It’s 10pm, and I’ve just gotten home from work. I check my email to find one panicky message from my aunt. She says she’s lost all her photos in iPhoto.
I check my international time widget and find that it’s 10am where she is, so it’s okay to call. I first use SkypeOut to ring her phone, then move her over to the computer.
It becomes apparent that the problem will require more than a few minutes to solve, and as anyone who has had to walk an older relative through trying to diagnose a computer problem over the phone knows, it can be a slow, frustrating, and painful process. To bypass this problem, my first step is to setup remote access.
The trickiest part is getting her to setup iChat (she’s still running Snow Leopard). Fortunately, she remembers her gmail password and I’m able to use a Google image search of the “Accounts” menu to step her through the account setup process. It goes surprisingly smoothly, and five minutes later I’m remotely connected to her desktop.
Now, not only do we have audio chat, but I actually have full control to manipulate her computer remotely. She demonstrates what is causing the problem and I help diagnose it, doing my own research locally and sending over any tools I need using IM.
It takes a couple hours of me puzzling it out and waiting for her older iMac to run diagnostics. The repair process is not without drama as I find that her iPhoto database is corrupted, but eventually I’m able to restore from a Time Machine backup and fix the problem.
Before saying goodbye, I notice her Time Machine drive is full and getting old, so I follow it up by using my Amazon Prime account to send her a new backup hard drive with double the capacity. Just to be sure, because I notice she’s not backing up as often as she ought to, I sign her up for a year of automatic online backup.
I’m a software developer by day, but my family still knows me as the “computer whiz,” so I’ve been doing their tech support since high school. After moving first to the other side of the country and now the other side of the world, I’ve had to switch to remote desktop solutions like I’ve described. I’ve been doing this kind of thing for years, now, and it seems so commonplace, but if I step back for a moment, it is actually amazing.
There I was, about to get ready for bed at 11pm, 7000 miles away in sub-tropical Taiwan. My aunt was about to take her kids to school, in freezing cold, snow-laden Minnesota. Yet, somehow, through the power of technology, I was able to help her solve a problem that less than a decade ago I would only be able to solve by driving out to her house.
Technology has enabled me to express my devotion to family not with mere words but with actions, performed invisibly, across thousands of miles. I solved a problem that materially affected my aunt’s emotional well-being, and I’ve done it from the other side of the world. She was panicking that she’d lost all her photos, but I managed to recover 99% of them. For her to take her iMac to the Apple store would have been a huge hassle, and in the mean time she would have been stressed out and feeling helpless that she’d lost all of her photos. Because of technology, I was able to save her from all of that, and I didn’t even have to leave my apartment.