How to explain technology to your family at Christmas

You are the techno-gadget person in your family. There’s no two ways about it. You definitely are. That’s why you’re here at Pocket-lint in the first place. So as the expert, naturally you’re going to be the first port of call for any IT problem, any device suggestion and any new-fangled term your loved ones have picked up at all in 2010.

It can be a pretty tedious affair having to explain some of this stuff to people that just don’t get it. Fortunately, as ever, we’re here to help save the day. Here are a list of the 10 questions you’re most likely to be asked and the simplest ways of dealing with them.

What is Facebook Places?

This is a tricky one because you’re essentially going to be dealing with two questions here. The first is explaining what it is and the second is going to be a quick follow up on why anyone would want to use it. So, the best tactic here is to deal with both of them at once. All you need to do to keep it short is to say that it’s a way of letting your friends know where you are all in one go. Don’t get bogged down with the ins and outs of checking in. Before they can jump in to say that perhaps they wouldn’t want their friends to know that, you just add that you don’t have to do it, you can make the list as selective as you want and you can choose to opt out from the service altogether. They might try to throw in a “what’s the point?” kind of comment to rubbish the entire thing, so describe a situation they might understand: you go out to the city to watch a show you’ve booked. You turn up at the theatre to find out it’s been cancelled. So, rather than go back home having wasted an evening or spending an hour calling people you think might be around from your contacts book, you just take a look at Facebook Places and see who else is around in town and where they are. They might even find that a buddy is at the very same theatre with the very same problem. Solved.

Is 3D any good?

This is not a question. It looks and sounds like one but it’s actually a statement of ignorant opinion in disguise. What this really means is “3D is nonsense. I am waiting to have this confirmed/have an argument with you where I rubbish modern technology”. First, disarm them by saying that it’s excellent but only when used properly. Explain that 90 per cent of content at the moment is mostly all about gimmick, but there have been some very good bits of 3D that have used the new medium both to help involve the viewer more deeply in the story as well as educate and bring things to life in a way that wasn’t possible before. Your first reference point is Avatar where it brought the audience further into a fantasy world than was ever possible before. Your second is to direct the non-believer to Sir David Attenborough’s Flying Monsters 3D nature documentary on Sky on Christmas Day. Naturally, their next move will be to rubbish the wearing of the glasses. It’s now that you should quote the legendary nature presenter and national treasure:

“I don’t think 3DTV will become wallpaper. It’s going to be event TV. It’s for important programs. It’s not going to be any good for trivia. It’s for TV programs that really mean something.”

If Dave says it’s okay, it must be.

What’s an iPad for?

This is another statement in disguise and is meant in a similar vein. It translates as “who needs these new nonsense gadgets?” It’s harder to answer this time because there’s actually some truth in it. Your best line of defence is to talk about its use in watching your own films on a plane and as a leisure device in general. Don’t worry about what it can and can’t do. Just focus on how it’s a gadget for the sofa - a way of consuming content without having to feel like you’re still at work with a notebook on your lap. It’s the separation of recreation machines and 9-5 devices. It's the future.

What is an app?

This is a genuine question. They probably already know but they need confirmation that they’re not missing a trick here. Something brief around the idea of small piece of software for your mobile phone will do the trick. You can take a look at our What the hell are apps article for a few ideas. After that, the best thing to do is demonstrate. Show them the apps on your phone and then show them that they’ve actually got some on theirs too. If you really want to score a home run, ask them what they’re interested in and download a relevant app as a demonstration of how useful and convenient these things can be. Try to avoid novelties.

Should I get a Mac?

Again, this isn’t a question. This person has already decided that they want to buy a Mac. They just want confirmation that it’s okay to spend the money on one. The short answer to avoid all the pointless agonizing is “Yes, they’re excellent computers, they look fantastic and they’re well worth the extra outlay”. At this point it’s up to you if you wish to continue the conversation.

Can you fix my computer?

This is a tricky situation and, at worst, you could end up spending an afternoon flogging a dead horse trying to get some malware ridden hunk of IE XP junk functioning again. By all means ask them what the problem is, offer a suggestion if you have one, but then follow it up with you’re happy to come and take a look in the New Year. It’s probably a good moment to negotiate terms while you’re there. Joke that you’ll do it in exchange for dinner but leave the joking at the door when it’s time to collect.

How do I print those digital photos I keep getting sent

This is generally the complaint of an older generation who took great pride in putting photo albums together, and good on them. They’re fantastic things to have. The way to deal with this is by agreeing with their frustrations about how hard copies are more removed. You can explain it away by talking about how far more photos are taken since the dawn of the digital era, so it would be impossible to print the lot. Point them in the direction of either a good photo printer - in fact, you could get them one for next Christmas - or a decent online postal printing service - Photobox will do fine, Kodak’s probably better if trust is an important thing for them. If they’re going to buy a printer, do advise them to spend more money on the device rather than opting for a cheaper unit which will end up costing more in ink.

Should I be on Twitter?

Last year’s question was: What is Twitter? And this Christmas it will have moved on to whether they should be on it or not. It could be asked with varying degrees of hostility. The short and simple answer is no. Ultimately, people who join Twitter and expect something to happen are going to be disappointed. If you want to go into it a little further, you can ask if they’re interested in following the banal every day lives of celebrities or if they wish to use the service to promote their work or themselves in any way. If you get a yes for either, then, by all means, encourage them to sign up and even get involved on their mobile phones as well. The final category is probably people who have a special interest. If, for example, the person who’s asking you is a bird watcher, then you can describe to them how there’ll be a huge community of like minded people out there on Twitter who could offer all sorts of interesting bits of information. If none of this applies, then it’s probably wise to tell them to give it a miss. Even if this question was only asked out of disdain for what they’ve read about the microblogging service, then these practical use examples should have dealt with the nay saying too.

What x should I get?

x here represents any number of bits of hardware, most often TVs, cameras, computers, phones and the like. This is a genuine question and the questioner will very probably go with your advice. The most important thing to remember when answering is that they do not care as much as you do. All they want is something that isn’t too expensive and the confidence that they’ve made a good buying decision. If you begin down the road of whether they want features a, b and c, it’s not going to work. You’ll effectively be up-selling them. If you’re going to ask questions, keep it simple. Stick to what they use their current version of the gadget for, what they don’t like about it and why they want a new one. If it’s just a case of their incumbent being old, recommend the latest model of the same. If there’s a problem they have, then address that and that alone with your suggestion. Forget all the bells and whistles and offer something affordable - unless, of course, they’re made of money and it’s all about being flash.

Can you fix the broadband?

This is in many ways the easiest and hardest question to deal with. It’s straight forward in that it means just what this person is asking, and all it requires for the solution is for you to get their internet working again. Of course, how possible that is to achieve all depends on the nature of the problem. Rather than spending Christmas going into the router to find DNS settings - unless, of course, you’re very comfortable with that - your best bet would be to try connecting by Ethernet, check the lights on the router, check the service status from the ISP’s website, try connecting your mobile phone but, beyond that, a quick call to the ISP’s helpline should be as far as you need to go. If it’s still not working, you can bet it’s a fairly complex solution, so, rather than missing the better part of the Great Escape, book a visit from their service provider instead. It’s all about delegation and your questioner will just be pleased that the problem is one step closer to being solved.