benefits up front, and even grandads will start to see the advantages.
- Demonstrate it. Or rather, DON’T MENTION THE MEGAPIXELS. Just show what the buttons do, and how that relates to human interaction. It’s about photos: taking them and looking at them, not camera modes and resolution. It’s about the memories, man, not the size of the memory card. When people see the point of doing something, suddenly they’re up for having a go.
- Watch them use it. “Now you try”. I watched him make a few botches, intervening diplomatically to point him in the right direction. It took a while, but this was the most important step – to guide him through the frustration of failure and the danger of giving up. Once that’s passed…
- Retreat. Slowly. And never completely. I’m happy to be Geoff’s helpdesk offering lifetime support whenever his Coolpix gets him hot and bothered (like when he finds a strange video of the inside of his pocket, or all his photos mysteriously ‘disappear’). As he gets more confident, I’ll show him more stuff. He may even become a viral sensation on YouTube.
I am not saying civil servants are like OAPS when it comes to technology – but people of all ages in the office often describe themselves openly as technophobic or at least agnostic about whether new technology is a good thing.
And rightly so. Digital cameras and digital media can make your life better and easier – but not at first. Initially they introduce a problem you didn’t previously have. So our job as web geeks is to create that problem and then solve it, so that any difficulties are quickly outweighed by the benefits. See also Emma’s toolkit posts and Jeremy’s six approaches for ways of engaging people with this stuff.
It’s early days for Geoff, but he just sent me this, so I think we’re getting somewhere: