His mother called the other day. She had a password problem.
"I thought we agreed you would keep the password the same," Washington said he told her.
"But the phone asked me to change it," his mother insisted.
Her befuddlement was partly his fault. The scientist, from
Recently, the world's gadget makers gathered at the Consumer Electronics Show in
But as the devices get more sophisticated, there are hordes of users who can barely keep up. Sixty-two percent of Americans now own a smartphone, a Gallup poll shows. For many of them, smartphones are confounding, and they often end up just using the phones as expensive cameras that can make calls.
And lest anyone think the technological stumbling blocks are limited to senior citizens, consider the example of a 41-year-old interior designer who is so embarrassed at her smartphone ineptitude that she would allow only her first name - Jennifer - to be used in explaining the trouble she had snapping photos.
"I couldn't get the camera flipped around so it would take a picture of an object and not myself," Jennifer said. There were a lot of pictures of Jennifer. "Finally a client said, 'Here, let me help you with that'."
While there are apparently no studies that quantify gadget incompetence, revealing hints turn up in usage statistics. About 81 percent of cellphone users send text messages - among the easiest functions to use on a smartphone - but only half the nation's cellphone users download apps and read or send e-mail, according to research by the
Women are slightly less likely to download apps then men, but twice as likely to find smartphone use at a business lunch unacceptable.
Some of the most highly touted smartphone innovations are barely used at all. A 2012
Whether that's because of a lack of interest or lack of know-how (or both) is not entirely clear, but experts who study smartphone use, as well as tech-support professionals who work with the confused, say they see smartphone obliviousness at all ages.
Digital Immigrants have the toughest time. They did not, like their Digital Native children or grandchildren, grow up with computers. They grew up with pencils, paper and phones attached to walls. But lately, they've received Androids or iPhones for Christmas or from their employers, who increasingly are dropping BlackBerrys with their familiar physical keyboards.
For Digital Immigrants, there is nothing intuitive about manipulating data with their fingers, whether it be swiping screens back and forth, pinching to shrink an image, or entering information into glass.
Confusion points smartphone users in many directions. For iPhone owners, they can turn to the Genius Bar at Apple stores, where appointments often must be made several days in advance.
Amazon recently launched Mayday, a feature on its Kindle that allows baffled users to hit a button and within 15 seconds see a real human appear on their screen to help.
Those who don't turn to the pros for help often seek succour from family and friends.
Washington's mom said she relies on her scientist son, her daughters and her grandchildren when she needs help. She actually doesn't see herself as someone who has a lot of problems with her smartphone any more.
"No, because dealing with Frank and my grandson," she said, "now I can do just about anything." -
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