The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - Thursday, May 27, 2021

I love my mother dearly, but there are times when I have considered throttling her.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 3:45 pm
Mobile phone

These times are basically any occasion – and there are many – she rings and begins the conversation with, ‘Steven, I’ve a problem with my computer’.

My heart sinks and for the umpteenth time I wonder if she’s noticed I didn’t go into a career in IT and have zero interest - and, more crucially, zero knowledge - in anything technology-wise.

However, this does not put her off.

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Things generally start out well, as I attempt to talk her through whatever problem she has. Sample exchange - My mother: ‘The screen’s black, there’s just nothing’. Me: ‘Have you pressed the power button and turned it on?’ Her: (with genuine surprise) ‘You have to turn it on? Oh yes, it’s working now’.

But what always happens is that at some point during the conversation she gets frustrated that she can’t follow my instructions, or - and this is more usual - I get annoyed she can’t follow the really simple thing I’m telling here, and things deteriorate from there. We usually end up making snide comments at each other before one of us hangs up.

The main issue is she lacks patience.

For example, her approach to tapping a button is, if it doesn’t lead to the page she wants loading absolutely immediately, to tap the button seven times more, hitting it progressively harder and more aggressively with each jab - and then she wonders why the screen freezes and the whole computer shuts down altogether.

It’s odd she possesses such an acute lack of patience considering she was raised in an era way before the internet, when nothing in society happened immediately.

She was a child of the 1940s and grew up post-Second World War when items like eggs and cheese and milk were rationed, so surely if she had to queue on a street corner to buy a few dairy products, she is able to wait more than a nanosecond to enable a button on a laptop to work. Mystifying.

Anyway she rang the other day at 2pm to tell me she had an issue with her phone and WhatsApp wasn’t working.

“I’ve just got a bit on at work at the moment,” I replied and waited for her to apologise and tell me she’d ring back later.

‘It’s so annoying I can’t get on it,’ she answered, as if I’d not actually spoken. ‘Because Judy says she sent me pictures of the crocuses in her front garden – they’ve come up beautifully this year, best she’s seen since 1986 she reckons.’

Not for the first time I wondered how we were related, before sighing inwardly and realising – much like a visit from a Jehovah’s Witness, or having a colonoscopy - I may as well just get this over with.

‘One of my friends,’ my mother rambles on, ‘Beryl - you know, the one with the prosthetic hand, finds it difficult to get gloves that fit – says I can’t get WhatsApp because I’ve no data.’

I explain that when she is using her phone at home, she doesn’t need data because she has WiFi in her home. (The one upside of having to talk my mum through tech issues is that because she is so dense and backward, by the end of the conversation I feel like Bill Gates).

“Actually mum, put me on speakerphone so you can look at your phone while we’re talking,” I say.

‘I didn’t know you could do that,’ she replies, in a tone that couldn’t be more astonished had I just announced I’d broken the world indoor 1,500 metres record. ‘What is speakerphone?’

“Well, look for the button that looks like a microphone,” I tell her.

‘Yes, I can see it,’ she says and I hear her press something.

“Good can you hear me now a bit louder?”


“Mum, have you found the button?”


“Mum, if you can hear me,” I say, speaking very slowly and clearly, as if talking to a four-year-old, which to be frank I may as well be, “I think you’ve hit the mute button instead, so I can’t hear you.”

A second or two elapses before her voice sounds again. ‘Oh yes I think I did. I didn’t even know there was a mute button.’

It goes on like this for another seven or eight minutes before we actually get to the point of starting to try and fix the problem.

“Mum, go to your settings,” I say.

‘Settings?’ she replies. ‘What’s that?’

“It’s the button on your phone that says ‘Settings’ next to it,” I respond, teeth now ever-so-slightly gritted.

‘I can’t see that,’ she says. ‘I’ve not got that button.’

“Mum, you have got that button. It will be on the homepage.”

‘What’s the homepage?’ she says and just for a brief moment I wonder if she’s actually winding me up.

“Just press the button on the side of your phone, the one that turns your phone on and brings the icons up,” I say, counting to 10 on repeat.

Pause. I can hear her muttering.

‘Oh, it’s gone off now. The screen’s gone black,’ she says, ill-tempered and accusingly, as if I’m the one putting her out.

“Mum,” I say firmly, exasperation seeping from every pore of my body, “which button do you normally press to get your phone working?”

‘This one,’ she says. ‘Ooo, it’s come on now. And I can see something called Settings. Do I need to press that?’

At this point I bellow ‘YES’ with such force a colleague who occupies the office two doors down comes sprinting into my room to ask if I’m OK.

To cut a long story short, soon after this my mum gets all nowty, accuses me of being impatient and not helping, and hangs up - then two days later sends a message on WhatsApp to says she’s back online.

I reply asking what the problem was.

‘I didn’t have the WiFi turned on in settings,’ she writes back.

God help me.

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