The problems I've encountered primarily arise from the confrontation between
the ways seniors use their computers, and the way operating systems are today
designed. Most simply put, many of the problems that seniors meet are the result
of having too many choices. Why, for instance, is a single-click called for
here, but a double-click necessary there? If we've opened a menu with a right-click,
why do we have to choose an item on that menu with a left-click? And of course
these questions are a sub-group of an even larger question: why do we need multiple
methods of doing something? Even though placing an icon in the taskbar from
where a single-click is all that's needed to open the program it represents
is designed to make life easier, this "ease" comes at a cost of having
to decide and/or remember the "best" way of doing something. Even
if opening the "Start" menu and scrolling down to open an icon from
there may demand more time (and invite more mistakes) than using the taskbar,
it offers a certain consistency which can add to a feeling of security.
Word tries to help us when, upon a forced closing of the computer, it tries to save the latest copy of a document on which we've been working. But then, when we once again open the program, the choices it offers us tend to confuse more than they actually help. An elderly user who devotes quite a bit of effort to remembering where his or her document is located, and how to open it, suddenly has to choose the "correct" document from a list of possibilities (and generally, without understanding why this has happened). In addition, the screen is tangibly different than a "regular" opening of the program. Suddenly, part of the screen is taken up with a confusing list, and the area where we might actually type has been truncated. Again, Word is only trying to help. For most of us (whoever "we" are) the distress of losing part of a document we'd been writing dwarfs the inconvenience of a slightly confusing screen. We're thus willing to put up with this somewhat surprising, and not totally helpful, "help". But some of us aren't "most of us". For many of the elderly, unexpected pop-up announcements intended only to prevent the loss of part of a document (a loss that more often than not, they're not aware of), are more threatening than helpful - precisely because they're unexpected.