Dear Lifehacker, My parents have a new digital camera, and as I am from the "gadget generation", they think I automatically know how to use their new device and can teach them how to use it the moment I'm handed the camera. How can I teach them how to use it while simultaneously keeping my sanity, especially as I already DON'T know how to use it? Sincerely, Frustrated with F-stops
Photo by Chris Devers
Great question! And you came to the right place. I have plenty of experience in parental diplomatic relations while teaching technology, and yes — there is a wonderful solution to keep both your sanity, and them extremely happy (and able to immediately use their camera). And of course, this applies beyond parents who aren't great with tech (many are!); you can use the same approach with friends and coworkers who turn to you to do the heavy lifting when they buy a new gadget.
Make a Good Parts Version of the Instructions
When author William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride, he jokingly called it the "good parts version" of a fictional, painstakingly boring, and much longer novel by an (also fictional) writer named S. Morgenstern.
What I am suggesting to you, and I have done this on many occasion while training, is to create a "good parts version" of the user manual for your parent's camera.
Make sure you get the correct make and model number from your parents (and yes, dear Frustrated, I understand this may require a whole new "Ask Lifehacker"). From there, go to the camera's official site and download the PDF of the user manual for the camera. Yes, the entire 400-page manual containing all the warranty information, the ISO and white balance preset information. That's the one.
Now print out the following pages:
- The cover page.
- The page where they show the front and back of the camera with the diagram of the buttons, and the numbered text explaining what each button does.
- The page where they explain how to playback and view photos.
- The page where they explain how to delete photos.
- The page where they explain how to connect the camera to the computer.
- Any other page that contains features you’ll think they’ll be able to handle, or you already know they would like to know how to do (Remember, you can always print out another manual of more advanced features. The object here is not to overwhelm them).
After you have printed them out, put the cover page on top, and staple them together. You can sit down and go over it with your parents, explaining that you've put together the goods-part version of the manual for them.
Your parents will be ecstatic, and most importantly, they will know how to get started learning how to use their new camera. And you'll be able to print out "good-parts versions" of any technology they need to use in the future.
P.S. Got your own always-works method of teaching people to use their technology without the frustration? Let's hear it in the comments.