Holidays bring family together … for tech support

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2013 - 7:52 PM

Photo: Steve Hebert, Star Tribune

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The trip to Mom and Dad’s to celebrate Thanksgiving comes with turkey, pumpkin pie and a chance to watch football on that fancy new flat-screen TV — after you program the universal remote control, that is.

Across Minnesota, college kids and young adults will likely spend part of the holidays installing updates on laptops and explaining how to download apps onto tablets. Plenty of parents and grandparents have mastered iPads and Androids; however, as digital devices become more plentiful and sophisticated, young adults are increasingly being forced into playing tech support.

“It can be anything,” said Marcus Wilson, 24, of Woodbury, who works in IT and fields questions from his parents at home. “They’ll just be like, ‘My computer isn’t running perfectly lately. Can you figure this out?’ ”

While it may seem natural to keep tech questions all in the family, doing so can create stress along existing generational fault lines. Tech-savvy children often are baffled by parents who need guidance through every click, plus it can be awkward to teach someone who has spent their lives teaching you.

For parents, it can be just as trying to become students.

“With the pace of technological changes, the older generation gets out of date much sooner than in the past,” said Bill Doherty, a professor from the University of Minnesota’s Family Social Science Department.

Those in their 50s or 60s, who are still in the prime of their careers, may have to ask for help, which can feel uncomfortable, he said.

“If you have been a good teacher and mentor for your children during their lives, they treat you really well now,” he said. “If you haven’t ... this is where it can be payback time.”

Stressing over tech

People who work in tech support know this scenario all too well.

“I get so many folks who say, ‘My kids said they’re not going to help me with my PC anymore,’ ” said Matt Hedgepeth, who works at FirstTech, an Apple-approved retailer and repair shop in Minneapolis.

Distance is another potential hurdle. “It’s so much easier if you can take them through” it in person, said Fred Evans, product manager at FirstTech.

For 76-year-old Earl Carlson, who owns multiple devices, tech support spans generations.

His daughter Kris Salava, 43, sometimes stops by his house after work to troubleshoot his computer problems and help with his iPad. Her daughter, Nicole, 13, more on top of the latest smartphone tricks, helps Grandpa with his iPhone. Still, getting everything taken care of can be difficult.

“There are times when he’ll call and I’ll say, ‘I just can’t do this right now,’ ” she said.

But mostly, Salava is happy to help. After all, it was Carlson who first introduced her to computers when they learned the DOS operating system together more than 20 years ago.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, Dad used to teach me how to do it. Now I’m helping him,’ ” she said.

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